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MaryLea Harris of Pink and Green Mama

by Jean Van't Hul
April 26, 2011

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MaryLea Harris, a former elementary art teacher, blogs as Pink and Green Mama and offers her two daughters a plethora of arts and crafts materials and encouragement. Join me in learning more about what inspires her and see her list of must-have art supplies!

***Note: Readers will have a chance to win three of her art lesson plans at the end of this interview.***

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JEAN:  What is it about kids’ art that resonates so well with you?
 
MARYLEA:  I am a stay at home mom with two daughters, “E” is 8 years old and “C” is 4 years old. I was an Elementary art teacher in the public school system for 5 years before staying home to raise my girls. I love children’s art and the way kids are so fearless when they create. They don’t have that inner critic’s voice inside their heads (yet) telling them what they should or shouldn’t do. As an art teacher, it was so important for me to make art-making fun for my students. I know so many adults who had a grown-up during their own childhoods that ruined art for them; I even had a mean art teacher and an unpleasant piano teacher so I swore I would never be one of “those” grown ups!
 
I majored in studio art and art history with an emphasis on printmaking and painting in college. I interned for a summer as an art therapist’s assistant at a local hospital’s children’s oncology ward. My experiences as an art teacher and art therapy assistant have greatly influenced how I raise my girls and the kind of projects we always have going in our house. For example, we always have a few sensory boxes going in our playroom (a throw back to my art therapy sand box days!) and a fully stocked art studio with a variety of art materials available to the girls (a mini art classroom at home).

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JEAN:  What inspires you to offer your children regular art and craft opportunities? What are your favorite materials and activities?
 
MARYLEA:  Art Making Opportunities? We have an art studio in our home in what is supposed to be the formal living room. I call it our “second play room”. We’ll never be one of those play-dough-free houses, I think kids are supposed to get messy and experiment, that’s what childhood is for!  “E” asked me if every kid is allowed to have art supplies in her bedroom and I said, “I certainly hope so!”
 
Safe Art Supplies: When “E” was 6 months old, I went back to school part time and earned my MFA with an emphasis on painting and computers and art. I was breastfeeding at the time and as a former printmaker, started creating my graduate art work with non-toxic art materials, which led me to a lot of mixed media work. As soon as “E” was big enough, I started bringing her into my art studio with me and handed her art materials. She was painting with watercolors and acrylics well before her first birthday. I try to use safe art materials with my kids as much as possible but I also allow them to use materials that a lot of parents wouldn’t, like permanent markers (yes, I know they’re not non-toxic and they’re stinky!) and glue guns. With supervision (and an open window) of course! I think that kids should be exposed to a wide variety of art materials and opportunities to experiment with them.
 
Favorite art materials? It’s hard to name just a few which is why I wrote three different blog posts about my favorite art supplies for different age groups broken down into toddlers, preschoolers, and school age children.  

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Quick list of my must haves:

  • Liquid Food Coloring (we make sidewalk paint with it, color water, color rice, etc)
  • Play-dough (store bought or homemade)
  • Sidewalk Chalk (for open air art!)
  • Paper! (all kinds = copy paper, cardstock, constructions, scrapbook, vellum, waxed paper, contractor’s paper, aluminum foil, tissue paper, sand paper)
  • Scissors (regular and the kind that cut with wavy lines)
  • Hole Punches (circles, flowers, etc)
  • Glue (Elmer’s White School Glue, Glue Stick, Glue Gun, Aleene’s Craft Glue, Mod Podge)
  • Tape (clear and masking – love colored masking tape from Oriental Trading supply, duct tape, electrical tape)
  • Cardboard  and Recycling (boxes, toilet paper tubes, cereal boxes)
  • Drawing Materials (Colored pencils, Crayola Twistables, Crayola Markers, Soy Crayon Rocks, Stockmar Wax crayons, Sharpies)
  • Watercolors and Watercolor Paper  (Crayola and Dixon for younger kids, Yarka for mommy and older kids)
  • Do-A-Dot paints or Bingo Markers
  • Stickers and Office Labels
  • Washable Paint and Brushes (acrylic craft paint and tempera paint from the craft store)

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JEAN:  Will you tell us a bit about your summer art camps? What led you to start them?
 
MARYLEA:  I taught a series of summer art and craft camps last year in response to several friends asking me to offer kid’s classes and as a way to keep my own kids entertained while having fun at home with their friends. I did a month of little mommy and me camps for my youngest daughter and her friends since their preschool ends a month and a half before the big kids finish up their school year. Then, I taught a series of theme camps for school-age kids with themes like “Ocean Fun Camp”, “Rainbow Fun Camp”, “Exploring Great Artists”, “Backyard Fun”, and “Mom Would Never Let Me Do This At Home! Camp.”
I wrote up all of the lesson plans and activities from these camps and offer them as PDF lesson plans on my blog. They’re popular with classroom teachers, home-schooling parents, moms looking for a way to entertain their kiddos, camp counselors, and vacation bible school coordinators. They were so popular that people want to do them again this year but I’m having a hard time scheduling around travel and our own summer plans.

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JEAN:  Where do your children’s interests lie and how do you encourage them and incorporate their current interests into current art activities? Are you ever surprised by what your kids come up with?
 
MARYLEA:  “E” is a miniature version of me and has always been “into” art. She is always drawing, painting, cutting, sewing, singing, and composing music on the piano. The music thing throws me for a loop because I can’t even read music but she’s a natural musician like her father, he’s teaching her how to play piano and guitar. She can sit down and play music by ear, she just figured out Fur Elise. Ummm…yeah, not from me! She also loves fashion design right now and is making beautiful fashion sketches so we put up some magnetic boards on her room wall for her to display her designs, I’m on the hunt for a small dress form for her to practice draping fabric on. She learned origami from some friends at school so I got her a book and some beautiful papers this Christmas. I try to say “yes” as much as possible when the girls come up with their own ideas, sometimes it would be easier to say no but I think experimenting, inventing, and creating are critical for their growth and development.
 
“C” also loves to create and is full of awesome ideas. One snowy morning at the bus stop this January, she came up with the idea to save pinecones to paint as “Easter Eggs” and she’s right, they are shaped like eggs. Throw on some pastel paint and they’re natural Easter eggs. I love the way kids can see something in a new way. She also likes to make artwork to hang in her Barbie house, collars for her stuffed kitty cats, and to make our own toys like a cardboard box puppet theater or a miniature bug house.

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JEAN:  Anything else you’d like to add?
 
MARYLEA:  Thank you so much Jean for giving me the opportunity to talk to your Artful Parent readers today. I adore your blog and all of the fun projects you do with your girls! I so wish we lived closer to each other so the girls and I could come over for your art play dates. It makes me want to start my own art play group!

JEAN:  Thank you, MaryLea! We’d love it if you came over for art play dates!

***Giveaway***

Readers who leave a comment by Friday, April 29th at 12 midnight EST will be entered into a random drawing for MaryLea’s art lesson plans. The winner will receive three of your choice!

The random number generator picked #44 so Szkent wins the drawing for three of MaryLea's art lesson plans!

I appreciate that MaryLea has fully immersed her children into her art background. I love the idea of using a kiddy pool and paint covered balls to create works of art. What a great idea for a group project!

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