Why Kids Need Art

I really don't know much about art, but I'm learning. One thing I know for sure is that art is important, for kids and adults alike. Today I'm chatting with author Meri Cherry about art + kids. The tagline on her book "Creative Activities and Projects that Inspire Confidence, Creativity, and Connection" got me thinking. Giving our children opportunities for art isn't just about encouraging a future career as an artist. Instead, art instills foundational elements such as confidence, creativity, and connection that will last a lifetime.

Meri is an advocate for process art, which is the type of art that is focused on making/doing rather than the final product. As Meri says, "the focus is on process over product". Art truly is for everyone, even the kids who seem uninterested or hard to engage--and we are exploring that more today.

Show Notes/Links:

Why Kids Need Art -- Episode Transcription

Denaye Barahona:

Today I have a guest, Meri Cherry. Meri is an author and an art studio owner and works almost exclusively with kids. In particular, we're talking about process art, which is something that she specializes in. Now, I'm new to process art, I very quickly fell in love with the process. No pun intended. Meri describes process art as art that's about the making and the doing versus the final product. So process over product. Which in a world full of an abundance of well-crafted Pinterest activities, sometimes it can be easy to lose sight of the importance of the journey and get fixated on that final product.

I personally don't know much about art, creating it or really understanding the importance of it, but I'm learning. And the more that I learned, the more that I understand how I want this to be a part of my kids' life. As Meri and I are talking about today, the fundamental skills that underlie art are things like confidence, and creativity, and connection. And these are skills that are going to transfer into any career that my kids pursue, even if it's not art. And it's probably not going to be art, based on our genetics.

In today's episode, Meri and I are also talking about kids who say they don't like art or seem uninterested and are hard to engage. Because art is for these kind of kids too. It's just a matter of finding the right way to get them on board. If you want to get more info about the stuff that Meri and I are talking about today, go to the show notes at simplefamilies.com/episode177. Hi Meri, welcome to the podcast.

Meri Cherry:

Hi Denaye, I'm so happy to be here.

Denaye Barahona:

It's really good to chat with you. So I got your book this summer. It came out in June, right?

Meri Cherry:

It came out in June, right around a special time for you too, right?

Denaye Barahona:

Yeah, just a week after my book and it was actually published by the same publisher as I used. That's one of the ways that I took note. So your book is called Play, Make, Create: A Process Art Handbook. And I was so excited to get my hands on this. Not because I know much about art or I'm really into art. I actually feel like I know very little about art and I don't have a ton of artistic inspiration, but this book has made me feel like it's possible.

Meri Cherry:

Oh, that's so great because that's so much of my intention with the book, is to let parents, especially moms, know that they can do this and they don't have to know anything about art.

Denaye Barahona:

Right. And I want to clarify to everybody listening that the ideas that we're talking about today and this idea of incorporating more art into your life and into your kids' life, is not one more thing for your to-do list. I want everyone to view it more of a mindset shift and really starting to notice the importance of it and appreciate that sometimes it can be a lot easier. It doesn't have to be a super labor-intensive Pinterest project. Right, Meri?

Meri Cherry:

Oh, totally. No, this is not like how you can be a Pinterest mom and take these perfect pictures of these elaborate projects you're doing at home. It's the opposite of that.

Denaye Barahona:

Right. So I'll start just by talking a little bit about my personal experiences with art and what I've done with my kids successfully, or mostly unsuccessfully. So, I have basically no background in art, whether it to be art appreciation, art history or the creation of art. I've always known that it's important but haven't really known a way to properly execute it or to really spark the interest in my kids. And I think that when I got your book, one of the taglines on your book says, activities and projects that inspire confidence, creativity and connection. And those words really resonate with me. Confidence, creativity and connection.

So, even if art isn't something that I feel super competent at, I feel like the way that art really provides those opportunities for those things, that is what really has me interested in process art.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah, me too really. I don't have a background in art, just to say that. My background is teaching. So, I'm right there with you and those kinds of things like confidence and creativity and connection—that's really what speaks to me too.

Denaye Barahona:

So how did you get started in this field?

Meri Cherry:

Well, I was teaching K-2 for many years and I always loved art. I was very artistic as a kid. I got a lot of confidence from creating different things because I was good at it and I enjoyed it so much and my family valued art making. And as a teacher, I always did a lot of art in my classroom. And then when I got married and quickly had two girls back to back, I started blogging about the creative things that we were doing at home. And it's just my passion for all this creativity and the effect that it was having on my girls and on me and my family, just really got me excited.

Denaye Barahona:

Yeah. And I will say that I flipped open your book and the first thing, my three year old daughter was right next to me, and the first page that we flipped to was the page with the wands made out of sticks. And so, just for a little background, I don't think I've ever executed a Pinterest Art project with my kids. I have never opened a book like this and done an art project with my kids. But I opened that up and thought "Look, a stick and some string and some beads. We can do this." And within an hour we had, not just a stick, but a beautiful one. And she loves it. She's still carries it around all the time.

And I was just like, "Wow! This is possible?" And it's exciting because it doesn't take a lot of planning. Help me understand what process art really is and where does this idea come from?

Meri Cherry:

Sure. But just let me say, way to go mom, that's so great. And you can see how the ideas are simple and they're inexpensive. They're just manageable. And I really just wanted to create a resource for moms that you can flip through, your kids can flip through with you. You can say, "Let's do that." And it's like, "Okay, let's give it a go." So, I'm so happy you had that experience and your daughter still has her wand. That's great.

So process art, in simple terms, is art that's all about the making and the doing rather than the finished product. So, it's about creating an engaging rich experience and focusing on the experience rather than the outcome, process over product. All the activities in the book are ways to have those kinds of experiences.

Denaye Barahona:

So, I don't know if this is the intent of process art, but I will tell you something that has helped shift my mindset in getting rid of kids' art. Because once you start to view art as a process and appreciating that it's about the journey and it's not the final product, you don't feel tied to saving every single thing that they make.

Meri Cherry:

Oh, I love that because a lot of parents will reach out to me and say, "What do I do with all the art that we've accumulated?" And it's always difficult for me to answer. And hearing you say that, sort of makes me realize why my girls are not attached to their art. They make things all the time and they don't feel so precious. Yes, we have precious projects or certain things that have felt really special to them and then those we will save. But for the most part, it's not like every little thing is so special. Do you know what I mean?

Denaye Barahona:

Yeah. And it feels very freeing to me and I've been sharing this idea with some of the members who are going through my Master Class, who were sort of concerned with how do you pick and choose what stays and what goes and how do you set limits as far as keeping artwork. And I think that many others have found this idea freeing too. That in our minds, if we can understand and if we can help our kids to understand that this is really about the journey, the creative journey. It's not about saving and coveting this final project, this final product for a lifetime.

Meri Cherry:

Absolutely. Yeah. I'm just always saying enjoy the journey. My dad said that to me always growing up, and enjoy the process. So, that's where the real magic is.

Denaye Barahona:

Right. And I feel like that's sort of my philosophy across the board with kids and with education. It is about the journey. I have a kindergartner and we've started homeschooling him this year. And that's not something that I feel like I've ever really struggled with, but I know that many do. This idea that at the end of the day you need to have produced something, something visible and measurable. I think that's something that I see a lot of parents struggling with. This idea that if you're a stay-at-home mom who is home with your kids all day, where at the end of the day, you need something to show for your time spent with your kids. And sometimes that's artwork, and some piece of impressive artwork that you have executed in partnership with your kids. Letting go of that is so powerful.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah, I agree with you. And if we can get there... I mean, it's challenging. We all want those masterpieces to hang up and prove that our children are these amazing capable beings who can produce this incredible work. And we'll have those things over the years. But the more we can... I mean, I know it's a struggle for me too, but the more I can just be present with my girls and take in the moments that's what's really important.

Denaye Barahona:

Yes. And I actually saw... I don't know if it was you that posted this or someone else that I follow on Instagram posted this idea of a family collage. Was that you?

Meri Cherry:

Yeah. It could be-

Denaye Barahona:

I love that.

Meri Cherry:

My friend Megan at Art Pantry also does that, and I'm sure others, but we did a huge family collage and that's one of the things that's really special to me.

Denaye Barahona:

So tell me about that. What does that look like? How does one go about making a family collage?

Meri Cherry:

Sure. And this is one of the ideas in the book sort of mentioned, but collage is such a great process-based activity for kids and adults and for families. So, there's so many ways you can do it from just cutting up a cardboard box and having a big sheet of cardboard to start with. Or we went big because we tend to go big in our house and we had a huge five foot by five foot canvas. And over the course of a few weeks, we would start by painting it. Then I'd have cutouts from magazines set out on a table for us to choose from and glue onto the canvas. 

This is a fun idea that often moms don't think of when our kids make drawings and they're just sitting in a pad somewhere. You can, with their permission, if it's okay with them, cut them up and then use those to glue onto the canvas. We cut out letters and we put those on the canvas and we just kind of kept it going as long as everyone was interested in it. And now we have this great big collage hanging in our living room actually.

Denaye Barahona:

And it's beautiful.

Meri Cherry:

Thanks. Yeah, I feel really good about it.

Denaye Barahona:

You know what I thought of when I saw this idea was... I don't know if you've ever heard of, if you have a bunch of old t-shirts cutting them up and making them into a quilt instead of donating them or throwing them away. So I kind of thought about that. This idea that you could save bits and pieces of your favorite things that your kids have made and put them into the collage, and make sort of one big beautiful masterpiece.

Meri Cherry:

Absolutely. And that's what this collage is for me. I look back on pictures that my girls made of mermaids and different things that have interested them over the years. And it's this great memory board and it's really nice. And you can also take it to this place of creating a vision board, which I think is really powerful and fun. Now my girls are a little older, they're seven and eight and especially my older one, she really wants to be an actress. So she sometimes is cutting out things that have to do with the Disney Channel and acting in different things. So, I've introduced her to this idea of a vision board and that's sort of another way to take it as your family gets older.

Denaye Barahona:

Oh, interesting. I love that. And will you send me a picture of that family collage and I’ll put it in the show notes for everyone to see so they know what we're talking about.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah, for sure.

Denaye Barahona:

Cool. So, help me understand the balance between when you're doing process art, is it somewhere between a free for all and a highly structured activity? Where does it fall in that spectrum?

Meri Cherry:

Yeah, good question. Because, often I think people think process art is a free for all and it's definitely not. It's not like, "Oh, you want to write with Sharpies on the wall? Great. If that's your mood." There are definitely rules and structures, because kids I think, need that to feel comfortable and safe. So it's about creating loose parameters to excite them and engage them.

So a process art activity could look like putting out some watercolors on a table with a brush and some water and some really nice paper. It could be just that, that's process art. Like, "Oh, I wonder what we're going to paint today." I mean, a lot of process art is learning. I think about the language too, that I have found to be extremely helpful and I do talk about it in my book and I have this great poster that we have hanging in the studio. And it's based on this idea of, I wonder, I notice, I see. It's like you reflecting to your child what you're seeing them doing. "Oh, I wonder what you're going to do next. I see that you use blue here. I notice your whole picture is blue. What an interesting choice. Tell me about that."

And it's just about opening up the conversation to different ideas and making connections with the decisions that we make in honoring what the child is doing. And it doesn't mean that you can't have this amazing product at the end. It just means that's not really the point of what we're doing.

Denaye Barahona:

Right. And a highly structured art activity is something I think that we're used to seeing a lot with young children. This idea that the teacher holds up a snowman and says, glue the small circle on top, the medium circle in the middle and the big circle on the bottom and put the two googly eyes right here. It's very directive and it has a specific end goal in mind. And I see a lot of that on Pinterest and a lot of that in preschools.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah. In fact, that was how I chose a preschool for my daughters. If I walked in and saw 20 snowmen with all their buttons lined up, I knew this was not the school for me. And that was the work of the teacher and not the child. Because typically, a three year old or a two and a half year old or even a four year old doesn't have a straight line of buttons on their snowman. And I really wanted to move away from that and struggle with that whole teachers sitting prepping all these perfect circles. That's not where the value is. So, I'm trying to create experiences and teach moms how to have these experiences that aren't those cookie-cutter type of ideas.

Denaye Barahona:

Right. And I actually do the same thing. And then whenever I'm giving suggestions to friends who are choosing preschools, that's what I tell them to look for too. Take a look at the art. And it's not just about the art. I think sometimes, when we think about creativity, we can get closed into this box of art. Art and creativity is something creating something art-like. But the truth is that the art is representative many times of the teaching philosophies or the curriculum philosophies in the school. And that is that, the teacher leads, the teacher is in charge, the teacher has all the good ideas. This is a very teacher led classroom.

And it might not be across the board, but I think that's one way that you can get an idea of who is in charge of the learning here. Do kids have autonomy and decision making and can they lead their own learning or is the teacher going to be telling them this is right and this is wrong.

Meri Cherry:

Absolutely. And if you walk into a school, and you look on the wall and you see maybe something you can't quite explain, it looks like there's maybe a lot of gluing and some strange materials, egg cartons, wire beads in a format that you don't really understand, I would encourage parents to see that as a really great thing. Because that's the mind of a child. And them figuring things out and making decisions on their own, and then the teacher valuing those decisions and the art thought process and saying, "Hey, this is great. These are your ideas and I think those are really important and now I'm going to hang them on the wall." And that child gets to look at their work and say, "I made that." Rather than the snowman they know they have no connection to.

Denaye Barahona:

Right. Exactly. Now there are some kids I think, that you can just set them in front of a stack of art supplies, and they can just go to town and create something magnificent. And there are other kids who you can sit in front of art supplies and they just don't even know where to begin. Do you... I saw something that you had posted recently about your girls on Instagram. Do you have one of each of these or how would you describe your daughters’ approach to art?

Meri Cherry:

Yeah, well, I have one that loves to tinker and really feels comfortable in that open-ended space, my younger daughter. And then I have one, and I think you're referencing, I talked about my older daughter Gigi, who's now eight. Who I would have described in the past as somebody who didn't really like art making in that traditional sense of, let me just sit and draw and lose myself in what I'm doing. And it took me a really long time and actually was really humbling to have an experience with my daughter recently, where she had...

We often do these days in the studio where it's just me and my girls and no one else we're close to. Maybe it's a Sunday afternoon or something. It's just the three of us where we get to make and use all the materials in the studio. She sort of didn't know what to do. And so, she was looking through my book and she came across the small words and said, "Mom, I want to, I want to make one of these words." And so I got out all the materials and she was able... It's one of the more structured projects in the sense that, it's step one, step two and step three. And you can have something at the end of this word, whatever theme you're interested in.

And she got so excited following these steps. And it brought forward this conversation. She said something like, I like to know what comes next, so I know if I'm doing it right. And that idea really struck me because I'm very different than that. I like to just do my own thing. Step aside and let me create here. And my daughter really likes more of that structure. And I said, “What do you mean?” She ended up saying, "I like to know if I'm doing it right. So if I don't know the steps, I just don't do it. And I say I'm bored." And I was like, "Wow! That's amazing. I have just learned so much."

And I said to her, so it's not really like you don't like creating, it's just that you feel more comfortable when you know what to do, when you know the steps. And she got so excited and she was like, “Yes Mama. That's what I like." It just opened up this new understanding that kids don't all like to create in the same way. Or they don't all learn in the same way. Which of course I know as an educator, but when it's your own child, then they school you, it takes a whole different meaning to it.

Denaye Barahona:

Right? It's kind of this aha moment. And that really resonated with me because I think that the same thing is very applicable to toys. So, if you give my daughter just a set of playing unit blocks, she could make a castle. She could create lots and lots of things. If you put my son in front of a set of unit blocks, he's like, okay, well what do I do now? And I find that he appreciates, not highly structured toys, but some toys with direction as opposed to a plain set of unit blocks, perhaps. Like a Brio train set where there's a tunnel and there's a construction site and different elements to it, so that he doesn't have to construct everything in his brain.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah, I think my daughter's the same and I know other kids with the same need. It's like, with the little structure, then she can find her voice and she becomes actually super creative and has all these ideas. But she needs some parameters to sort of start her engine.

Denaye Barahona:

Yes. One of the questions I get probably the most often from my audience is, "I have a kid who struggles with independent play. How do I get them to play more independently?" And I think that these are the kids that we're seeing that are struggling with independent play sometimes. It’s the kids who are struggling to get started, struggling to move forward on this path. Because play is very much, it's sort of a script, a theater script. Especially when it comes to pretend play, right? You're acting out a script. You have lines, you have a role, there's a story to it.

And if you have a kid that that doesn't come so naturally for that planning and articulating of the story and the characters and that sort of thing, they're going to struggle a little bit more with getting started. Whether it's telling a story through their art, telling a story through playing with their toys or telling a story just through dramatic play. And I think across the board, the kids who sort of have a harder time getting started with those things, are going to benefit from a little bit more structure. But at the same time not having everything completely spelled out for them.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah, I think that's true. One of the ways that I know helps my daughter is, if I put out an invitation to create a little set up of an art activity. Sometimes I'll put a sign with it so it says something like, make a card for grandma or just give some sort of starting point that then she can run with where some kids can just sit down and see art supplies and just get going. But for those kids that need a little push or a little hint of what's to come, those signs are really great and often they're helpful. Because it's one thing to hear mom or dad give you an idea, but when it's on a neutral sign, it's really helpful.

Denaye Barahona:

Yeah. And I love that she was able to say that she used the terms, I am bored, when it was something she was feeling kind of stuck on. Because I think that we probably hear that a lot from kids. This sort of, I'm bored with play, or I'm bored with art, or this is boring. And that can sometimes be code for, "Hey, I need a little more support getting started or I need someone to help me get to the next step."

Meri Cherry:

Oh, it was so helpful, because as someone who has invested a life in creativity and art making and I have this gorgeous studio with all these opportunities, and to hear her say, "I'm bored." It was hard not to take that personally and like, "Okay." It was difficult for me. And I'm so grateful to her for articulating. It's not that she's bored, she's uncomfortable and she doesn't know what to do next. And so now, I'm trying to really pay attention to that. Not only for her but for any kids that need a little more structure. Because definitely, she's not alone. And with just that little tweak of an activity, it's like the engine is turned on and the train has left the station.

Denaye Barahona:

Yeah. And the idea of giving her something with steps. I feel like even having her sit down with you and write out some steps and brainstorm the steps with you, even if it's a plan that she has initiated, it's something that she had a little bit of support and coming up with the steps for the plan and it's still hers. But she has something to work with. Something to go on.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah, absolutely.

Denaye Barahona:

I feel like that kind of thing can be really empowering for kids. So it's still their words, even if there's some support in creating it and executing it and jotting it down.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah. I remember once, we also got this cardboard fairy structure in the mail from this company. I think it's called scribble art box. It's where you just put together these pieces of cardboard to make a fairy kingdom and then you get to paint it. And it's very like step one, step two. But within those steps, to see her painting and all lit up that she can be so creative … and this room is going to be for their beds and... She had all these ideas for all of the rooms and the paints and, "Mom, will you help me mix these paints?"

And I just saw her lit up from such a creative space that she wasn't quite able to get to for a while from the way I was doing it with her. And I just appreciate that moment and feel really grateful. We try all these things as parents and I'm even an expert in this, but I still have to adjust things for my child or for a class. It's humbling and also exciting to be able to do that and figure out what works.

Denaye Barahona:

Right. And I think just that knowledge is going to open up this whole world of kids who are like your daughter, who need a little bit more support around getting started. And allowing them to find a way to engage in art that really fits them. Instead of sort of pushing it off as something that is boring or they're not good at.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah, absolutely.

Denaye Barahona:

So, tell me about an “invitation to create.”

Meri Cherry:

So, it can be called a provocation and invitation to create or maybe in a kindergarten class, it might look something like a center. It's sort of just a simple way of saying a setup that you can provide for your child. And my book is set up very much with these invitations and examples of how to set them up. But as a mom or a parent, you can put a little place mat or a tray on a table and trays and place mats are really nice. Because especially, if you have siblings, it sort of says this is your designated space and the things that are in this area are for you to use. And it helps with arguing about, "This is mine, this is..." That kind of thing.

It's an invitation or a setup that says, "Here, this is for you. Come check me out and you're invited to work with me or work with these materials." When I was a kindergarten teacher, when my girls were very young, and I was working quite a long day and had very limited time to spend with my girls before I would go to bed, I would set up these invitations for them to create. That they would then wake up to in the morning and then run to our back den and see what I had set up for them.

Meri Cherry:

And the moment that got me hooked was, I had set up an invitation the night before my girls were running to the back room and I think they were three and four maybe at the time. And as they were running, my daughter, Gigi said, "I don't really care what it is. I just like knowing that you thought about us." And it just went straight to my heart and I said, okay, this is where I can connect with my kids in this busy life. And with a full time job, this is where I can create magic with my kids. And I really took so much joy and inspiration from that. So the book is just a culmination of lots of different ideas that we've tried over the years that I've found to really work.

Denaye Barahona:

So, I really loved that you had 13 art supplies that you recommended in the book. You can really do a lot with just some core basic supplies. And I think that for me was really empowering when I first opened it up and we saw that one activity. It's something, "Hey we have this stuff. We can do this right now." And it wasn't something that took a lot of planning. I didn't have to make a trip to the craft store and I didn't have to make my home look like a craft store, more importantly. Because keeping track of art supplies and keeping them organized is definitely not my strong suit at all.

Meri Cherry:

You're not alone. Nobody's really good at that. Yeah. It doesn't have to be these elaborate supplies. You likely have so much either in your kitchen cabinet or your art mishmash that can go really a long way.

Denaye Barahona:

So we've talked a little bit about art inspiring confidence and creativity, but let's talk about connection. When I had tried to do art with my kids in the past, I feel like I was just kind of sitting there watching and I have a Type A personality where I kind of want to have my hands in it. And I felt like my natural urge was to reach in and correct what they were doing or make changes to theirs. But I have taken up my own, so I'm working along with them and doing whatever they're doing, but on my own project. And that has been really eye-opening for me.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah. Oh, I'm so glad you're doing that. How has that experience been different from trying to get on their case for their art?

Denaye Barahona:

Well, it reminds me just how difficult it is to make something look like you want it to look. Because I've never really felt confident. Especially when it comes to drawing and painting and that sort of thing. So I feel like I'm starting to be a little bit more willing to take risk knowing that, whatever I'm trying to make or paint, I've been dabbling a little bit in nature journaling. It's not going to look the way that it looks in the nature journaling books that I'm looking at. Like models, that sort of thing. And just resting easy with that and knowing that it's going to be okay.

But the other thing that has been really striking to me is that... So, I have hypermobility, which is basically loose joints. I have really loose joints in my hands. And so, I have... It's kind of like double jointed hands, but really, really double jointed. Since I've started doing some art with my kids, I have been writing more and using a writing utensil more. And it sort of brought me back to my childhood, where I did a lot of writing. And I remembered that, my hands fatigue really easily and get tired. And it's actually kind of painful for me to be using my hands a lot, especially now that I'm typing all the time. And I'm not writing and using those muscles that my hands do fatigue. I mean I can only really write like a sentence or two and my hands are wiped.

And so, both of my kids also have hyper mobility. So keeping that in mind, it's like wow. Actually, doing a ton of writing, a ton of painting, a ton of drawing, might not be something that they're so inclined to do. Because it might not be comfortable to them.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah. Wow! Well, what that makes me think of, is how these experiences bring forward empathy. And how you can relate to how it feels for a three year old who's first learning to use their hands and hold a pencil and do all these things for often the first time or scissors and how awkward, and painful and how you can have conversations around that. And I think that brings that idea of connection. It's like, now you're making these new connections with your kids about their experience in your own experience.

Denaye Barahona:

Yes, absolutely. And I think I had completely blocked out that phase of my life when I was learning how to write. I was always a straight A student, but my handwriting was always... At that time they graded handwriting A, S and U. I was straight As and Us in handwriting. And I still have horrendous handwriting. And I avoid it because it definitely fatigues my hands and it becomes uncomfortable very quickly for me. So it's something that I'm being mindful of when I am introducing art and handwriting to my kids. It's that they might fatigue faster than other kids and maybe small doses might even be a better fit for them.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah. And maybe, I'm trying to think in my mind of some activities in the book that don't require all that fine motor and pressure on our hands. And it's maybe more... I don't know, I'd have to look through, but maybe more of the doughs or slimes or things like that.

Denaye Barahona:

Yeah. Well, and those things all strengthen the hands. Which is really what I need. It's that I'm just not using those muscles anymore, because I'm typing and swiping all the time. And I'm not using my hand muscles. So actually it's really good for me to be doing these art projects too.

Meri Cherry:

Oh that's great. And I love what you said about, you're sitting down with your kids and participating with them, not just watching them. And some kids are happy to just go and do... Those independent kids who get in their zone and they just can do whatever the process is, for an hour or 45 minutes, whatever it is. And my kids are more like, they want to spend time with me. And so, if I just set the activity up for them, maybe we get 20 minutes of the experience. But if I sit down with them, and then if my husband sits down as well, and it becomes like this family art making experience, that's art time.

Those are the memories that I hope that my kids will really look back on and think so positively of when we're all sitting around... Now it's Halloween, so we were recently... I set up tinker trays and we decorated pumpkins and we were hammering golf tees into the pumpkins. And tied yarn around them. And doing all these things with different chalk markers and we all made two pumpkins. We were laughing and connecting and having this great experience. And that's what it looks like in our house when it's at a 10. That's what really lights me up.

Denaye Barahona:

Yeah. And this makes me think of this emerging trend for these paint and wine studios that women are going to and people are having parties at. Where you can go for an evening with your friends and paint and eat and drink and that sort of thing. I think that, that's... I mean, people are not really going to do serious art there. They're going for connection and that time spent together.

Meri Cherry:

Absolutely. So we, at our art studio, have ladies craft nights where we pick a craft, let's say it's macrame wall hanging or something like that. It's just so magical to see these moms come give themselves a break from the day to day and just let loose, talk to other women and really connect with themselves. Remember things about themselves from when they were young that they used to love to do, and just talk and get to know each other. And then create something that they feel really good about. And just enjoy the whole evening. That is the magic of art making. And I just want to provide as many experiences of that as I can for people.

Denaye Barahona:

Yes. And that is the perfect example of process over product and the importance of that time spent together.

Meri Cherry:

Absolutely. I agree.

Denaye Barahona:

So what do you do about perfectionists? I have a kid who scribbles out everything that he draws, that's sort of not up to snuff.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah, that's a tough one. I've been asked that before. I have little bits of that with my younger daughter. I've seen that happen with kids. And I think the first answer to that is empathy. They're being so hard on themselves in that moment. And I think we could all relate to that self-judgment. And it is hard, especially for a young child. You were saying for yourself, it's hard for your art to look the way you want it to look in your mind. So, having this really empathetic... Being really empathetic is the starting point. Like, "Wow, you really wanted it to look one way, and it didn't go that way. That's really hard." Or "I see you're frustrated, and I can see it in your hands, you're ….” And I try to empathize in that way to start.

And then I also think that giving process art is great because the expectations aren't always so clear. It enables kids to loosen up a little bit. So, giving them opportunities or processes to do where there's no right or wrong way to do it, so that they can start taking risks from that place. And when they do activities of even playing with cornstarch and water, which is often called oobleck. It's a really interesting thing that happens when you put water into cornstarch. It can change from a liquid to a solid based on movement. I don't know the total science behind it, but it's pretty fascinating.

And so putting some corn starch in a bowl with maybe some food coloring to make it a cool color, and having the kids do that, and then noticing things that they're doing during those times. So like, "Wow! Johnny, I love the way you're using this tool to make it move in this way. What a great idea!" That child starts to experience, "Oh this person thinks... or my mom is really noticing my great ideas and that feels good." And they're building that confidence.

And then you try another activity that's maybe a little more structured or has more of a skill attached to it. And, "Wow! In the beginning, I saw that was really hard for you, but now you're really wrapping that yarn around the stick. And you got it and you didn't give up. That's so great." And then you sort of build more towards those activities that are more real skill like drawing a circle or something like that. I just think it's a process of getting there and giving our kids the confidence to take those risks. Does that make sense?

Denaye Barahona:

It does. And I'm thinking about just kind of two projects we've done recently. One was we took boxes and made a robot, which is very much a process art activity. There's no idealized final image of the robot. So if you have something like that, you can't really make it wrong. So I feel like my son who is going to scribble out, if he decides he's going to draw a transformer, which for a five year old to draw transformer is pretty complicated. It's not going to look the way that he wants to look, and he's going to feel that down. And he's going to feel like he can't do it.

So I think that you're right. The opportunity to feel successful and to build confidence is there in the process open-ended activities. As opposed to the closed activities where they have a very specific vision for what they're trying to create.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah. It's like you're laying the groundwork. You're putting the roots in and then hopefully as the kids get older, as they develop mentally, get stronger, more capable of doing certain tasks, they'll be like, "I got that. Look, I can do it now." And that feels really good.

Denaye Barahona:

Yes. So, I talked a little bit about my son's approach to art, but my daughter is all-in head to toe on everything she does. So she's the kid who goes to the mud puddle and doesn't just stomp but has to dip her hair and her face and everything. And she's also that way with paint. She loves to paint. She's three and a half. But I mean, I remember I went to the bathroom one day, and I came back and she had dipped her whole face in the tray of paint, and she was using her face as basically like a stamp. So her nose, her eyes... She was stamping her face on paper. And I was just like, ugh. And experiences like that definitely make great photo ops. But I just feel like they can be exhausting.

So do you have any words of advice for parents who have really good intentions and just end up feeling they've had a beat down after a day or a morning or an afternoon of art?

Meri Cherry:

Yeah, sure. Well, to me, one, there's a lot of great value in that experience. Clearly from a sensory perspective that is, you would know better than me the language around this. But that's satisfying to them. It's filling some sort of need. Right? So in that way, I think giving kids that want those sensory experiences, give them to those kids. Granted, you maybe didn't have that intention with the painting experience and also, you didn't probably want the mess of that and that's stressful. I totally get that.

So, I try to tell parents to set yourselves up for success. So, if you're going to have paints out, maybe do it in the bathtub or do it outside. Or if you're going to play with like dyed rice or something like that, or something that's messy, have something covering the floor. Take off your kid's clothes if you are worried about that. Or sure you have a smock on them or tie their hair back if they're going to be playing with slime. You want this to be a positive experience for you and for them. So, that's going to take a little preventative planning to make it as stress free as possible. It's risky to leave your child with paint in a room, so I'm not saying-

Denaye Barahona:

I don't use the restroom.

Meri Cherry:

So you just... I mean, it's also a recognition that things are going to go wrong. Not every activity in my book is going to be a home run for every child. You try things out and some are going to be great and some are going to be messes. Isn't that life?

Denaye Barahona:

Yes. And I also think reading the energy of the child is important. Because if your kid is in a mood to go for a run or a bike ride or get out and stretch, maybe working and doing art in a closed small space, is not the ideal activity for that moment. If they have a lot of big energy, making sure that you're picking a big activity for that. Otherwise, your art activity is going to get big and become a big mess real quick.

Meri Cherry:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, for a long time, our art activity, and I say that in quotes, was like giving my kids scissors and they could go in the backyard and be landscapers and trim the plants outside. And they loved that. They got that great fine motor practicing with the scissors. And they could do that, and their imagination was going and, it was such a great experience. So you do have to read your kids and where they're at. And I think as parents sometimes we're like, "No, we're going to make beautiful art right now." And it's just not gonna happen that way sometimes.

Denaye Barahona:

Yes. Even if have a perfectly arranged art invitation, it's not always going to invite every kid at every moment.

Meri Cherry:

Yes, absolutely.

Denaye Barahona:

Well, thank you so much for chatting with me, Meri. I know that we can find you on Instagram, which I'm going to put the link in the show notes and your book. I'm going to put the link for that in the show notes. And also, tell me a little bit about your studio.

Meri Cherry:

Oh yeah, great. Well, so we opened Mari Cherry Art Studio about almost four years ago in the San Fernando Valley, here in Los Angeles in an area called Tarzana. Mari Cherry Art Studio is a process art studio. So everything we do is through that lens of focusing on the making and the doing rather than the finished product. Though, the kids come home with some pretty amazing work that they feel really proud of. And we do everything from toddler sensory art playgroups to classes, to birthday parties and camps. And it's a really fun place to be. I'm super in love with it.

Denaye Barahona:

Oh, that's awesome. I love to hear that. And if I'm ever in the area, I will definitely be stopping by.

Meri Cherry:

Oh, please. And bring your kids and we'll have a great time. We'll do a little more structured and then a little more messy. 

Denaye Barahona:

Perfect. All right. Well, thank you so much Meri.

Meri Cherry:

Thank you Denaye. It's been great. I appreciate you having me.

Denaye Barahona:

Thank you so much for tuning in. I highly suggest that you follow along with Meri on Instagram and on her blog. Her name is spelled M-E-R-I Cherry, just like the fruit, Meri Cherry. But you can also find links to her profile and things that we talked about today. If you go to simplefamilies.com/episode177.

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Denaye Barahona

Dr. Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She partners with families to tackle the challenges of raising children. Denaye is a minimalist who claims to be a decluttering expert (don't let her near your closet). She loves to travel, talk health-and-wellness, and give unsolicited advice. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Minimalists, Motherly, Becoming Minimalist, and numerous other media outlets. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Clinical Social Worker with a specialty in child and family practice.