Aimeé is an art teacher and a mama to an 18 month old boy. She teaches toddler art classes through her business, Red Shoe Arts, and also blogs at Red Shoe Girl's Blog. Join me in learning more about Aimeé and the art she does with her son and her young students.
***Note: Readers will have a chance to win some rainbow-colored felt shapes and a felt bag at the end of this interview.***
JEAN: First, will you tell us a bit about your background -- how did you get started teaching art to young children and what led you to begin Red Shoe Arts?
AIMEÉ: My mom says I've been teaching art since I was 12 years old. I used to bring this book, Sticks and Stones and Ice Cream Cones, with me to babysitting jobs along with a tote bag of supplies: paper plates, markers, pipe cleaners, etc. I still have the book, by the way, and it's full of great craft projects.
So it was no real surprise that I ended up going to art school and eventually held degrees in K-12 Art and Elementary Education. I taught public school for several years, and left teaching formally when I had my son in 2008.
After about a year at home with CJ, I wanted to start working again but didn't want to go back to teaching public school. My dream was to start my own school. I'd been teaching private lessons here and there for years, so I finally decided to go for it. I started Red Shoe Arts formally in January of 2010, beginning with toddler art classes so that my son could attend them. I also do art projects for birthday parties, and I'm teaching some toddler and pre-school classes for the local recreation department this spring and summer, and we'll see how it goes from there!
JEAN: How has being an art teacher affected how you
parent your son?
AIMEÉ: My training in fine arts honed my attention to detail, made a habit of looking for beauty in every day, and gave me creative problem solving skills. Teaching primed me for what to expect from children, developed my patience, and taught me never to underestimate a kid just because he's a kid! I hope all of these traits help me to be a better parent.
I definitely do more art with CJ than the average parent. At 18 months, he has been exposed to all kinds of materials already: tempera paint, watercolors, markers, crayons, salt dough, collage, and that's just what I can think of off the top of my head. In addition, I know as a teacher that right now his art is all about process. He could care less what he makes...it's the making that's fun! I try to allow this knowledge to spill over into other areas, letting him experiment and play, avoiding telling him the "right" way to do things. I like watching him figure out new ways to use his toys, or letting him raid my kitchen for new "toys" to play with!
JEAN: Has having a toddler of your own affected or changed how you teach your toddler art class?
AIMEÉ: Absolutely. Until I had one of my own, I never taught art to a toddler in any kind of formal setting. CJ definitely inspired me to start! He's been doing art projects since before he could walk, and he gets better at them every day.
But there are challenges with toddlers that you wouldn't have with older kids. For instance, CJ still puts things in his mouth all the time, so I know that every project I do with my students has to be non-toxic and safe. However, I also stay away from making art that is actually edible because I don't want them to think eating art materials is ok.
Another thing I learned is to have
all toddlers remove their shoes and socks before they get started, because
they're going to step in paint. It's easier to wash a foot than a
shoe! I keep a huge supply of wet washcloths on hand because it's easier
than using a sink like I would with older kids. Toddlers have no
patience, and they'll put their paint-y hands wherever they please, so you have
to be prepared to head off disasters.
JEAN: Will you share some of your favorite art projects that you've done with your toddler art class?
AIMEÉ: Recently we painted with dandelions
as brushes, which was great fun.
I also really liked painting cherry blossom trees: I drew some branches on big sheet of brown "kraft" paper, then let the kids use their fingers to paint on the pink and white flowers. Paint in general is always a hit with toddlers. I love putting down a big roll of paper and just letting them mess with the paint. I really value process over product, but the big paintings they make as a group are really cool to look at.
JEAN: How about the art you do at home with your son? Does he have any preferred materials he gravitates toward?
AIMEÉ: So far CJ likes
everything equally, though often not for their value as art supplies. He
loves to remove the caps from markers and then put them on again, it's great
fine motor practice for him. He discovered along the way that he can draw
on his hands: bonus! If there is a cup for him to put his crayons in,
he'll put them in and take them out over and over. I try not to push him
to create, just to interact with the materials. He gets extra praise for
drawing on the paper, but putting things away is a terrific skill, too!
I recently made him a felt board and a set of shapes in rainbow colors to work on helping him identify shapes and colors. He loves it and gets excited every time we go near it!
JEAN: I’d love to hear about where you get the ideas for your projects and activities. Do you have any favorite reference books or web sites you can share with us?
AIMEÉ: Some of my projects are adapted early
elementary projects, like the cherry blossoms I mentioned. My favorite
high school art teacher, Melissa Roszkiewicz, encouraged me to paint with
dandelions. And I learned about making contact paper collages from you, Jean!
There's a list of favorite links on my website, but for toddler projects in particular I love Laugh, Paint, Create
and The Crafty Crow.
For books, I like First Art, which I reviewed on my blog recently. I'm currently reading and enjoying Young at Art, which is more of a text for teachers of art, but is a
great resource for anyone interested in teaching art to small children.
JEAN: Anything else you’d like to add?
AIMEÉ: I'd just like to remind parents not to be afraid to let their toddlers play with art materials. Put down a drop cloth, have some wet rags ready, or just take it outside. There's really no right or wrong way to do it. Let your kids encourage you to let go a little and get messy with them, and you'll have fun too!
JEAN: Thank you, Aimeé! Your words really make me miss my toddler art group and that whole putting things in the mouth and painting with the whole body stage! I guess I’ll just have to do another toddler art group once Daphne is a little older!
Readers who leave a comment by Wednesday, May 5th at 12midnight EST will be entered into a random drawing for a set of rainbow-colored felt shapes with a little travel-sized felt bag that doubles as a canvas for making pictures.
Congratulations to Jennifer for winning the drawing for the felt set!
What a great interview of an amazing woman. I love seeing women going after their dreams. Seeing an art therapy for a couple of years gave me new appreciation for the importance of art, and the casualness to let the kids make messes have been huge issues in how my children see art. I look forward to seeing the blog to get some more ideas. Thanks!!