Sarah Baraie Lathrop's reputation precedes her. Prior to meeting her, several moms from Curious G’s school enthusiastically spoke of her ability to uncover their children’s creativity and passion for art; in turn bringing out their enthusiasm for learning. Another testament to her artistic approach towards teaching are the bold and vibrant art projects that are crafted in her classroom then hung along the hallways of C.G.’s school; I could stare at them for hours. We met at the annual school benefit last year and started following each other on Instagram, where her colorful mixed media creations fill her feed. (Curious G was immediately drawn to her “cosmic strawberries” and would not stop talking about them after I showed her). She also recently started the account Heart.Teacher to share some of her teaching methods on Instagram. Alas, C.G. was not placed in her class this year; and while she is very happy with her current teachers, she is often lured into “Ms. Sarah’s” classroom after pick-up. She is drawn to the inspirational energy that piques her curiosity with full-force. During one of these impromptu visits, Sarah and I chatted about project ideas for kids to do at home, which will come in handy when the winter weather starts to rear its slushy head. Read on to learn more about Sarah’s artistic journey and inspiration, as well as three innovative art projects to do at home with your kids. You will definitely wind up with a masterpiece or two of your own!
Tell us about your background and what you currently do.
I am an early childhood educator, a mother, newly wedded wife, a step mother, and an artist. I wear so many hats! I moved to NYC a little over five years ago, and it’s finally beginning to feel like home to me. My family and I live in Brooklyn and my children are in the 5th grade. I find that I am slightly hesitant to be referred to as an artist, that’s why I listed it last. I have had an innate interest in creating art that stems from my childhood. I remember that interest being nurtured by only a handful of my teachers and it was often overlooked by my struggles with subjects like math. I also typically struggled with projects that required many accurate steps with little room for experimentation. Because of this, I didn’t start creating art on my own until my adulthood. When I make art, I find it to be a therapeutic experience filled with the wonder of experimentation. I jump right in fearlessly and because I am by myself, the pressure to get it “right” just isn’t there. I am always inspired by the materials I am using and my feeIings from everyday life. I have never really pressured myself into making art to be shown for two reasons: during the day I focus on my career as a teacher and my duties as a mother (being an artist is a full time job contrary to what most people think), and I also worry that my art making experiences will start to feel like a chore instead of a fun time. With this said, I am a self taught stitcher, painter, sculptor, Weaver, resin mixer, and woodworker. Learning new skills and having a variety of tricks up my sleeve has helped my teaching and parenting tremendously.
What is the best part of your job?
My job enriches my day with youthful positivity and a lot of energy! I really understand young people. I feel like I have the ability to read their energy and provide them with anything they may need- whether it may be an activity that engages their interests, or a calm disposition when their energy needs diffusing, or watching a budding skill grow while providing the right materials. Teaching for me is a way of life.
Tell us about all-time favorite art project(s) from the kids’ perspectives. If you can pick one, pick one. If not, tell us about a few.
My favorite art lesson is usually my latest one. I never teach the exact same lesson, ever. Keeping my lesson ideas fresh maintains my engagement and if I am engaged the children are certain to be engaged as well. I marvel at the skills I have observed my 3’s class succeed in- especially when it’s something that is typically regarded as “too hard.” What I do is create a process that I know they can handle but I also provide materials that you wouldn’t typically use in an early childhood class. I love to include many different and colorful fibers, clays, mosaic tiles, homemade paints, and funky recycled materials to name a few. I have a good eye for determining whether or not I think my students will engage with a material.
Where do you find inspiration for your art projects? (Both personal and work-related)
Emotions usually inspire me to create art on a personal level. I definitely use art as a method for de-tangling any stress I may be feeling. I don’t create representational art so I also like to emotions in my pieces as my own little coveted secrets. When teaching I am inspired by my students! Every year the dynamic of my group changes and I recognize that and honor them as a unique whole. I develop lessons based on who they are and what they need.
How do art projects enrich other areas of academic learning for kids?
Every lesson that I approach will have at least 2-3 core subjects integrated within it. The subjects are not always obvious, but I will use a recent project as an example. We started as a group by drawing leaves onto a large poster, which is a social skill because they observe their peers working, have to negotiate their own space and appropriate places to draw, and also they chat with each other while they work. We studied the lines and shapes that we see when we look at real leaves, and then we practiced drawing leaves, which is an early writing skill. We the build our hand strength up by filling in the leaves with color, a fine motor skill. We cut them out and sprinkled them all over the room and imagined them falling off of trees, both an imaginative play and science skill. They then were asked to collect the leaves and sort them by color, and then by shape, a math skill. I find that when children make their learning tools, they take prideful ownership in the activity.
Please share some advice for parents who would like to harness their kids’ creative energy.
I think that parents should step away from the notion that creating art isn’t a meaningful skill for their children to achieve. Creative thinkers should be celebrated as innovators who manifest basically everything that is human made. So my advice to those that have children with innate creative abilities- is to give them any and every creative outlet you can! If you don’t like messy projects, sign them up for an art class. Allow them to feel comfortable with this gift and nurture it. You never know, they could create the coolest skyscraper this city has ever seen one day!
What basic art supplies should everyone have in their homes?
Provide your children with anything or everything! I find that the home environment is perfect for non directive art- so providing them with an array of materials and no rules will get their creative juices flowing. It also is a great way to encourage making a plan, problem solving as you discover how materials work, and self direction.
Art Project Ideas by Sarah:
Kids, do try this at home!
These projects are ideal for keeping your kids entertained for a good amount of time. The results are also dynamic and could make extraordinary holiday gifts! When Curious G makes art at home, I either set her up at her little table in her play area or right at the dining table. I lay down a bunch of newspaper for easy clean up and use old T-shirts as smocks. I also leave a pile of wet wipes or a damp cloth on the table so that she can clean her hands if she wants.
Picture frame loom:
Take any picture frame (remove the glass), tie strings around it, anchor the strings with duct tape on the back and you have a child friendly loom.
Also, hammering nails around the perimeter of a frame works for a twisting weaving style.
When weaving, consider a variety of materials like ribbons and chunky yarns. Younger children can weave with larger ribbons well and older children can be challenged with thinner yarns.
Young children love to collage, and collaging with mosaic tiles can create a substantial piece of art that you will never want to give up through the years. I love to shop for tiles on Etsy because you can find handmade ones, all different types of colors and sparkly ones, and pieces that will engage a child’s wonder- like treasure. Some of my favorite shops can be found here, here, and here on Etsy. Kids can use Elmer's glue to affix the tiles to their canvases however they'd like to arrange them. However, it is a good idea to encourage them to place the tiles closer together so that there is less space to grout. After the glue has dried, spread grout over the tiles to fill in the spaces. The wipe off the excess grout from the tiles with a wet wipe or damp washcloth.
A variation of this project is to paint the canvas prior to adding the tiles so that kids can match their paintings with the tiles like a puzzle, before gluing them on.
Set up a table full of materials and let your child steer the ship with little direction. Observe them while they engage with the material and also allow them to make discoveries with new objects. For example: empty canvas, paint, model magic, printed card stock paper, pipe cleaners, and natural sticks. Allow your children to fearlessly explore with any material you are comfortable having in your home.
Do you have any questions about these projects? Leave it in the comments below and I will get right back to you!
We would also love to see your finished projects! Send pics to firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Instagram.