Setting up my kid’s space was the first thing I did as an architect-expectant mother. The standards were intuitive: clean lines, not too cute, and nothing overpowering. I couldn’t possibly know exactly what was needed for support and engagement. Acquiring expertise in this field became an overarching goal.
In my e-how-to-book DIY Like a Hummingbird: 10 Steps to Naturally Well-designed Kids’ Spaces I suggest that mother hummingbird’s instinctual behavior should be emulated. I admire how she goes about first locating and building the family abode followed by incubating, feeding, protecting from predators, keeping warm at night, and teaching her nestlings.
Mother hummingbird follows her instinct — I had to force myself. In the beginning, I knew nothing and had to design my way out of it: I opened Kids’ Studio, an architectural firm focusing on developmental aspects of creating environments for children. Then, I invited kids to tell me what they want in their ideal rooms by sponsoring a drawing contest. In an effort to practice communicating with children on their level, I took up teaching.
To gain practical knowledge required while designing kids’ spaces that bolster children in the hard work of growing up, I opened Children’s Architecture Workshop with artist Susan Thacker (we met through her son). At first, I could barely utter a sentence without looking at my notes. It was so unnatural to me. Yet, with practice, I got better — just in time for my own kids to take full advantage.
The idea was not to groom for a career, but to provide tools necessary to pursue a life of creativity. Together with others, my daughters would run to the scattered crayons, piles of blocks, and bins filled with recycled bits and pieces. They would get to work sketching, building block structures, shaping their designs with hot glue guns and the materials provided. The point was to excite imagination and give them tools to express feelings.
When Mia was in second grade, her class did a gingerbread house unit. I was invited to talk to the children about the importance of a solid foundation and planning ahead. Along with a few other moms, I volunteered to assist with the hands-on part as well, helping the students to prop up the graham crackers.
It went quite well. Since Mia has had a lot of prior experience by taking part in Children’s Architecture Workshop, she did an exceptionally creative job and received a great deal of praise, especially from one mom who said to her: “You are so talented! You have your mother’s genes!” Mia thanked her and then made a joke in the car as we were driving home: “I am wearing my mama’s jeans, and they don’t even fit me…” I laughed so hard! What a smart kid, not to take this business of inherent talent seriously.
There has never been a shred of doubt in my mind that my kids will surpass me. It has been my goal to serve as a springboard by DELIGHTING, INFORMING, AND SATISFYING while stimulating and inspiring their creativity.
Yes, they can do anything they choose, as long as they are willing to put in the effort.
The kids themselves have to do the hard work. I am just supplying the invisible infrastructure. I do what I can in the background, rooting for them.
Designing kids’ spaces combined with teaching has given me a way to hone parenting skills. A great testimony to my efforts not being in vain was our experience at the brand-new New Museum in Manhattan. A docent tour was starting just as we got there, and we were the only ones in the lobby who wanted to take advantage of it. Thus, we had a private tour guide who even took us across the street to “observe the building” by Tokyo-based architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa.
The docent was asking a lot of thought-provoking questions, mostly aimed at the girls. It was music to my ears to hear their perceptive and knowledgeable responses. I was really proud of them; the docent, an artist herself, was quite impressed.
She complimented me on doing a good job with them.
The biggest compliment, however, was the fact that they went back to the museum the following day on their own — I have succeeded at building a solid foundation by instilling the curiosity and the desire to learn. It will serve them well in their lives of creative pursuits.