Sensory Play With Red Violet Founder Catalina Gutierrez

If there’s paint flying and water bins filled with Orbeez balls, you can bet that there’s a Red Violet class happening. Created by Catalina Gutierrez as an extension of the sensory-play she developed for her first child, the experience is based on letting kids explore all of their senses, and, yes, getting messy. An artist herself, the mom of two boys has been leading mobile art classes throughout Miami for eight years. Red Violet at State of Kid was introduced when we first opened, and it’s only grown since. Child-led (but supervised by a caregiver), classes allow little ones to discover their creativity without any constraints. Children paint on the walls and rub shaving cream on their tummies, allowing them to experiment with different textures and materials, which stimulates their imagination and independence. Don’t worry, we do the cleaning up!

How did you start Red Violet and what is the concept?

Although I majored in communications in college, I’ve always been an artist. I worked in PR at an entertainment agency and created art on the side. However, my true passion was in the arts, not PR. When I had my first kid in 2010, I decided to leave entertainment. I started doing sensory activities with my son, and a friend told me that I should be doing this for other kids. I wasn’t sure because it’s different when it’s not your child. She insisted that I start classes for kids. I was a bit fearful, but I said okay. That was eight years ago, when my son was two, and I found my calling teaching art and sensory classes. Child-centered play is the best way to learn, and we experiment with different materials and textures. A big part of our philosophy is hands-on discovery, which gives kids the confidence to thrive and explore. I don’t ever feel like I’m working because I’m so happy doing what I do.

Red Violet was one of the first classes offered at State of Kid, and, despite the pandemic, it has really flourished.

Yes. We now have five art playgroup classes for ages one to three. At each session, we set up four different sensory and art stations. There’s a variety of materials for them to explore in a playful, creative way. And it’s different every week. It can be a paint station with a big backdrop they can paint on. Or a water station because water is the favorite for that age. Sand, oobleck, playdough, pom poms and food coloring; the materials are endless.

What do the kids love the most?

The potion station is the most popular. Essentially, we fill squeeze bottles with different colored waters, spices and slices of fruit, like lemons. They add that to a cup of baking soda for a fizzy reaction. They get to create these super magic potions, which are colorful and smell good. The paint station is also fun. It can be surprising, too. You expect a child to take a brush and paint, but sometimes they do something like paint with their feet. We give them the freedom to explore without expectations. They should be one with the material. Some kids have never had an experience with paint or messy materials. They feel ecstatic to make a big mess. And parents don’t have to worry about cleaning up because we do that ourselves.

It’s messy but so much fun. What do you tell parents to bring for their kids to wear?

Bring a change of clothes for after. You don’t know what’s going happen but be prepared for anything and everything. There’s paint from head to toe, on their tummy and legs and in their diaper. It’s mixed ages, but most are close to two. The little ones are walking and the three-year-olds are more coordinated. The stations are the same but how they interact with them is different.

How can parents encourage creativity at home?

One of the most important things is to let kids get messy—even if it’s out of your comfort zone. You can contain the mess, of course, by recreating these stations in the backyard or in a designated area in your home. Lay out a big plastic tablecloth or canvas drop cloth and place a bin on top. Add water, food coloring and wooden blocks. Alternate with different materials like Orbeez, pom poms, rice, leaves, cupcake tins, toy trucks, oobleck and even mud. Teach the child to keep the play area inside the bin but trust them with the materials. It stimulates their imagination. We have an art studio at our home and all of our creativity happens there.