2 ChaptEr onE When we close our eyes but can still see the candle’s flame; or are a great distance from the ones we love and can still see them in our mind’s eye; when we ride a train in our memory and imagination while reading a story to the children . . . we are ex- ercising our visual and aesthetic dimensions. It’s not only the ability to see and see clearly that we are talking about. It is the abil- ity to remember what we see, to categorize and to represent in other ways, as well as the ability to respond to and present environments or ourselves in aesthetically pleasing ways. The provision of an uncluttered yet visually and aesthetically stimulating space for young children is a good place to begin. Each one of us has an individual sense of what is aesthetically pleasing depending on our personalities and perhaps the experi- ences we had as a child. For one person a pleasing place can be plain, with white or light colors dominating, or with items made from natural materials that give a sense of space and culture. For another it can mean warm rich colors and large flourishes of accented materials or paintings. But somewhere there will be the common elements of order, beauty and light. A young child’s experiences of aesthetics will begin at home and continue in our centers. Therefore what we do and how we present environments and materials will matter. It will matter that the soft flowing purple fabric spills out onto the table toward the beautiful orange shell, or that collage materials are sorted into clear or white containers, ready for a child to choose from, or even that the pastels are invit- ingly settled onto wooden platters. Take another look at that light-colored tabletop we hope children will draw at. How can the children see where the paper begins and ends when the paper is the same color as the tabletop? Is that why the children are not draw- ing? Cover the table with brown paper or a fine cloth, hold the cloth down with elastic threaded into a small hem around the edge (and pulled tight) and see what happens. One morning Sarah arrives with an armful of yellow and purple dahlias. We set a blue vase in the middle of the table on a small wooden roti board that raises the vase above the surface of the table. At first the children and I choose pencils to represent what we see, then pastels on new sheets of paper, encouraging each other to make bold strokes. Amy comments, “I can see all the purple ones. That’s why I am doing purple.” In another part of the room near the easels, Joshua finds some small sponges and begins to dab purple and yellow. From where I sit, I can see he is responding to the vase of flowers on the table. Before the day is over other children use a variety of collage and other materials to create two- and three-dimensional representations of the vase of flowers. The focus is the simple display of the dahlias in a way that honored Sarah, who brought them, and the natural beauty of the flowers. The children create the rest. Howard Gardner (1991) and Loris Malaguzzi (1998) remind us that before children learn to write they use graphic languages to explain their knowledge, wonders and ideas to help themselves develop logical sequences in their theories. We’ll return to this idea in future chapters. what do we mean? VOC_FINAL.indd 2 5/17/10 4:22:10 PM