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
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?
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