Photo right: Diana School, looking into a courtyard from the piazza
"The visitor to any institution for young children tends to size up the messages that the space gives about the quality of care and about the educational choices that form the basis of the program."
Lella Gandini, the North American liaison for the Reggio Emilia preprimary schools
Aesthetic Codes in
By Patricia Tarr
I would also like to extend Efland's (1988) notion of "school art," art which only exists in schools (p. 518) and is "an institutional art style in its own right" (p. 519) to include the classroom environment as also an institutional style in its own right. I will argue that while all classrooms may have their own "school art style," North American early childhood classrooms are more distinct aesthetically from other social contexts than are classrooms in Reggio Emilia.
North American Early Childhood Classrooms
As we enter the school there is traditionally a corridor for human traffic to move through and into self-contained classrooms as quickly and quietly as possible. The classroom space is a discrete entity which is subdivided into "centers" including art, writing, sand/water, reading, math, manipulatives, blocks, science, and a domestic/house or dramatic play area. There is also a meeting area. The room may appear crowded with the amount of furniture and shelves in the space. Consider what is allowed into this space. On the walls are commercially made (along with some teacher-created) charts or posters. Adjacent to the calendar, or included as part of it, is a weather chart. Along the top of the chalkboards, or just underneath, are strips depicting the alphabet and numbers to10. Charts identifying colors and shapes are posted on available bulletin board spaces. There may be seasonally related posters, or pictures of community helpers (doctor, firefighter, police officer, letter carrier), or information posters on dinosaurs, parts of the body or animals, depending on the current theme of study. The bulletin boards will be backed with colored papers and surrounded by a scalloped decorative boarder. Each bulletin board may be decorated in a different color of paper with a different scalloped boarder. For example, in one small classroom I visited recently there were seven different boarders around six boards each backed in one of three different colors. There may be mobiles or things hung from the ceiling. The overall impression is often of a visual bombardment of images. There is a particular "aesthetic" to this room. Just from the images on the walls we know at once we are in a kindergarten (or primary grade) classroom. This look, like the string paintings or string prints typical of school art (Efland, 1988), exists only in schools.