Aesthetic Codes in
Early Childhood Classrooms:
Contributing to this unique aesthetic are the stereotypical symbols and visual qualities of the items in the room. The commercial posters and materials usually include simplified, black outlined figures reminiscent of coloring books. They are colored in bright, flat, even colors and usually have a stylized "cartoon-like" appearance. An alternate style is a slick, simplified "modernist" art style. The seasonal materials bear a "greeting card" aesthetic reminiscent of decorations purchased at the local mall or products created from popular crafts kits such as those featuring bunnies and teddy bears. When children's work is displayed on the walls, it is often placed against colored paper, surrounded by decorated borders, and hung at skewed and irregular angles. It may even be cut into shapes by the teacher to create a theme-based display.
Diana School, central piazza
In perusing both U.S. and Canadian educational catalogues, one is struck by the profusion of color; the furniture, equipment and play materials are in the primary colors: red, yellow, blue, plus green, and sometimes orange. Pastel colors are usually reserved for infant toys, or possibly girl's toys. In these catalogues you can color-coordinate your plastic drawers for storage, furniture, and fill the shelves with a wide assortment of toys, all in bright colors. These catalogues seem to be driven to saturate the environment with primary colors, seemingly based on an assumption that children prefer bright colors and the desire for children to learn the names of the primary colors.
The flatly colored, outlined stereotyped images of the posters and bulletin board boarders talk down to children and assume that they are not capable of responding to the rich, diverse images and artifacts, including images from popular media culture, which the world's cultures have created.
Classrooms are often crowded with centers and materials yet the overall aesthetic of individual items is one of simplification in form and uniformity of style and color. Teachers can even purchase clothing and jewelry decorated with these images of apples, school buses, the alphabet, ghosts or jack-o-lanterns and Santa Clauses to match their classrooms. The flatly colored, outlined stereotyped images of the posters and bulletin board boarders talk down to children and assume that they are not capable of responding to the rich, diverse images and artifacts, including images from popular media culture, which the world's cultures have created. Even objects found at home-- vases of flowers, comfortable furniture, real dishes and tools, collections of natural materials or treasured objects-- are not typically considered essential items in an early childhood classroom. When nature is allowed into the classroom, again it is often decontextualized in the form of planting a seed in a paper cup, or caring for a class hamster. In a visual and operational sense each institution is a separate entity in relationship to the other: home is home; school is school, relatively impermeable to the outside world.
Diana School, classroom
The image of the child is one who must be protected from the outside world in order to learn. The child is seen as an object to be filled with information distilled and dispensed in regulated doses beginning with simple concepts leading to more abstract concepts. However, Egan (1988) argues that even very young children are concerned with the abstract themes of good/bad, beautiful/ugly, power/control, love and hate-- all those issues surrounding what it means to be human, are typically excluded from early childhood. Dahlberg, Moss and Pence (1999) state,
He or she is not an innocent, apart from the world, to be sheltered in some nostalgic representation of the past reproduced by adults. Rather the young child is in the world as it is today, embodies the world, is acted upon by the world -but also acts on it and makes meaning from it. (pp. 50-51).
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