Aesthetics – Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?

When I originally planned this blog I was thinking about the importance of aesthetics in the Reggio Emilia preschools. I DO want to talk about that, but I would like to broaden the scope when discussing aesthetics to bring up some ideas I have had over the past few years.

I mentioned in earlier blogs that three things struck me when I visited Reggio Emilia last spring: rights, lights, and aesthetics. The aesthetics are so very much a part of the culture of Italy. Even when driving through poorer parts of cities there, I saw flower boxes. The Italians seem to have a very deep-seated appreciation for beauty and accept it, even expect it, throughout their lives.

The example above is beautiful to see but we would never see it in the United States. Our society has become so litigious that we have veered far on the side of “safe.” It makes me wonder what our children here in the U.S. are missing. Maria Montessori, another Italian early childhood educator, believed that an organized and aesthetically pleasing environment called children to become engaged and taught them to care about their surroundings. Could our children learn to handle glass and mirrors if they were exposed to such at an early age? I wonder.

We here in the U.S. have thought about aesthetics in the past few years. When I started in this field, preschool classrooms had a red, blue, green, yellow color scheme. Those bright colors were supposed to project a happy place. More recently the trend has been to the softer more relaxing colors of nature. This has also extended to the materials used. We are seeing less plastic and more natural materials wicker, wood, etc. Is what is evolving a new sense of aesthetics in our early childhood classes?

In my methods classes I talk about how to make materials for a classroom. No preschool classroom has unlimited funds and being able to make materials that cost 4-5 times as much in a school supply catalog is an important skill. However, maybe there needs to be more emphasis on not only making the materials but making them such that they are aesthetically pleasing. The use of the materials may not change because of the beauty of them but their ability to engage young children might. After all, we are more likely to buy a book with a pleasing, interesting cover than one that has only the title and author’s name.

Will we ever reach the point where the Reggio Emilia schools are in regards to aesthetics? Probably not. Their sense of aesthetics is so ingrained into their culture that it would take centuries for us to be there. However, it is interesting that our sense seems to be changing. I wonder where it will take us.

Any thoughts or comments? Share them with us!

Debbie Lee recently retired as an associate professor of early childhood education at Western Illinois University. She has worked in the field of early childhood for more than 44 years, doing everything from running a licensed day care home to teaching on the college level.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *