What is beauty?
Aesthetics is the philosophical study of beauty and taste. The term stems from the Greek word “aisthetikos,” meaning “of sense perception,” and is related to the study of sensory values. In design, aesthetics refers to the visual attractiveness of a product. Studies have proven that creating good aesthetics in a product leads to better usability and user experience.
In this sense it is the preschool, the third teacher, the materials, that are the product...
I totally get the whole idea of wanting to make children's play and learning spaces beautiful - but from whose perspective are we making them beautiful ?- are we making them beautiful in the eyes of the child or in the eyes of the adults? I like organisation in a preschool setting - it helps the children know where things are when they need/want them - especially when there are many sharing the same space there is a need to have a place for everything otherwise so much time would be spent looking for things rather than playing...
BUT, one could argue mess could also open up opportunities to find and discover new things... (but having said that I have to admit that I get really irritated when shops change their layout and when they re-position products so that we "discover" new things - I always feel that if I want to start exploring then I will - I don't need someone else to "explore" for me... but suggestions - like posters on the wall, (documentation in preschools) can encourage to discover or rediscover items/play). BEAUTY:- the quality of being pleasing, especially to look at, or someone or something that gives great pleasure, especially when you look at it. (Cambridge Dictionary)
The above image shows the children's work, to create a beautiful fairyland. The children were incredibly proud of this construction, they believed that fairies wanted beautiful things, and that to entice fairies to the preschool they needed to build a beautiful fairy land for them to visit. They felt, collectively, that they had achieved this.
I think we need to focus on the word pleasure when it comes to beauty or aesthetics - children have obviously been part of the creation in the above photograph - there will be the pleasure and satisfaction of creating the construction, making areas of play, cozy places to sleep - they will stand back and admire their work - there is obvious beauty in that. BUT at first glance I have to admit I saw a mess... it was first by taking a step from my adult perceptions of beauty I could see the real beauty of this image... As a child tidying up was NEVER a priority in my life... my own children at home do not have that priority either - their rooms are chaotic - but show their play, their interests and the beauty of their lives - and once a week they need to sort the floor space at least so we can vacuum clean - and every once in a while we work together to sort out their rooms... I remember as a child I LOVED when we did the BIG CLEAN UP (well maybe not that bit so much - although it was a chance for rediscovery) - but the short time afterwards when everything had its place - all the surfaces and floor were clear and ready for play - it was like having a new room - but it never lasted long - the play took over and chaos reigned once again... In a way that is how I see myself as a teacher... supplying children with the space to play - the space to learn - and yes they need to learn about responsibility of putting things away so they can find them, and about cooperation and helping - but I still feel that it is my work to ensure the environment supports their play... ... and this is where it becomes tricky - how beautiful does it have to be? And what kind of beautiful? Should we instead focus on creating meaningful spaces, on spaces that invite different kinds of play and learning, on spaces that allow different kinds of interactions? What kind of space says the child is valued? Is there only value in beauty? ...and providing children with settings that are deemed beautiful from an adult perspective with the aim that we value children so much that we are creating these "wonderful" spaces, is it really giving value to children? Could it, in a way, be reducing them further - as we are not listening to the children, we are not taking the time to see beauty through their eyes... ? I have yet to meet a child that does not spread out their toys, coating enormous spaces in their play (I have lego scars on my feet to remind me) - so why are so many spaces for children being created looking almost sterile on the floor? As the environment is the third teacher according to the Reggio Emilia Approach we need to really think about what the layout of the setting is telling the children... does it say "we listen to you" or is it saying "we know what you need"? (and I do think design needs to contain elements of both - but the child does need to feel heard... "listened to" means we hear all the children's voices... all their languages)
I am not simply going to give up on what I think is beautiful - but I do think its worth considering children's view of beauty when we are designing places of play and learning... it needs to be a mix - as its a learning space for both adults and children and therefore does need to meet the needs of all involved (as well as including lots of practical details that just make life simpler ie more time for play...)
I also find it fascinating watching children select pine cones to bring back to the preschool to use inside. Of course, I was just collecting the "beautiful" ones - the whole ones with symmetry and a few quirky ones - the children were collecting "any old cone" (from my perspective) - ones that were eaten by squirrels, ones that were damp and half mushed... we put them together and we counted them and we talked about which ones we wanted to take back to the preschool ... (OK OK I was secretly hoping that just the whole beautiful ones would make it back) - but no - the children had their own agenda - they were filled with pleasure and satisfaction by the cones they had collected - their cones were beautiful, so all the cones were brought back to the preschool.
We create artwork with half eaten cones in our loose-play - BEAUTIFUL artwork ... and while I sit and wonder at the children using these half eaten cones - they are perfectly satisfied and look at me with gleaming faces, proud of their creations - and so I glow with a new sense of beauty... awakened to all the new potentials... and grateful that I work with children so I can learn more and more about what the world is REALLY about...