Considering the aesthetics of the environment is an important consideration when planning an early childhood programme. This is important not only for children but also for the teachers who work there and the parents who participate. Gonzalez-Mena and Eyres (1994) note “Aesthetics is a worthy but often unconsidered goal when designing the visual environment for infants and toddlers [and pre-schoolers]. Children are more likely to grow up with an eye for beauty the adults around them demonstrate that they value aesthetics”.
Aesthetic preferences are very individual but are also cultural. Consequently we need to consider what we like as individuals, but we also need to carefully consider how our environments reflect the culturally and socially diverse communities we serve. Children’s well-being and sense of belonging is, I believe, very much influenced by the things they see in the environment that are familiar to them, that reflect their communities and what they know about their communities and culture.
Some ideas for consideration in setting up aesthetically pleasing and culturally reflective environments may include:
1)Paying attention to props in family making sure there are lots of different opportunities for play – dress ups/dramatic play equipment. Consider how these represent our different cultures.
2)Keeping spaces uncluttered and presenting things well and having a variety different art types around e.g. sculpture, masks, wall hangings from different countries etc.
3)Different images of fairies/gods/mythical creatures from other cultures.
4) Providing lots of different cultural artefacts and props for fantasy play.
5) Music from different cultures for background music or for singing and dancing.
6) Songs in different languages and waiata that are sung regularly – at group times, spontaneously.
7) Different types of instruments available e.g. didgeridoo, bongos and African drums (look at articles available from Trade Aid shops and ethnic stores).
8) Art e.g. real prints and paintings by adult artists e.g. parents who are artists, as well as reproductions.
9) Display photography – images of nature/art/animals/children doing things/children and their families/buildings/scenery/shadows/different cultural groups e.g. Family
series from Ministry of Education and other picture packs.
10) Use light boxes for displays– with dyes/ and other creative materials/ coloured transparent materials e.g. glass beads/ leaves and natural materials/ethnic objects.
11) Display maps and flags from different countries.
12) Include recycled grocery packaging for dramatic play props – boxes/tins e.g. tinned corned beef/ Italian tomato tins/olive tins/ Chinese tea packets.
13) Use material with different ethnic prints for couch covers, cushions etc.
To view a range of different environments visit the photo gallery at http://www.multiculturalchildren.org.nz/