R-E-S-P-E-C-T: What Do the Walls in Your Child’s Classroom Tell You?

When you walk into your child’s classroom, do you see art or just cute stuff? What difference does it make?

To me, it matters a great deal. In fact, it’s a huge passion for me. My work in early childhood is more than a job. I want children to be creative artists, not just robots, and I want adults to provide spaces that encourage each child’s curiosity and choice-making so that children learn to think!

When I walk into a classroom, I look to see if the teacher provides a space in which each child’s individuality is indeed inspired.

Maybe this will be clearer if I start with what I do NOT want to see in the classrooms of young children:

  • Walls covered with adorable, factory-made material, such as a cut-out of big turkey in November. To me, this is a waste of money.
  • Cute bulletin boards covered with displays that were all cut out by the teacher. The teacher has plenty of work to do, and I wonder what these displays actually teach the children.
  • Children’s work that is so similar that the only way a child would be able to identify hers, is if she did it incorrectly. What really alerted me to this is when I was consulting in a school and a child tugged on my shirt, pointed to some cute snowmen posted on a display, and whispered in my ear “Which one is mine?”

I ask you, how is a child creative in any of the 3 above scenarios?!

Years ago, on my first delegation to study at the Reggio Emilia Schools, I was lucky that Loris Malaguzzi (the founder of Reggio Emilia) was part of the delegation. He asked (much more elegantly than I will here) whether we want to just teach children to read the same old notes or encourage them to write new music. To me, that sums up what I’m trying to express. Let’s try and encourage our children to create something that’s new!

For me there are three different wall displays in the classroom: 1) cute teacher stuff, 2) crafts, and 3) creative art.

Cute Teacher Stuff

The cute items made by teachers and items bought in teacher stores are decorations. These items are fine, up to a point. However, I’m suggesting that encouraging children to do more is a plus. I’m seeking a teacher brave enough to leave wall space open for the children to fill.

Crafts

Crafts are done by the children. They are cute. However, these are the items that typically all look alike, unless a child does it incorrectly. For example, let’s say you’re having the children make pigs.

  1. You provide a toilet paper tube model of a pig.
  2. You provide all the materials the children need to make their own pig; for example: a toilet paper tube, pom poms, googly eyes, pipe cleaners (for tails), glue, precut ears, etc.
  3. The children use the materials to put together their own pig.
  4. In the end, all the children who come to this center will make some variation of a pig. The pigs may all look slightly different (different colored pom-poms, straight tails, and squiggly tails, eyes in different spots, etc.), but all are toilet paper tube pigs.

There is nothing wrong with crafts. I have many of my daughter’s crafts she made in preschool that I treasure. There is merit in helping children follow directions. Yet, I believe the children are worthy of more. They are worthy of developing art.

Creative Art

To me, this is the optimal display. Like crafts, creative art is made by the children, but they are given more opportunity to take the art in a creative direction of their choosing. This is not a free for all. The teacher selects materials and mediums for the children to create with, and then slowly presents them in a way that helps the children build understanding and make connections. Then, to enrich these, the teacher might even display the artwork along with photos that show them creating it. This will help both the children and their parents understand what they did.

Conclusion

To me, this is all about encouraging and supporting the child. The walls in a classroom can do so much more than be decorative. They can be used to encourage and support children. So, not only should you see some children’s art, but it will be at their eye level and carefully mounted. This show of respect will help to communicate to the children how important their work is.

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