“We become attached to spaces that charm, delight, or move us. What brings this on? – a certain slant of light; an intriguing staircase; an alcove; the feel of smooth wood; or, unexpected beauty or form. Children have, or can acquire, more taste than we expect.” – Jim Greenman
When I worked with Jim many years ago – as we brainstormed about the environment at my new children’s center in Boston – he said this very thing!
As I unpacked boxes of furnishings, Jim went shopping – to museum gift shops and unique, interesting, one-of-a-kind boutiques. And when I could not unpack another carton, Jim would arrive with shopping bags filled with objects that would delight and intrigue both children and adults alike!
As we unpacked the baby dinosaur emerging from its shell; or the life-size puppet adorned in beautiful clothing and accessories; or the brightly colored kites in varying shapes and sizes; the paintings and artwork from the masters; and the many realistic animals, insects, and fish that would find homes in our environment, I realized that these were not the toys of most children’s centers. These were works of art, sculptures, and objects, beautifully crafted, and meant to be appreciated and cared for (with gentle hands). Jim introduced our children to a world of beauty, color, and form.
Presentation of these art forms would require some thought – and a lot of experimentation! I confess – I love arranging furniture, pulling all of the elements together, and creating environments that charm, delight, and move ME! I come to all of this naturally, so when I began working in the early childhood field, I spent countless hours preparing my classroom environments for the children. I couldn’t wait for them to come upon a newly designed, or unique corner, nook, alcove – and to discover all that awaited them. The children never disappointed me – they found everything I had created and set out for them and for their pleasure. And it became a source of anticipation on Monday mornings – what will ‘Miss Marcia’ have hidden, found, changed, or brought us this week?
My teams took all of this a step further. They created special spaces for children by turning furniture upside down and furnishing this new space with softness and a pastel palate of color. They turned teacher spaces into little nooks for children to sit and contemplate, or to just get away from the activity of the classroom – always equipped with an interesting item or two that piqued their curiosity. We had a garden of plants and flowers, a stone path to follow, and a small waterfall – all beneath the main staircase of our children’s center. We added a stone bench and it became a peaceful, sensory hideaway.
Once we started brainstorming, there was no stopping us – our teams created many unique spaces for our young children! We thought about light entering our spaces and what to add to create magic (shadows, reflections, colors) on the carpeting or tile floor. We thought about plants, and how they could cascade artfully from a shelf. We thought about ways we could creatively present materials to the children – so they would discover, engage, enjoy, and create from. And, we had great fun thinking about these things!
So, this summer, as you begin to plan the changes you’d like to make in your classroom, keep in mind spaces that charm, delight, or move you. Keep in mind the unexpected pleasures that children might come upon on the way to your classroom, just outside it, or within.
Look at what you already have with new eyes – turn furniture around, upside down, on its side – and see what you create.
Go shopping – in gardening stores, hardware stores, home goods stores, kitchen and cookware stores, and museum shops – to find interesting, delightfully unique items for the children. Look for wood and natural materials, beautifully crafted, realistic, whimsical, open-ended items that children do love, appreciate, and thoroughly enjoy. Introduce your children to a world of beauty, color, and form.
Places of delight and wonder invite and beckon young children to come in and take a look. And, it is this combination of anticipation, apprehension and, ultimately, joy at finding the treasures awaiting them, that creates the magic for young children.
And, what a treat it is for us, as adults, to experience this magic every day through the children.
My best to you as you begin thinking about the new school year. What delight and wonder might you create for those in your care? Hmmm …