“Children are miracles. Believing that every child is a miracle can transform the way we design for children’s care. When we invite a miracle into our lives, we prepare ourselves and the environment around us. We may set out flowers or special offerings. We may cleanse ourselves, the space, or our thoughts of everything but the love inside us. We make it our job to create, with reverence and gratitude, a space that is worthy of a miracle!” – Anita Rui Olds (in Designs for Living and Learning)
Early childhood educators are known for their ability to make gold out of someone else’s recycle bin (to be honest, there is gold to be found in the dumpster as well!). I have written before about the value of repurposing soon-to-be-recycled stuff into fine works of art or ingenious open-ended play materials. Those of us in early childhood professions often find ourselves at the mercy of tiny budgets, and work to create environments out of a conglomerate of discarded hand-me-downs – not that there is one ounce of anything wrong with creating environments out of second-hand materials, but beauty often takes a backseat to functionality when it comes to early childhood space design.
If you were going to spend the majority of your day in one setting, what elements would you bring? You would probably be thoughtful about paint color, curtain fabric, access to natural lighting, artistic masterpieces for the walls, seasonal reminders of the natural world, and the congruence of all present elements. I have been inspired by the work of Margie Carter and Deb Curtis, along with images of Reggio Emilia and Montessori style spaces, to bring an artistic eye to my space and the experiences I provide to children – one that honors the same desire I, as an adult, have for spaces that are beautiful. Recognizing that children also have a desire for beauty and order, our spaces can reflect a respect for the learning environment.
At Abundant Life, we frequently pick flowers from our yard, or purchase flowers to bring to our indoor space, and it was with a pot of tulips in hand that I imagined this experience. I have a great lotion dough recipe from my friend Denita over at Play Counts, and decided to mix it up one morning as the crew was arriving. When breakfast was cleaned up and put away, I set the table for our dough experience: pink tulips in the middle, and each child’s tray waiting with a still warm hunk of pink, lavender scented dough. Music can help to inspire the play, and so I selected Thelonious Monk to fill us with rhythm and movement. Along with the dough, I started each child out with some clear plastic cutlery which they used to create patterns and slice small sections. These turned out to be a colossal success, and I am excited to give the crew a chance with some metal forks and knives soon. Some minutes in, I added a bowl of small rocks (vase filler) to the table, and everyone immediately begin adding them to their creations. Simone was inspired to add frogs, and she created a secret den – frogs inside, rocks scattered throughout. Her task of hiding the frogs sent others for animal accessories, and the whole crew began combining their dough into larger and larger quantities with the goal of hiding all of the rocks and animals inside. Eventually, the whole experience took on a new flavor: some designing food for their animals while others abandoned the dough for rocks and shells. I had to cut the experience short (after an hour and a half!) so we wouldn’t completely forgo our morning snack! Perhaps next time, I will plan to have snack right alongside our trays of dough.
How do you bring beauty to your environment? Share your ideas below. Thanks for reading!