The aesthetics domain
The word aesthetics refers to the principles and philosophy concerned with nature and the appreciation of beauty. In terms of education, it refers to the ability to perceive through the senses, be sensitive to, and appreciate the beauty in nature and creations in the arts. Mayesky (2009) describes it as “a feeling of wonder”.
When we discuss the aesthetics, we also need to be aware of what it meant by the terminology: the arts. It can be used for both creative work and for the process of producing creative work. There are 4 broad categories: visual arts (drawing, painting, sculpture etc), performing arts (singing, dancing, dramatics, storytelling), usable arts (weaving, knitting, ceramics, jewellery making) and literary arts (writing stories, plays, jokes, essays).
Educators need to deliberately provide experiences in nature and the arts (aesthetics education) whereby children learn about them through responding to them and by creating their own art, in order to develop awareness, foster appreciation, and develop their skills. It has been found that aesthetic learning is highly integral to children’s cognitive and academic achievements (See: C Seefeldt, 2005). Children’s emotional development and their ability to make connections in the natural environment is supported by a learning environment which places emphasis on the beauty and wonder of nature. This in turn helps students to form a firm foundation for social consciousness, knowledge and care. Through engagement with the arts, children can develop skills of patience, persistence, hand-eye coordination, etc. It can also be an avenue for supporting children in developing and refining their skills in, for example, decision making, perceptual abilities and problem solving, as well as creating a prosaic climate building teamwork, cooperation and collaboration.
As you can see, aesthetic experience can either be responsive or productive.
Educators can plan activities that are:
- discovery activities, e.g. smelling flowers, grass or spices; observing beautiful fish.
- exposure activities, e.g. watching a performance; looking at the detail in paintings.
- evaluation activities, e.g. choosing their favourite song; comparing several leaves.
- creative activities, e.g. playing a role in a performance; finger painting.
It is the teacher’s role to:
- provide opportunities and support for creative dramatics (e.g. specific activities or organising creative arts centre or supporting an aesthetics-friendly climate).
- provide consistently high-quality creative art experiences.
- support children in respecting and caring for materials.
- integrate the arts into the curriculum.
- share their enthusiasm by talking about beauty in nature and the arts.
- encourage individual expression.
- strive to become more creative themselves and set a good example.
When responding to children’s artwork, educators need to be aware of the impact that their chosen words can have. Negative impacts come from those responses that are: complimentary (“Very nice” – cuts off discussion), judgemental (“Great work” – empty content allows child to think that anything they do is terrific no matter how much effort is put into it), value-laden (“I like that very much” – emphasises the product and not the process), questioning (“What is it?” – insists it has to be something which disregards abstract expression), or correcting (“Good but the grass should be green” – assumes that the child should copy reality).
A probing response, such as “Tell me about your picture” encourages discussion and avoids passing judgement on the child’s work. Although it does assume that the child will enjoy and learn from verbalising their ideas. Acknowledging effort, “You worked a long time on it” allows the child to realise that their effort has been noticed.
Other responses might: recognise the use of aesthetic elements, indicate an understanding of symbols, acknowledge the child’s feelings, ask for information, broaden the child’s self-concept, or recognise progress.
Reflection: What types of responses do you make in your classroom and what effect do you think that they have on your students?
Pitfalls to avoid:
Don’t focus on making a model when demonstrating as this will lead children to believe that there is only one “correct” way to make the model and takes away their creativity. Instead show them how to join or apply glue. In other situations this might be to avoid over-directing.
Don’t hurry children as they need time to explore, experiment and become familiar with materials.
Don’t reinforce only a realistic approach as this limits children’s expression.
Use praise sparingly and remember that linking effort and success is more effective as a strategy than empty praise.
Kostelnik, M.J., Sideman, A.K., & Whiren, A.P. (2013). Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum: Pearson New International Edition: Best Practices in Early Childhood Education. Pearson.
Mayesky, M. (2009). Creative activities for young children. Albany, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning.
Seefeldt, C. (2005). How to work with standards in the early childhood classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.