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Aesthetic codes in early childhood classrooms: What art educators can learn from Reggio Emilia

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Tarr, Patricia
Publication Date: 
1 Oct 2001

Excerpts from the article:

In this article I will compare the messages contained in the physical environments of early childhood classrooms in Reggio Emilia, Italy with typical early childhood settings in Canada and the United States from the perspective of the "aesthetic codes" (Rosario & Collazo, 1981) embodied in these spaces. I will discuss how these codes reflect each culture's image of the child, cultural values and broad educational goals. I will conclude with the implications these codes have for art educators. For clarity, I will focus on the North American kindergarten which is specifically for 5-year-olds in the year prior to entry into first grade. Many aspects of this discussion also apply to preschool classes for 3- and 4-year-olds. While I will focus my description on kindergartens in the North American context, classes for 5-year-olds in the Italian context are an integrated part of their preprimary schools which serve children from ages 3 to 6 years. (The Municipality of Reggio Emilia also funds infant-toddler centers for children under 3 years of age which operate under the same educational philosophy.)


Reggio educators include aspects of a home into the school: vases of flowers, real dishes, tablecloths, and plants. There is attention to design and placement of objects to provide a visual and meaningful context. The objects within the space are not simplified, cartoon like images that are assumed to appeal to children, but are "beautiful" objects in their own right. For example, dried flowers hang from the ceiling beams and attractive jars of beans and seeds are displayed on shelves in the dinning area of Arcobaleno Infant-Toddler Center. On the 1997 study tour to Reggio, I was struck by the beautiful wooden table with a large bowl of flowers and wooden sideboard in one of the rooms in La Villetta School. I imagined being in a fine Italian dinning room! Manufactured and natural materials available for art projects are carefully displayed in transparent containers, or objects are set on or before mirrors to provide multiple views and capture children's attention. The strong role of the arts in Italian culture is clearly evident in the place of the atelier (art studio), mini ateliers adjacent to each classroom and the role the atelierista (artist-teacher) plays in supporting children and teachers in their work.