Recently, I have seen a wave of criticism about the idea of designing aesthetically inviting environments or presenting Loose Parts to children. The focus of Loose Parts play is always on how children explore, interact and play with the materials. There is also power in knowing why aesthetics matter and how it supports children's growth and development. Children have the right to be part of aesthetically designed ecosystems. In the Schools of Reggio Emilia in Italy, aesthetics are an integral part of the pedagogy, interactions, and ecosystems. Children are seen to have a Hundred Languages to express their ideas, intentions, and thinking. The Hundred Languages are supported by the environment (third teacher) and the pedagogistas (educators).
Architects, artists, and designers, including Simon Nicholson, have explored the power of aesthetics in their work. In his article explaining the "Theory of Loose Parts", Simon Nichols argues the importance of adopting an interdisciplinary approach to designing an early childhood ecosystem. He states that there is very little difference between art, science, education, recreation, work, and play in early childhood education. Educators need to approach children's learning with Loose Parts from an interdisciplinary perspective (Nicholson, 1971). When Nicholson started his exploration of Loose Parts, The Theory of Design included the moral dimension of the designer's social responsibility to link science, research, intuition, and subjective aesthetic judgment.
Nicholson proposed play as an 'intersubjectively negotiable formulation of design', which expanded the designer's social responsibility and included otherwise neglected client bases and communities in the design process (Stott, 2019). The concept of aesthetics was not abandoned. It was expanded to incorporate an interdisciplinary perspective.
Before we dismiss the value of aesthetics, we must reflect on its benefits and purpose. After all, children deserve more than just one approach to their interactions and play. My hope is to engage the reader to deeply think about more than one perspective regarding introducing, designing, and provoking children's inquiry with Loose Parts.
In this series of blogs, we will explore the purpose of aesthetics in detail. We will look at the theories and educational philosophies that support it and how it impacts children's capacities to create and innovate. We begin with the premise that aesthetics offer children an alternative path to wonderment and expression. It invites them to seek beauty and investigating the complexities of different ways to communicate their ideas and thinking, thus inviting others to listen and appreciate their opinions. To ignore aesthetics is to deny children an expressive voice and a generative context for learning.
Aesthetics is defined as an appreciation for beauty and a feeling of wonder. Children's aesthetic sensibilities are enhanced by allowing them to explore their environment in a manner that encourages divergent thinking. As children play with Loose Parts, they explore and wonder about the essential elements of design and art, such as line, color, form, space, and design.
Aesthetics is concerned with the nature and appreciation of art and taste. Focusing on aesthetics allows us to create and appreciate art and design beautiful objects. According to humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow (1999), humans have an inherent need for aesthetics, which he considered an integral part of the human experience. An aesthetically pleasing environment can promote children's creativity and aesthetic expression. An aesthetically pleasing environment encourages children to care and actively participate in a community of learners. Every culture has a decisive aesthetic contribution, and children can embrace the aesthetic representations from different cultures.
Aesthetics is a way to express our thinking, which embraces learning as a wondering, inquiry, curiosity, and the constant search for beauty and creativity. It encourages children to find complexity in simple objects. Aesthetics give children a voice that is powerful, regenerative, and within a relational context of learning.
In her book, Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began, Professor Ellen Dissanayake (2000), discusses aesthetics as a sensibility that defines how people intentionally show what they value, appreciate, and care about. Aesthetics allows us to understand and communicate the way we think and how we express our ideas. Aesthetics encompasses the relationships between people, children, objects, materials, environments, and places. In the representation of our aesthetic sensitivities, we begin to express the core of our humanity.
Dissanayake, E. (2000). Art and intimacy: How the arts began. University of Washington Press, Seattle.
Nicholson, S. (1971). How not to cheat children – The theory of loose parts. Landscape Architecture, 62, 30-34.
Stott, T. (2019). "Systems in Play: Simon Nicholson's Design 12 Course, University of California, Berkeley, 1966." Journal of Design History 32, no. 3: 223–39. https://doi.org/10.1093/jdh/epz014.
Aesthetics, loose parts, education, play, design, art, early childhood environment, design ecosystems, creativity, innovation
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