The child artifacts series #2: Displays
Over the past few weeks in particular, I have noticed that there has been lots of debate about displays! Whatever you position in this discussion, it is important that as always, our focus stays with the child. I could have quite easily developed a blog post that had lots of examples of displays but I don't think that always helps when people are "torn" over what will work for their space.
So instead, I am going to highlight some important points to consider when thinking about displays!
Before we even talk about pedagogy, let us acknowledge that displays take time and time away from children! Backing, bordering & laminating a backdrop for the children's "work" is quite literally a time-thief and the big question we have to ask is whether this use of time actually impacts on children's outcomes, parent's understanding or the enhancement of our pedagogy?
In my last post, I pondered on why we develop environments before getting to meet, know and understand our current cohort of children. The same goes with displays, why do we need to decide on boards before the children have even walked through the door? While I was working in Hong Kong, we simply placed "Under construction" on all display boards and waited to consult with children and families. As time passes and the development of boards progresses, what children and family get to see is growth! They get to see that learning is never really finished, neat, tidy or organised. It is a creative process where we can teach children the value of taking time. It is an ultimate demonstration of process over product.
"I love displays that are ongoing - children should have the opportunity to continuously add to them as they discover new ideas"
How do you consult with children about displays?
How do you give children ownership of displays?
Back in the 1980's, colourful early childhood environments were all the rage, a few decades later and we are all embracing the #hessianlife. And this is where I can see the bitter war break out about environment shaming. We have all scrolled through Pinterest and thought "I need some tree branches and fairy lights pronto" but again, what is our motivation in our aesthetics? I see all kinds of displays and I really have to remind myself not to immediately judge colour or equally to be wowed by potato sacks. I have to firmly remind myself of the "intent" and the rationale for how this aesthetic fits the philosophy, the pedagogy and the curriculum.
"Displays that are full of adult-led "display resources" just become wallpaper and children don't interact with it..."
I personally do not see the value of Twinkl heavy displays, nor do I believe in the use of the same printed font for every display. However, I equally do not think every display should look like it has emerged from a Scandinavian forest...
The world is not beige so our displays do not need to be either! It is all about being mindful of visual noise & tone and stepping back and assessing your aesthetics for their impact. For example, a busy display can interfere with attention and focus but we don't need to tear the whole thing down. We make adaptations and adjustments to suit. When looking at a display, ask yourself "What do I want my children to see?" - is it their own work so they can get a sense of pride?, is it to ignite an inquiry based mind?, an exposure to print rich materials? or to rigger recognition?
Does the design of this display benefit learning and reflect my children's worlds?
Does this display reflect the real world?
Does this display show a balance of styles?
What do I want my children to see?
Boards and beyond
"I follow a rule of thumb that nothing should be created specifically for a display. The ideal is that they are flexible representations of the learning that is taking place, built up over time with a variety of work by a variety of children"
The big issue with displays is that they are symbolised by the traditional backed boards but displays are much more far reaching, even to social media. We do not need to be limited by our boards, for example, I recently visited a setting that had displays at the highest point in the room and the adults had to crane their necks to see the work. Advice part 1: have a range of board at different heights and part 2: introduce "moving boards" so that the displays can be erected in different and relevant spaces. The "moving boards" are good because they can truly belong to the children.
It is also important to be creative especially if you work in a setting that has constraints, for example pack-away settings and childminder settings. Using cardboard box displays, moving boards, floor books or furniture all bring displays to children's level. Displays can also be interactive, and may involve topic/focus tables with real items.
Children are naturally more skilled than us at coming up with ideas, so ask your children how they would like their work displayed?
One of the most common things I still see in early years are displays that have pre-cut templates & crafts! Whilst this practice is slowly fading, the question remains, why are we promoting "one size fits all" when the EYFS promotes that every child is unique? Creativity is unique.
Last year, I spent some time in a nursery and spotted an Elmer the Elephant display with identical Elemers (which is ironic considering the moral of the story). It wasn't welcomed, when I questioned why children were not allowed to create their own elephants. Instead, I asked the educator "are you creative?" to which she replied "Oh yes, I love to paint - I love painting on canvas". I asked her "What would you do if I told you what to paint and specified the position of the features?", she responded "Oh no, absolutely not, when I am painting, it has to be my own creation". I made the link for this educator but she sadly still did not see my point.
The point here - children have to own their creativity and we must respect their interpretation of things. We have to go against the grain that "it looks better this way" and to accept the messy process of displays, creativity, and us each being at different stages in our learning journey.
Below is an image from when I was a baby room leader, and yes, that is a template bunny being prepared for a display. The message: change in our pedagogy is always within reach.