Do you feed your child with aesthetic fast foods?
Imagine talking to your little ones the way they talk to you: dada, gugu, gaga, baba. That wouldn’t exactly be a rich language environment stimulating speech development, would it… Although we usually adjust what we say to our kids’ current capabilities, we tend to speak to them using rich vocabulary. We as parents (or at least some of us) also put some effort into expanding our own vocabulary. And since we know it requires some input of new information, we read books, articles, maybe even some poetry. We instinctively feel that diversity is the key here. We want our vocabulary to be full of different kinds of words – technical concepts, vivid adjectives, scientific notions, names for emotions, phenomena, brilliant coinages.
Rich music environment for children
Music is also a kind of a language and it follows the same rules. If we want our children to be able to freely and creatively use the language of music (and EVERY child can achieve that!) we need to provide them with an access to rich music environment at home.
What makes a rich music environment:
– variety of tones – different instruments
– diversity of styles – each musical style is like a genre of books, it goes by its own rules and introduces different values
– various tonalities and scales – there are many more ways of organizing sounds than just major (happy) and minor (sad) keys. Most of the music that surrounds us is written in major scale, sometimes we encounter those in minor key (the sad ones) – but it’s still as though we tried describe paintings with only blue and red color. What about the rest of rich color palette?
– different meters – meter describes rhythmical patterns of a music piece. The most popular one is duple meter – we can hear that in pop music, reggae, hip-hop, drum and base and so on. Sometimes we hear a triple meter and automatically think about waltz. But if we compare most commonly used meters to a diet – it’s like eating only the salty and sweet food. We all know that true pleasure of eating starts when the flavors mix in non-obvious ways. And although most of the children have preferences for sweet flavors, we obviously try to feed them with more than just donuts!
Here’s an example of a high quality song for children (and a good animation, too!):
On the contrary…
Musical environment that is NOT rich would be music that:
– always sounds the same
– is built on very few tone qualities
– has a primitive form
– is always happy and there are no other emotions
– is set only in duple meter
And the sad thing is that these are the qualities of music that surrounds our children every day. It hits them from the radio, on the TV, from most of the animations for children, plastic toys, YouTube channels. And it’s also illustrated with bad animations way too often… just like this one:
Visually rich environment for children
What about visual arts? Books, children’s stories, illustrations, animations that we “feed” our children with? What makes a visually rich environment? It’s basically the same as with music. Children’s sense of aesthetic value develops up until the age of 11 – so it’s mostly up to their parents and caregivers how this ability will grow and what children will learn to value the most. So in this area we also have an ongoing battle between aesthetic value and visual fast foods. And, just like with music, the most important thing about rich visual environment is diversity of graphic styles. Proper use of color, lines and brushwork influences emotional impact of the pictures. Illustrators may experiment with conventional styles and create new, unorthodox combinations of text and pictures. If the message is not obvious and partially hidden in the picture, it leaves more to the imagination and encourages our own free interpretation. Pictures can entertain us and make us laugh, but they also can be demanding and require concentration.
Fast food type illustrations are simple pictures devoid of aesthetic value – just like the ones we can find in children’s books available in almost every supermarket. They usually tend to be really realistic and have this Disney-like manner in depicting things and in the topic of the story itself (just like in the example above). Fast food illustrations tend to literally describe what’s written in the text, not leaving much to the imagination. Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles, authors of many publications on children’s literature and illustration, impute that such pictures have a negative impact on children’s imagination.
Low quality, fast food-like illustrations and animations are usually:
– repetitive and schematic
– literal (too realistic, imitating reality, lack of metaphors and symbols)
– filled with too many colors and elements (lack of color harmony, too many intensive, vivid colors, lack of nuances and subtle combinations of color, too many visual elements not harmonizing with each other)
– OR quite the opposite – poor visual language, schematic shapes, lack of diversity in structure and form
Qualities of a good illustration or animation for children:
– new and different conventions – just like with music, children are open for exploring many different styles, they’re interested in different forms, from abstract to realistic pictures, so it’s really important to show them a variety of visual styles.
– minimalistic, geometric forms will focus children’s attention on the whole picture and story, while rich and complex illustrations will draw attention to single elements and parts of the picture.
– they’re not literal or too realistic – simplified, geometric forms stimulate perception and imagination.
– allusions and deliberate omission of a given element stimulate imagination – just like music audiation exercises do.
– artfully used rich color palette – contrasting combinations as well as subtle colors, depending on a given style.
Aesthetic taste develops over time and needs nurturing. Our children deserve rich aesthetic environment – just as they deserve eating many different tasty dishes, not only donuts. And let’s not forget how rich musical, visual or language environment affects their development and potential!
Now you know what makes a musically and visually rich environment for children and how it stimulates their development and future aesthetic sense. If you want to learn more and discover some good examples of animation for children, check my previous text on the subject here.
This text was created with help and knowledge of Katarzyna Feiglewicz-Peszat – a visual artist, mom of Antek and a teacher who runs visual arts classes for kids and adults. Many thanks!
Salisbury, M. Styles, Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, Londyn: Laurence King Publishing, 2012
Teodoczyk, Pomiędzy sztuką a edukacją. Ilustracja w książkach dla dzieci i młodzieży [Between art and education. Illustrations in children’s and teenagers’ books], 2014