Key aesthetic considerations for an early childhood environment

It can be seen that consideration of aesthetics in the early childhood environment must include the careful organisation of space and often aesthetic and organisational considerations will overlap in many areas. We have identified several key aesthetic considerations that can be used when establishing and reviewing an early childhood environment.


  • The internal colour scheme of a centre needs to create mood and define spaces. A particularly comprehensive reference book which discusses colour in detail is the Child Care Design Guide written by Anita Rui Olds25.  It is important to determine floor colours first so that the walls can be painted to complement the floor colour.
  • Use primary colours cautiously. Too many bright colours may make children distracted and agitated or cause them to shut down their senses.
  • Establishing centres, or centres having a total repaint, should call on the services of colour consultants. Paint retailers often have a free service.
  • Colour can be added to a neutral background by incorporating fabric, paintings or other works of art.


  • Use natural lighting whenever possible – natural light is healthier and has varying qualities of illumination throughout the day.
  • Avoid harsh fluorescent lighting – these can create agitation.
  • Use full spectrum lamps with a CRI of 85 –9026 (can be available as fluorescent bulbs).
  • Consider having a range of different light sources in the centre e.g. lights with dimmers in sleep rooms, lights with upward facing tubes that do not glare into babies eyes, wall mounted goose-neck lamps, mini halogens for art work or bulletin boards etc.


  • Display objects that arouse curiosity and wonder.
  • Use both natural materials and found materials in the programme.
  • Make sure materials are presented in an orderly and considered way.
  • Reorganise materials once children have finished using them so they retain their appeal.
  • Arrange and display objects in different ways so that children’s curiosity is aroused.
  • Display a variety of art work or objects d’art in the centre – different styles, from different cultures, in different mediums e.g. sculpture, pottery, weaving, tapa cloth, art prints from the library.
  • Display children’s work in careful and respectful ways. It is often better to highlight one or two paintings ratherthan a mass of work. Framing can highlight and transform children’s work.
  • Display documentation – written and photographic, in a well spaced and orderly way, preferably at the children’s level.
  • Ensure parent noticeboards are uncluttered and attractive, and regularly updated so old material is removed.
  • Avoid presenting ‘cute’ commercialised images to children as art work. Present a range of images that encourage imagination and discussion.

Children need to be presented with a diverse range of styles and images that challenge children to think about different ways subjects can be portrayed.27

Sensory experiences

  • Provide experiences, materials, and equipment that are sensory rich – visual, aural, tactile, and olfactory.

It is important that teachers of young children model an appreciation of beauty and aesthetics for young children. Because young children are so open to sensory experiences it is the perfect time in a child’s development to encourage their faculty for wonder and ‘marvelling’ at beautiful and ‘special’ things.

‘It is not necessary to be an artist to help young children enjoy the creative process or to help them gain pleasure from the creations of others. It is necessary to believe that experiences with beauty, the arts, and nature are valuable parts of all our lives’ 28

In conclusion, we strongly argue that careful organisation and aesthetic considerations influence the emotional climate of an early childhood centre and children’s learning.

We have regularly observed that an unattractive, chaotic, and noisy environment is likely to hype up children’s behaviour so they become disruptive and disrespectful of the environment, and the materials and equipment within it. Conversely, we have seen environments that are too pristine and immaculately tidy which do not provide enough challenges for children. Children who are bored, who have their creativity stifled by too many controls in the environment, and who are not challenged enough will also manifest disruptive and disrespectful behaviour.

We sometimes hear people say, “We’ll sort out the environment then we’ll start on the programme planning” as though they are different. When refecting on the environment, those involved need to observe how children’s learning is being supported and encouraged. Learning goals can be set, and strategies consistent with Te Whāriki, can be implemented (see Appendix 1). Planning the environment is part of programme planning.

Last updated: 21 May 2015