An inagural post for the ‘Stuff Hijacking Important Time’ (S.H.I.T.) List.
Hang out on reddit long enough and you find some interesting threads. A few weeks back I discovered a post titled, “Is anyone else annoyed by the zig-zag polka dot teacher blogs and cutsie teacher culture?” It has amassed a stack of upvotes and over 180 comments.
While half the comments are on a tangent discussing gender issues in education, the other half discuss the culture, found predominantly in early childhood classes, of decorating student learning materials, teacher resources and the classroom environment in ‘chevron print and polka dots’. That’s code for cute graphics, child-like casual fonts and primary or pastel colours. Just in case you’ve missed the experience, here’s some examples.
It’s become a burgeoning industry. As the original poster on Reddit highlights, there is a proliferation of education blogs in this style. The fiscal transactions on Teachers Pay Teachers for similarly designed materials would match the foreign trade of some small countries. The number of Pinterest pins and boards dedicated to the same… well, it’s mind boggling.
I started to reflect on the expectations teachers put on themselves to create teaching and learning resources of this nature or to purchase them. The amount of time, money and effort is exorbitant.
Yet, it has no evident impact on the learning outcomes for students.
If you are spending hours on the computer formatting, styling and adding cutesy clipart and messing with fonts…
If you have spent your hard earned cash on purchasing clipart, font packs, teaching resources and stationary to achieve the cute look…
If you have felt guilty because your classroom is not perfectly decorated to the standard of your teaching peers…
YOU CAN STOP.
Please understand I am not saying there is anything wrong with creating cutesy materials if this is what you want to do. I am saying that if you are feeling pressured or expected to spend hours of your own time and money to create learning materials in this style, cut yourself some slack and stop.
I’ll also suggest it is a cultural and commercial style in parts of the Western world only. There are approaches and philosophies in early childhood education at complete odds with this aesthetic.
The toddler centres and preschools of Reggio Emelia (Italy) are one example. The Reggio Emelia approach promotes the environment as ‘the third teacher’. The learning environment is therefore ideally filled with natural light, elements from nature, photographs and documentation of the children’s work and learning. The relationships between people are crucial in the design of the spaces. Rather than providing decorated printed materials for students to use, the Reggio centres provide quality materials of the standard you’d find in an artist studio for children to express themselves in a ‘hundred languages‘.
The collection of photos in this YouTube video, taken during visits to two centres in Italy provide a glimpse of this alternative aesthetic. If you are inspired by these, I highly recommend immersing yourself in understanding the Reggio philosophy.
Feel free to use this as your educational rationale for not giving over your precious time and money to engage in the cute culture.