Seeing Too Much is Seeing Nothing

Scrolling through the Internet there are many beautiful photos of children’s environments. The photos are often an inspiration to what we can achieve in our own programs. Being an educator for many years I have a sense of what is a quality environment for children. Then I began to wonder, what makes an environment attractive to educators? What type of environment is appealing to children?

Our eyes are often drawn to the images of organized and uncluttered environments in online photos because of the visual possibilities they create in our mind. We can appreciate the work of other educators who create the environment and the choice it offers to children. With fewer items in our view, we can appreciate the materials that are present. Simplicity opens up our ability to absorb what is there and the feelings associated with it.

But, many environments for children are not like the pictures we see on social media. There are environments that are cluttered, with hundreds of items for the children to choose from. Rooms are messy disorganized environments, where materials that started in one place, have drifted to another location never to be seen again. There are environments constructed with piles of accumulated items collected over many years.

How do we present materials to children? How do create an environment that promotes learning and creativity? What are the effects on children with too many choices?

When children see too much they see nothing. The possibilities are distorted. This creates an inability to choose work and get started. With too many choices some children are overwhelmed and feel a loss of well-being. Having too many choices creates tension, and makes children move faster than a comfortable natural pace. With clutter there is a disconnection from who we really are, and how we want to act. Clutter influences our behavior toward others as we compete to have it all.

Learner centered pedagogies like Reggio, Montessori, and Waldorf intentionally have environments that are organized, simple, and free of distractions. The materials in these pedagogies are curated and presented to the children with intention.

In a simple curated environment, children have the opportunity to choose a material and explore it deeply, before moving on to the next material. With less to choose from children can work at a natural pace and rate, and explore all a material has to offer. By slowing down time children gain understanding, enjoyment, and fulfillment in the activities they choose to explore.

“It is always the simple that produces the marvelous”. Amelia Barr