When I was a graduate student, I spent some time researching nursery wallpaper from the turn of the century. In looking at photographs of nurseries from that period (roughly 1900-1910), I was shocked by how little was on the walls and how few toys were in each room — perhaps only a wallpaper trim and a single stuffed animal. As any parent, aunt, uncle, or visitor to Apartment Therapy can attest, things have changed in the last 100 years.
It is a relatively modern idea that children are not just “little adults” and should have toys, objects and yes, art, made just for them. Science has shown that children start absorbing visual information almost immediately after birth and can distinguish between humans and objects three weeks later.
At first children are most interested in high-contrast images, which has lead to an entire cottage industry of black and white flashcards for children. Those are the tip of the iceberg — a quick search for art for kids on Etsy turns up dreamy, soothing pastels, bold and linear colorful pieces, works that are educational (like alphabet charts or images of animals), and works that are imaginary (fairies and dreamscapes).
In buying art for my own son, I found I kept thinking about the research on the importance of pretend play in early childhood development. Telling stories, it turns out, is important because it helps build something experts call “executive function,” which in turn builds our ability to control our emotions, pay attention and, ultimately, learn.
Today in Alex’s room, you’ll find art that lends itself towards starting a story and his own art work, too. One of my favorite pieces is a blue print of a lighthouse. At night Alex and I tell stories about who lives there, what they do, and the shipwrecks and rescues that have happened on the rocks below.
In the deluge of products geared toward children, I find solace in the idea that art hung in a bedroom can both inspire the imagination and soothe at bedtime.
Did you have art in your bedroom growing up? What art pieces have you chosen for the children in your life?