Playing with beauty - the aesthetic of learning

Playing with beauty - the aesthetic of learning

exploring: the Early Learning Centre (ELC) in Melbourne
engaging: materials from outside, guidance from inside
learning: playfulness & creativity are priceless

22. March 2011 by Bea Beste

Melbourne is a city of beauty. There are well-designed parks, beautiful houses, amazing lanes, stunning sea views, and great sights by the river. In this vast and colorful city I also found a little gem of educational beauty: The well-renowned Early Learning Centre (ELC) at the University of Melbourne.

ELC is led by the remarkable Jan Deans, who in the last two decades created a micro-universe of artistic, highly-engaging learning for little ones and a culture of joyful participation and respect.

There’s plenty that makes ELC a special place: its philosophy, the curriculum, the staff, their learning goals… But instead of elaborating on these I want to focus on the most evident feature: It’s the aesthetics of the environment. They made me feel like in a paradise of play.

And what’s best about it: You don’t need costly materials to create a “multi-sensory learning environment”, as Jan calls it. You just need ideas, creativity, and the will to go that way – the more playful you are, the most engaging you will be! That’s what she does, and to what a highly motivated team buys in, replicates, lives. Don’t think about ELC as a one-woman show: What makes Jan a strong leader is her guidance to a group that she shows all the time how much she values - I was impressed by the words of praise she had for each member of her team that she introduced to me.

So, have a look: Stones, woods, and dough invite touching


You know that typical smell of kindergarten rooms , that mix of smelly socks, play dough, and something else that you don’t want exactly to know what it is? Well, the ELC smells differently! It’s eucalyptus or other natural etheric oils.


Light, wood, and one sentence alone form a fairy tale.


Still life on a lively playground


A mirror table motivates to be kept clean (little mucky pups have to deal with their own face).


Big blocks of wood, builders of worlds


Simple glass bowls replace picture frames.


Rooms feel rich, but never full.


The last picture is for all people who now may believe that we’re only talking nature materials here. Plastic is not banned – it’s just not that important…


Thank you very much Jan Deans and Team for a most insightful and enjoyable afternoon!

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