If the walls could talk

What hangs on the walls reflects a kindergarten's values and creates a framework for the children's learning. Researcher Åsta Birkeland urges kindergartens to be more aware of how they use their walls.



The walls are among the first things you notice when you walk into a kindergarten. However, it may not be easy to really “see” the walls when you are surrounded by them every day. In fact, the walls say something about the pedagogical practices in a kindergarten. For that reason, they are of interest.

‘The walls express the priorities of the institution, that is, they say something about what we stand for’, says researcher Åsta Birkeland. She has compared the walls of a Norwegian kindergarten with those of a Chinese kindergarten.


The values and norms underlying the pedagogical practices of an institution become particularly clear when one compares kindergartens in different countries.

For example, the Norwegian kindergarten had chosen to display the drawings and paintings of all the children, while the Chinese kindergarten had selected the best drawings.

Birkeland interprets this as follows: ‘The walls of the Norwegian kindergarten expressed values such as equality and egalitarianism. They emphasised that all children are entitled to be seen and heard, and to have a chance to express themselves. The walls of the Chinese kindergarten may be an expression of the value placed on being a perfectionist and clever.

‘In that sense, the walls are a mirror of which values are most appreciated by society and the institution’, postulates the researcher.


The walls do not merely tell a story of values. They can also reconstruct memories.

When educators hang up photos from an excursion or an activity, the display reminds the children and adults of what they have experienced. Then they can talk about what took place on the outing. For instance: “Do you remember when you did this and that?”

The conversations give the children a chance to put their experiences into words and to share their experiences with others.


The walls can also prompt actions and thus inspire activities.

Having letters on the walls may motivate children to draw. Mirrors on the walls may inspire children to experiment with facial expressions.  When the walls invite actions, they pique children’s curiosity and create fertile conditions for experimentation.

The fact that the walls motivate actions was especially clear in the Chinese kindergarten. For example, when the children were working on the weather as a topic, they had an area on one wall where they could log outdoor temperatures and whether it was rainy or sunny. In another area, there were pictures of houses, historical buildings, modern high rises and photos of things the children themselves had built out of blocks. All of them were intended to inspire the children to build new things.

The Chinese kindergarten also featured a news wall and themed walls, where the children were encouraged to post things that caught their attention. There were also a number of instructive pictures showing exactly how the children should wash their hands, tidy up, cut paper, etc.


‘The Chinese kindergarten uses the walls more actively than what we are used to doing in Scandinavia’, comments Birkeland. She thinks we should draw inspiration from that and figure out how we can create walls that invite activity to a greater extent.

‘In Scandinavia, our wall displays are sometimes somewhat random. Once something is hung up, it may stay up for a very long time. As time passes, the walls become a dead display, rather than a dynamic display that stimulates conversations.’


The researcher urges those who work in kindergartens to talk about what should be displayed on the walls, and why.  Should the displays prompt memories or actions? Who is the target group? Is it the children, the parents, the staff or the outsiders who come to visit or inspect the institution? If the children are the target group, should displays be hung at their eye-level?


‘Institutions are compared with one another to bring to light things that are taken for granted. We  could definitely benefit from a great deal more of this in a Scandinavian context’, says researcher Åsta Birkeland:

‘To be able to see ourselves from the outside, or comparing our own practices with those of others, are fruitful ways of becoming more aware of our own values and of identifying things we take for granted. Even though the walls of the Chinese kindergarten may seem rather unusual at first glance, their way of doing things may raise our awareness of things we usually take for granted. And we can allow ourselves to be inspired,’ concludes the researcher.