Learning through Light Exploration


By Debra Liu- Director of Pedagogy

In Reggio-inspired preschool classrooms, we often see children working with light tables, and experimenting with light and shadow in the playground and classroom. Light and shadows intrigue young children, inspiring them to explore and investigate. Teachers support children’s investigations by carefully planning learning experiences to encourage and support the children’s own inquiry.


Why is ‘light’ so intriguing to young children? The theoretical principle behind the importance of “light investigation” is that whilst light illuminates things, it also allows us to see things from different perspectives. As children explore their own shadows in the playground and look at their shadows from different angles, they are realizing that sunlight changes the way our shadows look.

Experimenting with light and shade also develops cognitive skills and allows for scientific skills to bud. Whilst working with ‘light’, children begin to make observations, hypothesize, test their hypotheses and develop new concepts.

Reggio Emelia Atelerista Vea Vecchi puts it this way,

“light and certain light phenomena are central protagonists and highlight the extent to which expressiveness and beauty can accompany an understanding of scientific thinking.” (Vecci, 2010)

This sense of “expressiveness and beauty” is the principle from which teachers develop practical learning strategies. Developing attractive and inviting “provocations” or “invitations to learning” is an important part of this teaching strategy. The aesthetic environment that Early Years Educators carefully design produces a natural reaction in young children to inquire and investigate.

EtonHouse Connects Issue 2 - Light Exploration

Teachers can use these principles of “learning with light” to illuminate many key areas of learning. In EtonHouse Suzhou, China, teachers have painted the alphabet over the lamp in the photo, to inspire children to investigate English language learning. In the playground, children use light and shade to make an optimal place for a picnic. Whilst developing their social skills, the children are also developing scientific and cognitive skills as they naturally move the umbrella to give them optimal shade for their picnic.

Young children are still developing their abilities to see the world from other’s perspectives, and as early years educators, we support children in understanding other people’s points of view. Activities using ‘light’ to ‘highlight’ seeing things from different perspectives help children understand that perception is not static. Children observe objects ‘looking different’ from differing perspectives and this gives them the cognitive clarity to realize that there is more than one way to look at things.

This ability to hold multiple perspectives is also a key factor in future learning.


Vecci, Vea, 2010. Art and Creativity in Reggio Emelia,  Routledge, New York.

This page was last edited on September 13, 2016