Let There Be Light!

Let there be light! And there is in the Reggio Emilia preschools and the Loris Malaguzzi Center. Light has been associated with Reggio Emilia Schools for many years. Americans, in jumping on the Reggio bandwagon, bought light tables when Reggio first became “the thing” to do. But for Reggio Emilia teachers, light is so much more than just that simple light table.

On my trip to Reggio Emilia, Italy, last spring, I saw light represented, interacted with, and manipulated in so many different ways. Light has been a focus of investigation for children in the Reggio schools for many years and is illustrative of how the teachers there encourage the children to look beyond the simple concept of illumination emanating from a source. Look at the display pictured below that accompanied an exhibition at the Loris Malaguzzi Center. The teachers of Reggio see light as foundational to life.

light-explanation-croppedSome light interactions are simple such as the light table. Others are more complex. Mirrors are often used in conjunction with light. The example below is a more elaborate structure than may be found in most preschools, but does show how the refraction of light can be manipulated in many ways and how, if given access to such larger structures, children can truly experience being inside of light.

mirror-reggioAnother example of being immersed in light is the picture below, Light sheets of opaque plastic hang from the ceiling at the Loris Malaguzzi Center. Children (and the adults I traveled with as well!) moved through these ever-changing environments of light.

light-reggioChildren use “found objects” to make patterns of light on the walls as well as experiment with how different objects affect light. The Reggio Emilia schools have a “recycling center” associated with them. Teachers can go there to get a wide variety of materials collected from industry – end rolls of plastic, punch-outs of many colors, pvc-type pipe, etc. These materials are made available to the children to interact with as they wish. In fact in one school I visited, the 4-5-year-old class had only the blocks, books, and art materials normally found in American preschools. All the other materials in the classroom were from the “recycling center” and the children used them as they saw fit to build structures, create artwork, or experiment with light.

light-on-wall-reggioThe last thing I noticed about the incorporation of light into the preschool curriculum was that the use of technology ranged from the simple (flashlight), to the going-out-of-style (overhead projectors), to more high tech (computers and LED/LCD projectors). The photo below shows a child constructing a life-size scene on the wall using found objects and small animal figures.

projector-2-reggioThe fascination with light is still very much a part of the Reggio Emilia schools. The exploration of light continues to evolve as new materials are discovered, new technologies used.

Have you seen excellent examples of using light as a medium of exploration in American schools? If so, share what you have seen in the comment section.

NOTE: Visitors are not allowed to take photos in the schools, even when children were not present. The photos included in this blog were either pictures of postcards bought there or photos found online to illustrate what was seen at the schools.


Debbie Lee is an associate professor of early childhood education at Western Illinois University and webmaster for ILAECTE. She has worked in the field of early childhood for more than 44 years, doing everything from running a licensed day care home to teaching on the college level. Her particular interest at the moment is the pedagogy of college teaching.

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