Learning from the Reggio Approach – Light and reflection by Linda Thornton

2nd February 2017

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One of the most striking features of the environments found in the infant-toddler centres and preschools in Reggio Emilia in northern Italy is the use of light sources, both natural and artificial, and the presence of many mirrors.

Windows are large and placed to facilitate the child’s view, both outside world and of the internal spaces in the building. The windows give vistas and interesting glimpses of the outside world from within. Artificial light levels can be varied to facilitate investigation of the interplay of light and shadow through the use of shadow screens and light tables. Reflective surfaces – mirrors on the walls, at right angles to one another and arranged in triangular prisms – provide unusual viewpoints and prompt reflection, both literal and meta­phorical.

Many early years professionals in the UK have taken their inspiration from the Reggio Approach and make excellent use of the learning opportunities which light, shadow and reflections bring to an early years setting.

Playing with light and reflection provides the perfect opportunity for magical experiences to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Light and darkness hold fascination and intrigue, as well as an element of risk and challenge and of being scared. Exploring light and shadow enables children to appreciate the awe and wonder of the world around them and provides an environment where children can develop their natural curiosity.

The use of mirrors encourages children to be aware of themselves and to develop their sense of identity. Young children enjoy looking at their reflections and seeing the reflections of others. They are curious about the reflected images they see and want to touch them to work out whether or not they are real. An adult and child sitting next to each other in front of a mirror can hold conversations which do not require direct eye contact or where copying and mimicry can be fun.


Light should be explored in the dark. Practitioners can create special places in their setting by adjusting the light levels where light boxes, light panels and overhead projectors are used. This can be achieved by darkening a small room using blinds or by using naturally dark places such as a cupboard space, under the stairs or by using a dark den made especially for the purpose or using blankets or blackout materials.

Light boxes and panels add interest to any setting, creating a place for careful observation and the exploration of pattern, shape, form, colour, opacity and colour mixing. Their calming influence invites sensory exploration and provides motivation, engaging attention for sustained periods of time.

Using a light panel and a wide range of appropriate resources will enable children’s development in thinking creatively and critically across all areas of learning.


Mirrored surfaces, on mirror tables or using mirror trays, create a very different place to work and play where children become very self- aware as they observe both themselves and the resources they are using.

Multiple mirrors provide opportunities to develop thinking and problem solving skills while working out which way to move things to create a desired effect. Moving objects around in front of a mirror helps children to develop their spatial awareness and their early understanding of position.

Mirrors placed at an angle to one another, such as in a mirror cube, Mirror Exploratory or a kaleidoscope triangular mirror, produce interesting multiple reflections. Fantasy worlds can be created using a variety of mirrors and small world play resources.

Linda will continue discussing the benefit of both light and reflection to enhance teaching and learning next week in her blog. Visit Childcare Expo London on Saturday 4th March to take part in Linda’s seminar on the Reggio Emilia approach. 

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