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Exploring the Concepts of Light through Play

When children’s curiosity is encouraged, they voice their observations almost instantaneously. From enjoying the light playing on a leaf flickering to watching the wind pick up and blow leaves along the ground it instils excitement and wonder!

Written by: Early Educational Advisor - Jo Harris  

Light is not always best explored in the dark

We often know the time of day without even looking at the clock, by the amount of light that is present to us. The seasons and our weather are also recognisable by the strength of light available at any time.

Children are often intrigued by changes in natural lighting - you might have been asked why the moon is in the sky during the day or witnessed the spontaneous recognition that occurs when children understand that shadows are created by sunlight.

Responding to the language of light can be a way of understanding its importance to all living things. Light has its very own language which can be learned and documented throughout a day of play. It can also be a gentle introduction to creating interest in science for young children, where learning complex concepts is often made simpler through experimentation.

Maximising light into everyday playspaces supports the health and wellbeing of children and can be created by:-

  1. Keeping curtains and blinds open to let light in from the outside
  2. Creating multi-sensory play spaces with materials that reflect light
  3. Scheduling outdoor play and learning activities by working with the weather and natural lighting

Exploring light to support social and emotional development

The Reggio Emilia approach to learning strongly endorses light and shadow play to promote independent learning through the senses to help shape different perspectives.

Including light and shadow play activities supports emotional well-being through resources such as adding mirrors to encourage children of all ages to explore their feelings and emotions and develop creativity and imagination through interactions with others - much like the relationship between light and materials. 

The birch plywood Triangle Mirror Tent includes safety acrylic mirrors on the inside of all three panels, which create endless angles and viewpoints. It is an ideal place for toddlers to crawl inside and explore items such as stacking donuts or sensory activity balls, which are made in contrasting black and white colours.

Light activities that encourage creativity and imagination

When setting up a hospital play corner or vet, including x-rays along with plush toys, dolls, and other accessories can give children a unique perspective of how light works from the inside out.

Adding themed backdrops and pillows that depict scenes of nature in different landscapes to a space activity can be complemented by including a rocket ship or space puzzles. To add further interest and extend play, materials like foil patty pans and metallic paper are a great light-reflecting addition to the collage trolley or art experience.  

Natural Items/Loose Parts to use in light play

Found objects, including twigs,branches, and leaves, can be used to discuss the properties of light while comparing colour and other attributes. These loose parts are ideal for making self-portraits on the lightbox or creating art during outdoor play.

Studying them up close is made easier with a magnifying glass, magnifying stand with Lucite blocks, mosaic stones or seeing the fine details of mini beasts and insects through the natural light that filters through a  viewer. 

Connect light play with other Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematical concepts

When children’s curiosity is encouraged, they voice their observations (and reflections) almost instantaneously. Whether commenting on the light playing on leaves flickering in the treetops, watching the wind pick up and blow leaves along the ground, or exploring the minute details of a lotus pod underneath a magnifying glass, would-be scientists can emerge by playing with light.

Linking light play with other areas of science can be introduced by cross-referencing terminology and language. When repeated through experience and play, this encourages children to develop their confidence to ask their own questions and test their theories. To encourage this:-

  • Group open-ended items together that are easily accessible for children to incorporate light play during indoor and outdoor play, and encourage them to add to the resources
  • Learn more about the importance of STEAM to Australia’s future generations by reading the National Innovation and Science Agenda detailing how the Government is investing in children and families
  • Encourage children to participate in activities that investigate light during National Science Week  in August

To learn more about creating play spaces with resources that fuel the discovery and exploration of light and colour concepts, please visit our website at


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