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Playspaces to explore the concept of Light

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The real joy of Light Play is that it is a joyful experience and it’s usually spontaneous. Children are naturally drawn towards sources of light wherever they find it, which makes incidental teaching easy, with the addition of a few simple props.

Written by: Early Educational Advisor - Jo Harris  

When educators are planning experiences to explore light, they often default to setting up the trusty lightbox. Lightboxes are a natural go-to when it comes to science-based activities, most early education settings have one, and they are a reliable old favourite as a foundation for learning.

However, lightboxes are not without their limitations - although considered a centrepiece, there are challenges if access to a power-point is restricted, they can be very heavy and bulky so that sometimes it hardly feels worth the effort to set up. Luckily, there are many ways to approach exploring the concept of light that are just as simple, if not easier, and do not involve a light box. The real joy of light play is that it is a joyful experience, and it’s usually spontaneous. Children are naturally drawn towards sources of light wherever they find them, which makes incidental teaching easy, with the addition of a few simple props.

Exploring the relationships between light and colour

Light and colour could be considered ‘best friends’ because of the way they work together. Using this simple analogy can help remove some of the challenges of teaching physics in an early learning environment, emphasising connection instead. Children often find it easy to use language associated with relationships, as it is something they are constantly exposed to in a social learning environment.

Placing a few reflective items in baskets or other small containers on open shelving units is ideal for discovery and exploration. Resources including metallic silver construction blocks and mirror stacking pebbles are ideal for instant exploration, allowing children to see the world in different colours as their curiosity is rewarded when viewing through coloured panels of translucent shapes.

Children may even begin to add their own items by experimenting with found items from the art table or from the block area, such as craft cardboard rolls or paper doilies, to explore how they shape and produce light. Torches can be incorporated into spontaneous play with a little encouragement from educators modelling this type of exploration.

Children often innately lift items to their eyes without being shown how to examine them up close, marvelling at the details in all they see. Adding a few little tinkering items such as a set of Crystal Treasures, a Wooden Kaleidoscope, or a  camera are simple ways for children to discover how light works and impacts other things. When exploring these resources, there can be an air of excitement as they discover the fun of things becoming distorted into diamond-shaped patterns when looking through the viewfinder.

Creating a Light Playspace using a Dark Den

Many adults have fond memories of reading under torch light in bed or inside a fort made from sheets and blankets. It is not important what materials the structure is made from, it’s the cosy feeling it creates, which is ideal for exploring.

A Dark Den can be a place to go for quiet reflection or contemplation, which also works perfectly to help discover the fundamentals of light. As the name suggests, light is kept out of a Dark Den using dark fabric that allows the space inside to be illuminated with torches and other light sources. At Bellbird, we have a ready made Dark Den cube available to purchase, however, if you would like to make your own, here are some quick steps to guide you.

3 steps to creating a customised Dark Den:

1. Find a large box made from heavy cardboard and some dark-coloured fabric

2. Place it on the floor or tabletop and drape it over the box, leaving one side open

3. Add some basic props like torches inside the box, ready to explore

Tip: Demonstrate to children ways to feel safe when inside the box and ensure they know how to exit if they want to.

For more inspiration on creating light play spaces, please visit Bellbird’s Educator Resource Centre.

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