How often are you aware of your own shadow? I rarely notice the shadows I cast unless they happen to get in my way, such as blocking my light as I read. But on a recent visit to Reggio Emilia, Italy I was reminded of the delight and fascination young children feel as they explore and play with shadows.

The municipal infant-toddler centres and preschools of Reggio Emilia are internationally renowned for their progressive, innovative and creative practices. The philosophy of Reggio Emilia schools emphasizes the concept of the “100 languages of children,” the idea that children express themselves in many ways, not just words. Children use movement, play, drawing, clay, music and more to express their ideas and understandings. When I toured the Reggio Emilia schools it was clear that one of the 100 languages is the language of light and shadow. Every school has a variety of light sources – natural light and ordinary light fixtures, as well as equipment that invites children to play with light, shadow and color, such as projectors, flashlights, or light tables. Children are encouraged to move, dance and pretend as they cast shadows and patterns of light and color on walls, floors and ceilings.

During my visit to Reggio Emilia I was particularly interested in shadow play because my work at the CTD Leapfrog program involves developing resources for a new course called “Stories in Shadow.” While our original idea for the course was simply using shadow puppets to develop children’s creative storytelling skills, I’m now aware of so many other fascinating aspects of shadow play. In shadow, we can change our shape depending on how we move and we can grow very large or very small depending on where we stand. Our shadows are superheroes that can reach objects we could never touch with our own physical bodies.

As a first-time traveler to Italy, thinking about shadows deepened my observations and appreciation of my surroundings. I became more aware of the shadows in my environment, on buildings, trees, fountains and sculptures, and I noticed how my own shadow interacted with the places I visited. In a way, our shadows allow us to experience everything twice, once in our ordinary, human bodies, and then again as shadows, following us as we walk toward the sun, climbing and skimming along the pavement as we explore a new city, touching the contours and textures of this beautiful, fascinating earth.

For more information about shadow play in the Reggio Emilia schools, I recommend the book Everything Has a Shadow Except Ants published by Reggio Children.


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