ICS Early Years Center Blog

Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland

The Atelier of Light: Exploring Relationships between People and Spaces

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The Early Years classes have been exploring the relationship between spaces and how people use them as part of our unit, Where We Are in Time and Place. Throughout this inquiry, the children had many opportunities to build understandings about how people use different spaces as well as our responsibility in sharing spaces with others. We chose to focus on the context of  different atelier/ studio spaces offered in a free flow environment. These spaces were open to all of the early years children who were asked to make a choice about where they wished to spend time at the beginning of each morning.

In the Atelier of Light, the children were offered time and space to carry out their own research into various aspects of the phenomenon ‘light’. The space was designed for interactive inquiry and for individual and group experimentation. The environment was organised around light sources, Light boxes, OHP (Overhead Projector), LED strings of lights and technological tools such as Visualiser cameras and an Interactive Whiteboard, which were paired with a variety of tools and materials. The invitations were presented in visually pleasing ways and an atmosphere of intrigue and beauty was ever present. The inviting workspaces created the drive for exploration and construction of hypotheses and theories.

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We observed and documented how the children operated in the spaces, how they responded to changes in the environment and how newly introduced articles altered, changed or enhanced their play and research. An example of changes to the physical environment, was an increase in the number of light boxes from one to three. While the children were always captivated when attempting to build taller structures, we found that with the addition of the bigger work space the children’s structures evolved from being built on a single box to become bigger and elaborate designs that covered across more than one box. Adding the LED strings of light were a popular addition to The Atelier of Light. The children’s explorations transferred from working with the materials and light on flat surfaces (light boxes and OHP) to exploring light with their whole bodies. Aaron made a discovery about the light from the LED strings, “It goes through your fingers,” Aaron. “Does it go through my head? Can you look?” asked Tuur. A new question which required further research was formed.

Exchange and comparison of viewpoints was valued in this space. Sometimes children chose to research alone, and later shared thinking with peers and teachers. Sometimes they reported back in a whole class meeting, enabling the children to investigate the concept of light and the role of space and environment from different point of views. Again, we noticed the children responding to the changes to the environment. The addition of a second overhead projector, placed next to the first one, encouraged children to work in parallel or join together to create collaborative designs across the two work surfaces. The environment encouraged the children to discuss their thinking, plans and processes. Additionally, the thinking created in this space embraced imagination, promoted narrative as a form of interpretation and explanation, and offered interaction with scientific forms. The children were invited to make connections to this unit’s central idea about ways we use space in the context of the Atelier of Light. It became clear that children built understandings about ways to make artistic and scientific discoveries in this space through the lens of light.

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By adding the Visualiser Camera to the space the children were able to see themselves at work in the learning environment in real time. This offered the children an interesting way to reflect and assess how they operated and learnt in the space. Some reflections about changes made to the learning environment of The Atelier of Light;

“It looks much cooler like that (with the new setup.) (He turns the lights on and off at the light table) I like just the LED lights on.” Aaron

“I want to go in this classroom because there’s light. Light table.  That is why. I like that it is dark.” Owen

After spending the morning sessions in The Light Atelier Daisy asked, “Miss Smith, can I have snack in your room? I like the light boxes. I like the light when they shine.” 

Izumi explained, “I like that I can see the different lights and different colours. We make decorations (by hanging the CDs) on strings. If you put it (a CD) next to the light it turns to shine rainbow-y (colours).”  

“I like to play with light. Then (I) make something beautiful with the blocks on the light table. When it is dark, I can see much better the light,” shared Eléonore. 

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‘The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.’

Loris Malaguzzi

Photos by Rebecca Smith

Text a collaboration by Andrea Mills and Rebecca

Author: Rebecca Smith

Early Years Teacher. International Schools. Reggio Inspired. IB PYP.  Apple Distinguished Educator 2010. Level 3 Forest School Leader 2016. Learner. Traveler. Reader. Australian. Tea lover.

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