Playing with light at Pittsburgh’s new Atelier

Beams of red, blue and green light project onto a wall in a darkened corner. A young child holds cut-out shapes in front of the beams, transforming them into silhouettes on the wall. Her imagination draws her one step further, to a shadow puppet show she creates before her.

Possibilities in Modulation: Exploring Color and Shadow described above is just one of seven stations, or “experiences,” that comprise the new Atelier of Light, an interactive learning space in the traveling Wonder of Learning: the Hundred Languages of Childhood exhibit at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center until November 15.

Created by educators from local Reggio Emilia-inspired programs with guidance from Clear Story Pittsburgh, the Atelier is designed to “to entice, provoke, challenge and rethink what we know about light,” says Carolyn Linder, project director of the exhibit. The Atelier, like the entire Wonder of Learning exhibit, is also designed to give visitors a firsthand look at the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education.

Named for the Italian town where it was developed, the Reggio Emilia approach is based on the belief that children learn through their relationships with others and they communicate their knowledge through multiple “languages,” many of them non-verbal, including play, artistic creation and music.

At the seven experiences in the Atelier, or “studio,” children can explore and describe light using their many languages. They can examine natural detritus using flashlights and magnifying glasses. They can arrange sand, pebbles, CDs, miniature disco balls and other small items (including themselves) on mirrors and light boxes. And they can project compositions of colored objects onto easels where they can be outlined and preserved.

“The experiences are designed as provocations,” says Suzanne Grove, a local early childhood educator who helped design the exhibit. “We take light, an element we are in constant relationship with, and present new ways to encounter its affordances and possibilities.”

While the Atelier is appropriate for people of all ages, it is geared to children ages 2-8. The Wonder of Learning exhibit and the Atelier are open Wednesday through Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until November 15. Both are free to visit and together provide an hour or two of afternoon entertainment. The Wonder of Learning is directed at adult visitors, but its videos of small children at play and visual depictions of the Reggio Emilia method may be interesting to some children.

The Wonder of Learning: The Hundred Languages of Children Exhibition is presented in collaboration with the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance and Reggio Children. Its Pittsburgh hosts are the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children. The exhibition is sponsored the The Heinz Endowments, the Beacon Foundation, the David S. and Karen A. Shapira Foundation and The Pittsburgh Foundation. Host communities are given the opportunity to create an Atelier to accompany the larger exhibit. These Ateliers do not travel with the exhibition, but are unique to each community.

Featured photo by Renee Rosensteel