The Colour of Learning: A Reflection on Reggio, Constructivism and Provocations

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. Recently, I have been provoked to think and reflect about colour. I have always known that colour impacts learning and that there is a psychology behind colours. Having just moved into a new townhome that I waited two years for the builder to finish, I spent considerable time thinking about the colour palette that would define my space. The space is not large but the windows which are almost floor to ceiling face south and west so that I see the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening. With intention I choose a chandelier that would, I hoped, create colour by breaking light into it’s different components or spectrum of violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red. A few days ago I captured these photos of the sunlight bouncing off the chandelier onto the wall and table.


I love light, colour and reflection as a provocation for learning. Louise, Kool and Galt is a wonderful and supportive supplier of learning materials, furniture and equipment. Recently they invited myself and my colleague, Cindy Green to visit their showroom. We could have spent hours there playing with the materials and thinking about the environment as the third teacher. We hope to return to spend more time in this provoking space but in the meantime I can reflect on the images that I captured. Of all that was there, I was most drawn to light and colour.

light and colour.jpg

coloured blocks.jpg

Bringing colour into the classroom, can provoke learning and thinking about the spectrum and more. The term provocation refers to the moment when teachers introduce a new element, carefully chosen to entice children. Provocations can come from nature (for example the sun), from the child, and from others. Recently I received two provocations from fellow educators about colour. What they were not aware of is, that I had been reflecting on this very topic because of my own explorations with the prism effect. Gill Robertson is an early childhood educator whom I have never met but we have become cherished Facebook friends. I love Gill’s sense of humour and her deep reflections on the learning taking place in her home child care program. Gill was wondering about colours because she had noticed that children had varying capacities to identify or name colours especially tones and shades. Her question was about the developmental progression of learning colours and her theory was that some children only get so far on the spectrum – that they continue to have difficulty discerning colour throughout their lives. I don’t have answers for Gill but the question sparked my own thinking and I did some searching and found this intriguing article.

Why Johnny Can't Name His Colors.png

Gill also wondered if she should label colours for children to support their learning. She asked, “will it help the kids at my centre to learn colours faster if I say ‘Hayden this plate is blue, this plate is pink which one would you like?’ Rather than ‘Hayden do you want the pink or the blue plate?’” On the same day, I got this message from a kindergarten teacher friend, “Hi Diane, wondering if you know f any research articles or books reads regarding colour choices that kids make in their drawings? For example, choosing green for hair or pink for pumpkins, etc. When looking closely, what does the research say about correcting or not? There’s been a lot of talk here and wanted to see if there was something out there on the professional research side”. Nothing came immediately to mind with regards to professional research, but I had my own thoughts. When I asked Gill about hers – she said, “As for correcting ummm NO art isn’t a photo it’s an emotion on paper”. I would suggest that correcting is not necessary but labelling in the way Gill described would be beneficial. Gill and I continued our dialogue about colour and we both almost simultaneously thought of the song by the late, great Harry Chapin, Flowers are Red. While the original recording of the song is decades old, the message it sends is still relevant.

Harry Chapin


Following the tangled directions that my brain was taking me, I began to ponder once again about the misconceptions I see (mostly on Pinterest) and read (on Facebook) and hear (from my students) about what is considered a “Reggio” environment/set up or a “Reggio” activity/experience. What I see, read, and hear is that a preconceived requirement to be “Reggio” is that there be only neutral colours and natural materials. The natural materials that are often arranged in baskets are in tones of browns, beiges and greys – pine cones, shells and rocks. This palette depicts an absence of colour and that to me is not consistent with what I saw when I visited the colourful pre-primary schools of Reggio Emilia. There is also the misunderstanding that to be “Reggio” means to banish plastic from the classroom. There are some plastic toys that in my mind, need to be eliminated from learning environments because of their closed endedness but all plastic? I saw furniture made from plastic in the schools of Reggio. In fact, some of the furniture was bright green!

From Reggio


Retrieved from: Reggio Children

How fortunate I am to have friends and colleagues who provoke my thinking! I often think about how lonely and isolating my professional world would be if I did not have others to help me develop into myself. Lev Vygotsky, the Russian psychologist said that “we may say that we become ourselves through others and that this rule applies not only to the personality as a whole, but also to the history of every individual function” (1966, p.43). Vygotsky was a social constructivist. He said that “human learning presupposes a specific social nature and a process by which children grow into the intellectual life of those around them” (1978, p.88). I truly believe in the social nature of learning. The concept of constructivism has roots in classical antiquity, going back to Socrates’s dialogues with his students that led them to realize for themselves the weaknesses in their thinking. Socratic method is still an important tool for inquiry. In the 20th century, Jean Piaget and John Dewey developed theories of childhood development and education, that led to the evolution of constructivism. Piaget believed that humans learn through the construction of knowledge. Dewey called for education to be grounded in real experience. He wrote, “If you have doubts about how learning happens, engage in sustained inquiry: study, ponder, consider alternative possibilities and arrive at your belief grounded in evidence”. Vygotsky introduced the social aspect of learning into constructivism. Making connections between the Reggio Emilia approach and the theories of Vygotsky strengthen the practices of those inspired by the approach. Carlina Rinaldi’s wonderful book, In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia is in itself a provocation.

In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia

In the introduction to Rinaldi’s book, Gunilla Dalhberg and Peter Moss, authors of one of my favourite books about the Reggio Emilia Approach, Ethics and Politics in Early Childhood wrote these words:

… the importance of Reggio for us lies in its difference, its otherness, its alterity. This is not to say it is unconnected or autonomous, for us we have seen it has developed its thinking and practice always in relation to the wider world, co-constructing its knowledge, identity and values with many disciplines, places and people. But the result of that co-construction is something particular, an active singularity. We would go further and say that Reggio is an island of dissensus, a provocation to an increasingly dominant and smothering discourse about early childhood education in particular and education in general …

The very existence of Reggio is a provocation that I welcome into my practice.

3 thoughts on “The Colour of Learning: A Reflection on Reggio, Constructivism and Provocations

  1. Hi Diane, Love this topic! I’d like your perspective on a pet peeve of mine … do we need to purchase materials for the light table and projector from an established company … I find it is often the same types of materials. I am thinking here of all the open-ended plastic I saw in the ReMida in 2011 and all the great plastic I find at second hand stores, every day items, recyclables given away by local stores, my recycling box, mesh bags, etc… I often wonder how we can avoid all the purchased plastic and create awareness in young children about sustainability by using existing resources. One child care center I know of took a screwdriver to all the closed ended plastic toys and created baskets of loose odds and ends. Most of the younger children I meet in my work prefer the every day I items I bring in. Last week, a toddler played with a piece of black ribbon I had left over at home for 15 minutes wrapping it around himself, walking on it, stretching it out and then bunching it together and patting it more than once … another for 40 minutes. Another was fascinated by a cork. Just some thoughts. Claudia


  2. Thank you for your reflection on colour and the link to the Scientific American article. You have raised issues that I have wondered about too. As a former biologist (before becoming a teacher) I love the natural world and its range of colours. I have often wondered if we’ve gone too far in our interpretation of the Reggio model and the use of neutral colours and natural materials. I have shared your blog on the Ontario Kindergarten Teachers Facebook page. I’m hoping to see some lively debate and feedback.


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