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Mirrors And Reflections In The Learning Environment

Mirrors and Reflections Rainbow Arch

We see reflected and mirrored images wherever we go. From our own reflections looking back at us in the bathroom mirror or a shop window to the reflections of nature on a still lake or in our car’s rear-view or side mirrors – we are surrounded by reflections! Mirrors and reflections can bring curiosity, fascination and discovery for all of us, including children.

You’ll likely remember the look of surprise when a baby recognises themselves in the mirror, or the look of wonder and concentration as toddlers examine the details of their facial expressions or the happy giggles of pre-schoolers as they dress up and march past the mirror in their fancy and creative costumes. Mirrors and the reflections they make can be a source of fun, intrigue, inquiry and experimentation and have so many incredible learning opportunities. Let’s have a look at some mirrors and reflections activities ideal for the early childhood learning environment.


Mirrors + Nature

The great outdoors is filled with an endless supply of beautiful and interesting objects. Leaves, pebbles, sticks and twigs, flowers, feathers, pinecones, seedpods and grass to name but a few! You might even be fortunate enough to find an old birds’ nest on the ground after a windy day. It’s a wonderful opportunity for a nature treasure hunt, and the children are able to bring back their treasures to place on the mirrors ready for further exploration. There are all sorts of shapes, textures, colours and shades to investigate. With so many incredible reflections happening, many questions can arise and conversations can take place, welcoming further inquiry and exploration. This is also an ideal activity for magnifying glasses, opening the door for even more opportunities for reflective surface exploration.

Mirrors and Reflections, natural loose parts in mirrored tray

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Reflective Mirror Tray


Mirrors + Art

Mirrors are a great addition to the art space. They allow children to experiment and explore all the angles of their painting subjects, from still life paintings of fruit and flowers to exploring light and shapes in multiple dimensions. Mirrors can also be a fun way to combine art with the exploration of a child’s self-image by using their own face as the painting subject. Children are able to look at their reflection in the mirror and, using a brush with paint, they can apply the paint directly onto the mirror to create a portrait of themselves using the mirror as the painting surface. Simply wipe the mirror clean and it’s ready to go again.


Mirrors and Reflections portrait activity featuring childs painting on a mirror and paint pots

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Reflective Mirror Tray

Mirrors + Loose Parts

Mirrors and loose parts go so well together. Loose parts play is all about the open-ended possibilities to use loose items to make and mould, to tinker around, to build and construct, to form shapes and patterns, to transport and carry loose items around or to use as visual representations for children’s imaginings. There’s really no limit to loose parts play. With loose parts, each day becomes a new way. Adding in mirrors provides even more possibilities for wonder and discovery, bringing mirrored images and reflections to the learning space for an extra added dimension to loose parts play.

Mirrors and Reflections buttons and jewels reflecting on Mirrored table

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Mirrored Sensory Tray

Mosaic Pieces



Omni Wooden People


Mirrors + Rainbows

So often children are fascinated by rainbows. The giant presence of a rainbow in the sky when the sun comes out after a rainy day is truly spectacular. There are bright colours to explore, all nesting neatly into each other in gradually increasing arches. When rainbows are reflected over a still lake there are even more opportunities for wonder and exploration. Recreating the magic of rainbows in the learning environment can be done using mirrors combined with colourful wooden rainbows. The rainbows can be rearranged in so many combinations of colour and size and can also be combined with all sorts of resources for building, loose parts exploration or small world play. The only limit is their imaginations!

Mirrors and Reflections rainbow arch refelcting in mirrored tray

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Large Wooden Rainbow

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Mirrors + Print Making

Another creative way to use mirrors in the learning environment is with paint as a print-making surface. Paint is added onto the mirror, ready to be smoothed out with brushes or sponges, or, for an, even more, fun hands-on sensory exploration, use hands and fingers to smooth the paint across the mirror. Your print-making surface is now ready for the design process to begin. Simply use brushes, or fingers, to make a pattern or picture in the paint. Place a piece of paper onto the paint-covered mirror and gently smooth the paper down. Then, carefully peel and lift the paper off the mirror to reveal the picture or print that has been transferred over. It’s a wonderful way to explore the concept of reflections and mirror images through hands-on art.

Mirrors and Reflections pink paint printing activity

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Pink Finger Paint

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A3 Cover Paper

Reflective Mirror Tray


Mirrors + Sensory Exploration

Mirror trays along with sensory exploration are also a wonderful addition to the learning environment, allowing all sorts of fun and discovery to take place using sand, slime, goop or foam. Hands-on sensory exploration has so many developmental benefits, from allowing children to get a ‘feel’ of their fingers and hands and all the things they can do, to building strength and coordination of motor skills. This all allows children to carry out so many everyday activities and tasks including drawing and writing, brushing teeth, self-feeding, dressing and undressing, building and construction or working on fiddly and tricky manipulation objects. Children are able to use their hands and fingers to make lines and patterns in the sand or other chosen sensory material, drawing and even experimenting with making the form and shapes of numbers and letters.

Mirrors and Reflections_mirrored tray filled with sand and sandcastles

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Mirrors + Construction

A mirror added to building and construction adds another level of interest and intrigue. Mirrors can be used as a building surface, or placed in and around the building space, allowing children to explore and experiment with the shapes and forms of their chosen building materials as their structure builds up into the sky. The best part of construction is knocking it down afterwards! We all know that happy sound of shrieking and laughter as a child knocks down their building when they’ve finished with it. Mirrors multiply the merriment, providing many angles of reflection as buildings go up as well as down. And when mirrors are added with more mirrors, they reflect children’s constructions infinitely. It’s an activity-rich in exploration and learning!

Mirrors and Reflections LEGO Duplo on mirrored table

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How do you use mirrors in your learning environment? We’d love to hear from you!


About the Author

Penny Groen is an Early Childhood Teacher who has been working in Early Childhood Education and Care settings around Sydney for 17 years. She has a passion for working in meaningful partnerships with families and communities, providing a responsive and engaging curriculum where everyone feels welcome to contribute. You can see Penny’s interest in the natural world with all the weird and wonderful experiments the growing both inside and outside the classroom. Penny’s also known for equipping children with the tools to explore their interests and celebrate the discoveries each day brings


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Magic And Wonder: Creating A World Where Children Lead

Young girl exploring whilst walking over tree roots

“Drink in the beauty and wonder at the meaning of what you see.” Rachel Carson


I recently watched the film ‘Mary Poppins Returns’, and as the film came to a wonderful and uplifting end, I was struck by a couple of strong elements that weave their way through the film and demonstrate how we can allow children to take the lead in their quest for answers to questions that matter to them.


Talking about it

We are a society that struggles with grief, we don’t know how to talk about it, how to enable it and how to live with it. In my own experience, grief is often overwhelming and debilitating, so I was surprised to see this children’s film, based on P.L. Travers’ books, featuring grief and loss as central and underlying themes. ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is a lesson on living with grief, it’s woven through the film in a number of ways, the loss of the children’s mother, the impact this has on their father, the impending loss of the family home, the loss of of innocence and that sense of wonder and the loss of childhood. We are reminded throughout the film of the strong community ties that were quintessential of that time, ties that we see less and less of now in our sprawling cities and disconnected lives. There is a very strong emphasis on the need to talk to others about our problems, and a clear message that talking to family and friends when you are struggling allows you to get the support you need to effectively manage your feelings.


Young girl laying down on Grass


Seeing the world through children’s eyes

When Michael Banks is told he’s “forgotten what it’s like,” by the Balloon Lady, he responds, “To hold a balloon?” , “To be a child,” she replies.

This simple quote by the Balloon Lady (Angela Lansbury, 93) captures the other main element that runs throughout the film, “When did we forget how to be children?”

This film was built around the notion of letting children lead and giving them opportunity to give a voice to their ideas and theories, to delight in the magic and unexplainable and be in the moment with them.

This begs the question; are we, as early childhood educators, at risk of becoming so focused on curating the child’s life with us (every moment accounted for and photographed, notes on toileting, eating, sleep, pencil grip, physical skills, knowledge, social networks and everything in between) that we are missing the very thing we should be focused on? How children see the world and how they understand and make sense of what they see.



Young girl exploring the outdoors with magnifier glass


Have we actually forgotten how to be children and to see the world as children see it?

Seeing the world through children’s eyes is challenging, because it requires us to suspend our existing thinking and knowledge and to see the world with new eyes for the very first time, to be in the moment each and every day, for every child. For some, this their everyday practice, whereas for those of us who are more like Michael, and have forgotten what it’s like to be a child, it can be a struggle to really listen and see and we can often be bogged down in the collecting, curating, cleaning and the sound of our own voice. Anne Pelo challenges us to “fall into momentswith children, to join our attention” with them and what they are doing, to put down the pen and pad, to listen more deeply to what children are saying, to look at the world with the child’s eyes and see that everything is new.

“To be as curious and as open to what is possible as a child.”


Now, this is not new thinking. In fact, I believe the song lines of our First Nations People is an extraordinary example of explaining how the world came to be, such was the richness of these song lines that they are actually linked by generations of storytellers to the beginning of the Dreaming.

Rachel Carson, writing in the Woman’s Home Companion magazine, July 1956 said:

A childs world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.

Carson challenges us to be these adult companions, to listen deeply to children, not muddy their ideas with our rationalism and encyclopaedic knowledge, but to be lead by children as they discover the world around them. She asks us to be the keepers of “Awe and Wonder” in each child.

This reimagining our own role in the early childhood space is supported in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), asking us to enable children to actively construct their own understandings and contribute to others’ learning. They recognise their agency, capacity to initiate and lead learning, and their rights to participate in decisions that affect them, including their learning.’ EYLF p.9

This is a powerful way of seeing how we engage and enable children to be at the very centre of their learning journey. It will challenge how we let children take risks and has the potential to enrich the lives of families as they learn how powerful and uplifting those moments can be when adult and child are captured by the beauty, wonder and awe of what is around them.

The solutions to climate change, curing diseases and making clean drinking water accessible to everybody on this planet will be solved by a child who sees the world through a lens that we can provide and build into their thinking. This pattern of reflective thinking could be set out in a series of simple questions that ask the child and adult to focus, such as:

“What would you like to know about …?”
“What do you think will happen if your idea is correct?”
“What do you think will happen if… or when…”
“Why do you think that will happen?”
“What will you need to do to find out…”
“How might you let others know about this?”
“How might you do this again?”

“Wonder is the centre of all motivation and action in the child. Wonder and beauty are what make life genuinely personal. Wonder attunes to beauty through sensitivity and is unfolded by secure attachment. When wonder, beauty, sensitivity and secure attachment are present, learning is meaningful.” L’Ecuyer (2014)

“Facilitate and engage, then step into the world of children.”


Who was Rachel Carson?

Rachel Carson worked for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (1936-1952) and in 1962 published “Silent Spring” based on her research into the effects that pesticides, in particular DDT, were having on birds, fish and small animals. It is cited as one of the catalysts for the birth of the environmental movement. It also reflected on something else that Ms Carson had been mulling over for sometime, which is how children see the world and how this engagement was being diminished by the modern world in which they lived.


About the Author

Neville Dwyer has a long history in early childhood services, with 32 years as Director of a community-based long day care service and, prior to that, five years coordinating a mobile children’s service and a short stint teaching at TAFE.

In 2005, Neville received the National Excellence in Teaching Award – Early Childhood and 2009 his early childhood service was the first to be named as a winner in the Australian Awards for Teaching Excellence in the School and Its Community section.

Neville has also sat on a number of management committees, including those for Griffith Neighbourhood House, Griffith Early Intervention, Western Riverina Family Day Care Scheme, Western Riverina Respite Care, Riverina Children’s Activity Van, Mobile Resources Services Association and Contact Inc. In 2018, he completed a 25-year stint as a board member of the CCSA (Community Connections Solutions Australia – previously known as the Country Children’s Services Association of NSW).

Neville’s passion is outdoor play environments, the natural world, risk and its value in play and development, technology, management, STEAM, and a service model that provides much more than just child care for preschool children.

Further Reading

Anne Pelo, in the “Thinking Together Video series ‘Joining children’s inquiry – with Anne Pelo” , Early Childhood Australia, 2015

Pelo A The Language of Art: Inquiry-Based Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings. Red leaf Press

Pelo, A ; The Goodness of Rain, Exchange Press 2013

L’Ecuryer, C (2014) The Wonder Approach to Learning, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Oct Vol. 8, Art 764

“Help Your Child to Wonder,” Woman’s Home Companion magazine, July 1956 h[p://