Reggio: Examining Self Portraits

Malaguzzi and Musatti (1996), Pelo (2007) believe that self-portraiture is deeply connected to children’s identity perceptions … stories children tell in their portraits.

A self-portrait is an intimate, bold declaration of identity. In her self-portrait, a child offers herself as both subject and artist. When we look at her self-portrait, we see a child as she sees herself. The story of self-portrait work is a tender story to tell. (95)

Portrait inquiries through art, loose parts play

collage portrait process

In the collage portrait, symbolic representation is part of the art process. For young children, symbolic representation [for example] happens when a child transforms a birthday candle into an eyebrow while constructing a face. The symbolic representation in the collage technique is part of the creative play scenario—playful exploration of materials, trial and error, and the use of exible thinking are at work. Using symbolic representation in art play is an important step toward moving children’s thinking from the concrete to the abstract representation of words.

In the art process, children move from the concept of a real face (the concrete) to a work of art that symbolizes the real thing (iconic representation). This process lays the groundwork for children to reach higher levels of symbolization—for example, when the word face (the abstract) represents a real face. Art offers children an important experiential bridge, helping them move from the concrete to the abstract world of words. For preschoolers, the playful collage technique with peer interactions and teacher guidance opens up multiple opportunities for symbolic representation and language development.


“Then I understood that it wasn’t really about creating art. It was about telling stories. It was about communi- cating. Playfulness through the use of collage was al- lowing people to tell a story through art which perhaps would have been too di icult to say in words.” —Hanoch Piven, “Living in a Playful Collage”


Setting out provocations & invitations…

Scattering collage materials for the project on a table and allowing the children the time they need to explore and play with them. Examining the materials ahead of time sparks their curiosity and interest, prompts dialogue with peers, and allows them time to think about what pieces they might use to create their own self-portraits.





When children explore facial expressions in self-portraits, they are introduced to the vocabulary of emotions such as happy, sad, and angry, and they begin to develop emotional literacy.

It’s beautiful to see children observing themselves using mirrors and photographs, followed by creating self-portraits. Throughout process children can explore facial expressions and artistically depict concepts such as “a brain that is happy,” “sad hands are closed,” and “eyes are shaped like a puddle” (Malaguzzi & Musatti 1996, 50–51).


Looking and drawing attention to features- through looking and touching. It’s beautiful to observe children using mirrors and in sharing observations with each other. Talking about the parts of the face, the features, shapes, size etc. It is a great language exploration dring this time.




The portraits can be placed in the children’s portfolios, which document the children’s personal learning journeys during their time in Preschool/Kindergarten. The children can use the self portraits to help them reflect on how they have changed throughout the year, and what they can do now that they couldn’t do before.

Documentation Panels





“I paint self portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”
-Frida Kahlo

Malaguzzi, L., & C. Musatti. 1996. “L ‘Importanza di Rivedersi / The Importance of Seeing Yourself Again.” In I cento linguaggi dei bambini: Narrativa del possibile/The Hundred Languages of Children: Narrative of the Possible, eds. T. Filippini & V. Vecchi, 46–52. Reggio Emilia, Italy: Reggio Children.

Joseph, G., P. Strain, & M.M. Ostrosky. 2005. Fostering Emotional Literacy in Young Children: Labeling Emotions. What Works Brief 21. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning.

Pelo, A. 2007. The Language of Art: Inquiry-Based Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf.

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