Toddler Big Art: Painting a Rainbow

Exploring Reggio Series

*This post is part of an ongoing series called “Exploring Reggio” with The Imagination Tree, An Everyday Story,  One Perfect Day,  Learn with Play at Home. Click here for an introduction to the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Learning and here to view the entire collection.

The Role of Art in the Reggio Emilia Approach

One of the central themes of the Reggio Emilia Approach is an emphasis on art and creativity. Children in Reggio Emilia schools learn to use a variety of art mediums during their days at the learning centers and their projects are documented and displayed carefully. Based on this, it is easy to assume that the RE approach is “just” about teaching art to young children. However, this is not the case- Reggio is actually about communication, which is why the approach resonates with my language-loving heart! Allowing children to explore and become competent in many different art forms (i.e. paint, wire, clay, drama, dance, music, etc.) in addition to spoken and written language is thought to allow them to express and evaluate their ideas more deeply, resulting a richer learning experience.

Toddler Big Art: Painting a Rainbow- a Reggio-inspired exploration at Twodaloo

Children in RE settings are introduced to new art mediums and given multiple opportunities to explore these mediums and learn their potential. Once this takes place the children can then begin using the mediums to represent their ideas as part of ongoing learning projects.

Since my little ones are not yet three, we are still very much at the exploration phase of art mediums, but I try to take cues from their “art play” to design activities and experiences that help them satisfy their curiosity about the mediums themselves and the world around them. To illustrate all of my ramblings, I’d love to share a big art activity that I designed to help my toddlers experience color- painting a rainbow in 3D!

Toddler Big Art: Painting a Rainbow- a Reggio-inspired exploration at Twodaloo

The idea for this project has been brewing since our Painting the Night Sky  exploration several weeks ago. If you saw that post, you may remember how my son was fascinated by the way the different shades of blue swirled, mixed, and dripped down the mirror, and seemed to be almost trying to “get inside” the painting.  Since that day both children have been very interested in color mixing and we have been experimenting with it almost daily with colored water, paint, etc.  On this chilly, rainy afternoon, I decided a big art experience was just what the doctor ordered to chase away the blues and explore color on a whole new level.

Toddler Big Art: Painting a Rainbow- a Reggio-inspired exploration at Twodaloo

*This post contains affiliate links.

To begin, a took a sheet of flexible Plexiglass that I had been saving for just such a project and drilled a small hole in each corner, which took all of five minutes and was pretty simple to do.  I found the flexible Plexi at our local Home Depot for around $25; it was worth the investment because I can think of many, many projects using this clear sheet of plastic! Next I took some jute twine from my craft supply stash (any type of string or cord would do), cut two pieces equal in length, and tied the corners together as shown in the above photo to create a clear “tunnel.” After that I put some painter’s plastic down on the dining room floor, brought out our finger paints and an array of brushes, and gave the twins the green light to explore. Prepare yourself for an onslaught of photos.

Toddler Big Art: Painting a Rainbow- a Reggio-inspired exploration at Twodaloo

 Each child immediately began painting the tunnel with broad strokes of color.

Toddler Big Art: Painting a Rainbow- a Reggio-inspired exploration at Twodaloo

Painting with brushes, poking and swirling with fingers and palms, exploring the colors and textures of the paint and how it spread and mixed on the smooth plastic surface.

Toddler Big Art: Painting a Rainbow- a Reggio-inspired exploration at Twodaloo

Soon they discovered that the tunnel allowed them to see “inside” the rainbow. This is the first moment that Will realized he could see the paint from a new perspective. He was saying “OOOH Mama WOW! Look at all the colors!”

Toddler Big Art: Painting a Rainbow- a Reggio-inspired exploration at Twodaloo

From then on it was all about observation. They loved laying on their backs inside the tunnel and having paint and water poured and dripped on top of the dome so they could watch it dribble down the sides.  They talked quite a bit about rain and raindrops-the effect was similar to colorful raindrops on a windowpane.

Toddler Big Art: Painting a Rainbow- a Reggio-inspired exploration at Twodaloo

 It really was a happy place inside that tunnel.

Toddler Big Art: Painting a Rainbow- a Reggio-inspired exploration at Twodaloo

We will never look at rainbows quite the same way again!

Toddler Big Art: Painting a Rainbow- a Reggio-inspired exploration at Twodaloo

After we were finished, I took the tunnel out in the (chilly) yard and hosed it down- it was easy clean-up and now our plexi is ready for our next adventure, whatever that may be!

Curious about big art explorations? Here are two more from our archives that you might enjoy:

Rainbow Bubble Wrap Tree

Rainbow Bubble Wrap Tree from Twodaloo

 Painting the Night: Exploring with Mirrors

Painting the Night: Exploring with Mirrors by Twodaloo

Now don’t forget to visit my partners in this collaboration for even more amazing Reggio-Inspired art posts:

Creating Colors at An Everyday Story

An Invitation to Paint Big at Learn With Play at Home

Mixing Textures into Paint at The Imagination Tree

Painting Investigations at Racheous

Process art at One Perfect Day



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  1. WOW! You knocked it out of the park, Stephanie! This is amazing!!!

  2. This is AMAZING!!! So excited by your creativity!

    • Stephanie says:

      You are the sweetest thing, Meredith! Thanks so much for the lovely comment 😉 I’m so glad our adventures are inspiring!

  3. Oh my goodness! What an inspiring activity. You are so creative, and I can’t wait to get some Plexiglass to try this out….my kids thank you 😉

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks, Shaunna! Tell them they’re welcome any time 😉 Wish we lived closer so we could have a playdate!

  4. I love plexiglass, this is a fantastic spin on using it! It’s amazing what a little change in perspective will do to add so much more to an experience!

    • Stephanie says:

      Totally! I love your small plexiglass easels- we haven’t posted on it but we use a similar setup quite frequently. It really is a wonderful way to explore art mediums, natural items- just about anything, really!

  5. wonderful. It must be fun watching the paint dripping down lying inside the tunnel.

    • Stephanie says:

      It totally was! I wish I could have gotten better photos of that part- it was really hard to get my camera to focus inside there!

  6. I can think of many many physically active kids who would love this art project. I love art projects where the kids are not required to stay put – toddlers especially seem to enjoy this kind of freedom more. Wonderful shots and fantastic idea AND I’m gonna be $25 poor because of you lol..

    • Stephanie says:

      Thanks, Suja! I agree- my kiddos love any type of big, active art. This certainly fits the bill!

  7. That is so cool! Can’t think of a child who wouldn’t love having a go at that! Great introduction as well. :)

  8. This is so stunning. I love your description of wanting to get inside the painting. I can imagine this experience would be one to remember for little ones and older children alike! What an incredible idea. So very inspiring!

  9. this is freaking amazing and i can not wait to try it. Oh my god. I love it! My only question is how did you prevent the plexi from cracking? I’ve bought if from home depot before and it’s cracked several times. Any suggestions?

    • You just made my day meri cherry! Hmm, ours hasn’t shown any signs of cracking yet…I know there were several different types of acrylic sheets you could buy, and this was one of the more floppy (which is also why it was cheaper). I wish I had better advice for you, but I’m so glad you like the idea!

  10. I love this for so many reasons. It reminds me of the kids in my preschool classroom who used to tape paper underneath our drawing table and draw while lying underneath. There is something about that vantage point, of being on your back while creating, that is so unique and fascinating! I love the use of plexi glass so that you can see through the canvas – what multidimensional learning! So awesome, Stephanie!

  11. You know Stephanie I just discovered plexiglass for painting in a different way . I always had kids mixing colors using tempera with 3 primaries and black and white. I just discovered that I can use watercolors in a tube and use the plexiglass as a palette . there are many ways to go but, it fits perfectly into Reggio to get them used to all kinds of paints and techniques (we do have to reach 100 languages right?) You can see how it looks over here

  12. Can’t wait to try this!!

  13. This is a great idea. What size and thickness is the plexiglass? many thanks, Lucy


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