Self-Identity Panels - A Reggio Emilia Tradition

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In Reggio Emilia schools, there is a long history and tradition of “self-identity panels.” The children create self-portraits which provide a special glimpse into their individuality and uniqueness. 

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)



As we began this self-portrait inquiry, the children were invited to draw their self-portraits with pencils while looking at their photographs.  Unfortunately, I did not take pictures of the self-portrait process. As a solo teacher, there are some days that are just busier than others! I love listening to the stories the children share about their drawings:

“Look Ms. Megan, I made a cactus and my hand poking it.” - Declan

“I made a picture of me by my dog.” - Hudson


Self-Portraits with Loose Parts

With this invitation, we presented a variety of loose parts on the table. They first had time to explore and play with the materials. Examining the materials ahead of time allows time to spark their interest, curiosity, and starts a dialogue with their peers to discuss their ideas. One student was focused on making their accessories (necklaces, barrettes) while another student wanted to make sure they included every specific facial feature (eye brows, eye lashes, cheeks, etc). It was neat to see how they each approached the loose parts differently. 



“I want to be a princess ballerina” - Amelia

“I am looking for red. I need red lips.” - Leighton

“These are my arms” - Hazel

“I need to have a chin too.” - Oliver


An interesting twist to this project occurred when I had a student that approached this invitation in a completely different way. Does the circle need to be a face? Can the circle be something else?  Of course it can!  The portrait below is of a Megalodon shark with his mouth wide-open eating a whale. Also, there is a cactus poking through the bottom. Moments like these, I love my job and encouraging and supporting these children to keep thinking in original ways.

"It's a Megaldon eating a whale. Look Amelia!” - Declan

"It's a Megaldon eating a whale. Look Amelia!” - Declan

After completing our self-portraits, the students reflected and shared their favorite part of their picture. Also, they responded to the following prompt inspired from a Dr. Seuss book: "Star or no star, I like you just the way you are. I like me because..."  


PS. A big thank you to my amazing intern, Emily, who lead the loose parts inquiry with the children. 


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.

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