{Toddler Explorations} Faces - Part One

Silas is absolutely obsessed with faces right now. He talks about them every single day, sometimes to the exclusion of all else. If I point out a bug crawling across the sidewalk his response is, "I can't see his face!" Whenever a truck or a car drives by he says in a very concerned voice, "I can't see his face!" In every inanimate object he sees faces, pointing out the eyes, nose, and mouth. In every book we read, he comments on the faces. He is one focused little boy!

It was pretty clear that this was what he wanted his next Reggio project to be. Lucky for us, "faces" seems to be a pretty common theme in Reggio, so I was able to find a wealth of documentation for inspiration. I'm breaking this post up into at least two parts. Part One is already far longer than it should be and we're no where near finished.

We started by exploring our own faces in mirrors. Silas likes to hold the mirror as close to his eyes as he possibly can. Then he likes to to tilt the mirror this way and that, seeing what he can see. He finds it especially delightful when he can see me in the mirror this way.

One day after nap I set out this tray for him; a mirror and a mini felt board with face pieces (made by a dear friend as part of our toddler activity swap).

He was less interested in looking in the mirror in this instance and more interested in manipulating the features on the felt face. 

He pulled all the features off and named them as he put them back. Then he made a big pile of all the features on top of the eyes and topped the whole thing with sunglasses. This was a quick activity; he was only interested in doing it once.

Without really meaning to, immediately post-nap has become our project time. If I forget to leave something out for him to discover or work on during his nap, once he awakens he wanders around the room, a bit confused, and then he'll turn to me and say, "I need a project!" It was on one of these days that I pulled out this face matching game.

I started by just giving him 12 pairs to work with, but he wanted to do all 24 at once and flew right through them.

When he was done matching, we played a game in which I asked him to hand me a card by describing it. "Hand me someone with red hair," for example. He really liked this.

Never before has he asked me to draw anything for him, but then out of the blue one day he asked me to draw a face for him. Then he asked me to do it again, over and over and over again. I complied at first, but I wanted to encourage him to draw his own faces. So when he makes this request I just draw a circle and prompt him to fill it in as he sees fit.

We do this a lot with paper, but also on the driveway with chalk.

He gets really into this, shouting for "More faces!" and "Need 3...4...5 faces!"

I'll then ask him to tell me about his faces. These, he told me, have eyes and mouths.

At one point, he picked up a stick and declared that it was a mouth. I brought him a pile of rocks and asked, "what could these be?" "Ears!" "Nose!" he said.

I have to admit that I was beyond thrilled that he made this leap to loose parts play without any prompting. It was an idea that I had tucked away, but it's so much more authentic for him to come to the idea on his own terms. One of the things that I struggle with most in these explorations is hanging back and letting him have his moment of discovery. I get so excited for him that I want to show him all the wonder and possibilities there are, but I don't. I sit on my hands. I bite my tongue. And I let him take his own path and find his own way and I try to keep my focus on observing him and thinking two steps ahead so that I can have materials ready to make available to him when the moment presents itself.

He repeated the loose parts face making on another day during some independent indoor play. One moment this bit of tubing was a fire hose, then I turned around and he had made a face.

He asked for more faces, so I quickly drew some face shapes on newsprint and handed him a basket of loose parts. He went right to work. These loose parts were a bit hastily chosen on my part. There wasn't a good balance of objects that were eye-like compared to those that were mouth-like and such. I'm working on putting together a better collection for him.

To return to drawing for a bit, I printed out a life-size photo of his own face, laminated it, and presented it along with some dry erase markers.

This activity really highlighted, for me, the importance of documentation. Even though I was observing him carefully, I didn't notice until I reviewed the photos that he did make an attempt to trace the features of his face. He then continued to draw, with multiple colors, until the picture was completely covered in marks. I asked him open-ended questions about his drawing, but he wasn't at all interested in talking about it. I brought him a wet rag and showed him how he could use it to wipe away the marks to reveal his eye, for example. He liked the wiping and smudging, but seemed uninterested in the face that lay beneath.

We also tried the markers on some fingerpainting paper with mama-drawn face outlines.

Eyes, noses, mouths, and ears all made an appearance. Then he added hair (the green marks) to all the faces and beards to a couple.

Like I said above, we're really just getting started. He has a very clear understanding of what all the parts of a face are. Other face projects that I've read about seem to segue into conversations about diversity, self-portraits, and emotions. We'll see if that's where we're led.

Follow our continuing face explorations here and here.

Our face booklist:

Faces by David Goodman & Zoe Miller - Love this book! Written by two graphic designers it shows faces made of loose parts and sparse, poetic text. Features fun elements like vellum pages, flaps, and cut-outs.

Amazing Faces ed. by Lee Bennett Hopkins - Collection of poems about faces, some about actual facial features and others about things like emotions, accompanied by photo realistic drawings. Silas asks for this one often and I hear him muttering the poems to himself while he plays.

Faces by Francois Robert - Photographs of "found" faces. An art book that I just leave out; I often find him paging through it.

All about Faces! by La Zoo - The only children's picture book we found about faces. I love the content - playful questions and games about faces, explores many elements of faces ("what comes out of our faces?" - something I wouldn't have thought of!). The illustrations are quite stylized, which makes it hard for Silas to really get what is being talked about/described at times.

We Are All Alike...We Are All Different by Cheltenham Elementary Kindergartners - More about diversity than about faces, but is illustrated with children's drawings, which I was excited about. Silas doesn't get to see other children's drawings all that often.

Shades of People by Rotner Kell - Again, the text is more about diversity, but it is full of great close-up photographs of faces and has been great for sparking conversations about how everyone's face is different.


  1. what a sweet and smart boy you have!

  2. love love the loose parts! and the sidewalk chalk faces! so much good stuff. :)

  3. Thank you for this, Courtney! So much goodness here to try out with Bea. She always asks me to draw stuff for her right now and then she draws on top of it with her lines, or emphasizes different features. Will try out the matching faces game...

    Thank you :)

    1. No problem! I'm excited to hear where Bea takes her explorations!

  4. This is so awesome! My daughter is 15 months old and just learning the parts of her face - so I've been on the lookout for face activities. I really admire your teaching style, and I love what you said about about letting your son have his own moment of discovery. I often get so excited that I interrupt and influence my daughter's discoveries - it is so much better to step back and let them have their own experience. Looking forward to reading through your blog!


  5. Hi Courtney! Here's the link to my post about exploring faces with my 15 month old: naming the parts of the face

    Thanks so much for the inspiration! I need to check out some of the face books on your book list.