"The drawings help the children look at each other's thinking."
Foreman, G. (1993) Multiple Symbolization in the Long Jump Project, in The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education (eds. C. Edwards, L. Gandini and G. Forman).
This comment struck a chord with me, as it so clearly highlights the role of what superficially looks like 'art' (meaning something to be seen purely as an aesthetic endeavour) within the Reggio approach. Visualisation of thinking can play a critical role in group work as a way for ideas to be externalised, shared, critiqued and evolved.
Children discuss their own work – both as they create it and afterwards. Their work becomes a point of reference for conversations with other children – individually and within a group. Drawing (and other 'artistic' forms) become one of the many ways that teachers can scaffold the kind of reflexive practice which builds into higher order cognition. This idea of externalising thinking also resonates with the 'embedded cognition' work of theorists like Andry Clark. Clark talks about the important role that technology (in the broadest possible sense, which incorporates things like drawing) plays in our 'thinking'.
It would be interesting to look explicitly at how an understanding of embedded cognition may influence the design of the environment and process of early schooling. By acknowledging the role of the body, other people, and environmental objects in thinking, how can we teach better and build richer thinking skills?