Preschool Provocations

If you don’t already know this about me, I am a huge fan of the Reggio Emilia approach for early childhood ed. It has strong roots in allowing the child to initiate his own learning, as he is given the space to explore the world around him with all of his senses. In this context, a young child may develop his own original thoughts and questions, test his own theories, and discover workable solutions as he takes ownership and responsibility for meaningful work. This process is often started through preschool provocations!

So, what are Preschool Provocations?

Preschool provocations are thoughtfully planned, carefully placed station or activity in the home or classroom (for 1 child or a small group of children), set up to invite the child in so that he may discover. It can be provided as a catalyst for creative exploration, or (more appropriately as projects emerge within your classroom setting) as an opportune response to an observation or learning need so that the provocation pulls the child deeper into his existing work.

In this atmosphere of learning, a child makes real, lasting connections to people, places, and things while he discovers value in working collaboratively and making the world a better place. A Reggio child is given the freedom to create, innovate, learn through trial and error, and accept “failure” as a stepping stone to build upon.

The teacher or caregiver’s role is critical: to walk beside the child and guide him in applying his interests to his work, to help him build upon his existing knowledge, connecting new discoveries to practical application and meaningful solutions. Preschool provocations are fantastic mediums to engage the young child initially through his interests, leading him to discovery through use of rich materials and learning invitations.

What are Preschool Provocations For?

  • Preschool Provocations provoke! Thoughts, discussions, questions, interests, creativity, ideas. They also work to expand on an existing learning project.
  • Preschool Provocations provide invitations to explore and self express. The learning process, tools, and tasks offered are often left open ended.
  • Preschool Provocations are meant to be beautiful, wonderful, novel, and inspirational! Think: Something that makes a child’s eyes wide with awe. They should be pleasing to at least one of the senses!
  • Preschool Provocations should stimulate a child to react by engaging in something deeply. That is, through thinking about something a new way, trying something different, feeling a new emotion, seeing something from a new angle, caring about something that has never before been relevant to them, or investing his mind to create something innovative.

The provocations below were geared toward toddler age (some for young toddler age). Obviously as your children age, provocations will become more complex and address more complex learning goals. The intended purposes for each of these provocations were, from upper left to lower right:

  • color sorting & pincer grasp
  • sensory immersion for calming behavior
  • extending our science studies in liquid vs. solid, floating vs. sinking, & gravity
  • to engage an existing interest in tools, hammering, cause & effect
  • to practice numbers in a new way: through patterns.
  • to extend work with letters through matching and use of tangible objects (as writing letters was becoming a frustrating obstacle in letter identification at the time).

Preschool Provocations Can Incorporate ANY of the Following Materials for use toward the learning goal:

  • An interesting photograph (Nature, Architecture, Culture, Geography, etc.)
  • Pieces of Nature (Shells, Garden Clippings, Stones or seeds)
  • Science Concepts (Changing Seasons, Light)
  • Emotions (Happiness, Frustration)
  • Something recycled or re-purposed creatively (A bird house made from recycled cans)
  • Food (Fresh Produce, Dry Noodles & Beans)
  • New art mediums (Mosaic, Chalk Pastels, Rubber tubing)
  • Thought provoking object (magnets, maps)
  • A piece of Art (famous, homemade, random, etc.)
  • A beautiful or inspiring story Book
  • An exciting event (Earth Day, Easter)
  • Open ended Questions from any subject area (What is Peace? What is condensation?)
  • An interest that one or more children has expressed (Tires and Wheels, Dinosaurs)
  • Movement related objects (Things to climb, twirl, jump over, etc.)

The materials offered and the activity invited should work together to meet a current need for the child. Whether it be to simply engage the child’s senses, to encourage or redirect a certain behavior, to connect two or more different learning concepts together, to bridge a gap between different children or paths of discovery, to offer practice or practical application through trial and error, to test a theory, to introduce a new idea, to illustrate a cause and effect, or provide the opportunity to create, the preschool provocation is a tried and true method for accomplishing a number of goals in the classroom!

If you’re just getting started and don’t feel creative, just do a Google, Pinterest, or Instagram search and let yourself become inspired.

Comment below with some of your favorite provocations!

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