What Is Provocation In Early Childhood Education?

What Is Provocation In Early Childhood Education?

invitation to play birdhouse

What is Provocation in the Early Childhood setting?

Provocations in the early childhood education setting refers to an experience which is set up in response to a child’s interests and ideas. It “provokes” learning by generating ideas, thoughts and actions.

Elizabeth Hicks describes provocation beautifully as, “offering materials, or an idea that opens up a door to another way of thinking, or looking at something … something that may not have occurred to ‘them’ before.”

Provocations can be used to introduce a child to a certain subject matter, or it can be a tool for furthering existing knowledge and ideas. It is a vehicle for exploration based learning and is distinct from traditional outcome based teaching.

The concept of provocations has its roots in the Reggio Emilia philosophy, but has since been incorporated into early learning education settings more broadly.

You may be interested in: What is Reggio Emilia approach to learning?

“Learning is not the transmission of a defined body of knowledge.. learning is a process of constructing, testing and reconstructing theories, constantly creating new knowledge.” Rinaldi, C. and Moss, P. 

Provocation vs Invitation: What’s the Difference?

Both provocation and invitation to play relates to inquiry-based learning, and are used to evoke curiosity and encourage play. The main difference between the two is that an invitation encourages children to explore a concept, whereas a provocation provokes action and stimulates thinking.

The table below illustrates the subtle differences between the two in relation to a topic/concept (of course, there are also overlaps between the two concepts):

Topic / ConceptInvitationProvocation
Nature: Set out some thick paper, pens, glue, flowers, petals, rocks, twigs and shells. What can you make with nature?How do humans use nature?
Building: Set out building materials (blocks, recycled materials) + hang some photos of famous buildings.Invite students to build a structure / experiment with the building materials.Can you build a tall structure?

Examples of Provocations

Within a Reggio Emilia setting, the classroom acts as a third teacher. An educator may create organic representations the natural world by arranging and placing items in a certain way.

Examples of learning provocations:

  • Nature based elements
  • Interesting photo, book, picture
  • An event (eg. a holiday)
  • Question (eg. what is gravity?)
  • Old materials displayed in new ways
  • Tinker trays, loose parts
  • A discovery activity (eg a nature walk)
  • Natural concept such as seasons

Provocations: A Start up Guide

Provocations are jumping off points for children to investigate. It is giving your child the freedom to arrive at his or her own conclusions, rather than being told what something may be. Take comfort that there is no wrong outcome to a provocation. By the same token, there is no set / magic formula to create the ideal provocation for your child.

Fairy Dust Teaching outlines three steps that are a good starting point as to how you may wish to start with setting up a provocation.

  1. Take notes and observe what interests are driving your child’s play and exploration: what have they been wondering about and what do they already know?
  2. Decide on a Specific provocation: put out materials that will deepen their wonderings and exploration about a certain topic, material, question, or investigation. Think about accessibility of materials, defined work space, and potential objectives!
  3. Create a Provoking Question: This can be printed out and set on the table, or wherever the provocation is set up. This question will help anchor the children’s thoughts and ideas to the provocation.

Once the materials are gathered, you may wish to take a few moments to reflect on the items you have chosen and the arrangement of the setup.

Consider whether you would personally wish to investigate these items?

If you are creating a provocation that’s true to the Reggio Emilia approach, you may wish to incorporate nature, creativity, natural resources, projects and open-ended elements, and base activities around a group interest, topic or season.

Educators tend to use nature based elements, every day household items and repurposed materials.

The key to setting up a good provocation for your child lies with you, the teacher. Be invested in your child’s interests and curiosity. Reflect on whether the provocations and ideas are working for your child.

This possible cycle of provocations diagram provided by Fairy Dust Teaching may assist you with your reflective processes:

Photo Credit: Fairy Dust Teaching

Free Resources for Creating Provocations

For further reading regarding the set up of provocations, here are our favourite resources:

You may also wish to search Pinterest using terms such as provocations ideas if you need to expand your repertoire.

When parents and educators pay attention to the interests of children, children get serious about learning. Curiosity and interest primes our brains to learn.

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