As a Reggio Emilia-inspired school, our teachers believe in provocations as a tool for open-ended exploration and play. Teachers set up provocations of different materials, or familiar materials in a new way, and observe how the children respond and investigate the materials.
When a teacher in the Orange Room brought 15 boxes in on Monday, we originally thought that we’d have them out for one day, they would get ruined and we would recycle them. However, the children were careful and had lots of ideas of what to do with them, so we watched the play evolve over the course of the week, often with the teachers offering an invitation in the morning, but then the children taking it from there.
Monday was all about exploring size, shape and space, initially in the form of seeing how the children could or could not fit their bodies into each of the boxes, how they could get in and out, and what else they could put into the boxes. Later in the morning, the boxes wound up being spread all around the room as the children tried to push one another. This then led to the children having to figure out how to move the boxes around other large objects like the tables and chairs. They also had to figure out how to get around the boxes with their trucks.
On Tuesday, the boxes were lined up when the children came into the room. They quickly embraced train play, working out whether you had to be in the front box to drive, negotiating who got to sit in which box and inviting the teachers to join them.
Student: We’re going to town and get a cookie and there will be spiders there.
Student: We can go to Copenhagen and Costa Rica.
Student: I put on my seat belt. I’m going to push the button. It starts the train
On Wednesday, the boxes were set out in a circle with stuffed animals in them, but that arrangement was quickly changed when one particular student arrived. He knew right away that he wanted to make a space ship. With a teacher’s help, the boxes were stacked into his vision. He seemed interested in keeping the stuffed animals in the boxes, replacing them when they fell out.
On Thursday, the children arrived to the boxes being turned upside down. One student lined them up as soon as she saw them and placed small blocks on them, declaring that it was an obstacle course.
This play really required a lot of acceptance of other people’s ideas and negotiating. At first, the child who started the game was very unwilling to have anyone deviate from her idea of how things should be set up and how they should be used. It was hard for her when others did not care about the small blocks staying in place or they wanted to go across the boxes in the opposite direction. This was a situation where a teacher helped each child understand what the others wanted and they were soon able to share the box set-up, welcoming the idea of an obstacle course for them all to try. The child who started the game even began giving away boxes when a couple of the children wanted to use them for other activities.
Later in the morning, the children revisited a favorite activity: jumping off a balance beam with the help of a friend. One child even explored this same concept with two pandas, having the bigger one help the smaller jump off a box to the floor.
On Friday, a few of the boxes were available on a table along with pastels as an art activity. Only one child really spent any time drawing and the boxes soon got piled by the stairs as we had snack and moved on with our day.
Later in the morning, the children saw the potential in a haphazard pile of boxes as they played a drum set first and then climbed in to pilot a plane.
Throughout the week, we saw the many possibilities of playing with loose parts. When we set out a provocation or invitation, we never know exactly what the children will do with it. We may try to guess what direction their interests, development and personalities may take them, but we embrace wherever their ideas may take us.
We started off with lots of boxes on Monday to allow plenty of boxes for all to explore. This really offered the first chance for the children to problem-solve and negotiate as they worked to share and take turns in the boxes as well as figure out how to still be able to do other things in our room when the boxes took up so much space. We pared down the number of boxes to six for the rest of the week and this just meant that the group had to work in a different way to share boxes, space, and ideas. It was very challenging at times for the children to work through disagreements, but having these opportunities gives the children a chance to learn skills that they will use for the rest of their lives.
So much creative thinking happened, often in ways that we adults would not have thought of. Boxes became a space ship, a train, a drum set, an airplace, a car, a chance to connect an a chance to be alone.
Reflection by Abby DeLong and Andrea Tallacksen, Orange Room Co-Teachers