Earlier in the week, I posted a blog about having an open discussion centered around the broad topic of provocations. Provocations, of course, stem from the Reggio Emilia approach. To continue with this discussion, I would like to talk about not only provocations but the growing and evolving role of creativity and the “zone of proximal development”, a term coined by Lev Vygotsky.
I am a teacher inspired, changed and constantly growing in my understanding of how young minds learn. I attribute this to learning about the Reggio Emilia approach several years ago. Before I learned of this branch of constructivism, I was much more close-minded and rigid in my view of education in general and of what capacity young children were capable of in terms of learning for understanding. Since opening my own preschool and being able to fully take advantage of the fact that I can implement as much or as little of this philosophy as I wish, has made me appreciate how much I love this approach to education and how I am constantly learning by implementing aspects of the Reggio approach.
Provocations are not glorified activities. They are not cute things set up just to look at. Provocations are invitations to learn, to question, to explore, to gain new knowledge while utilizing the information a child already possesses. Provocations also can rely on the child working alongside a peer with more knowledge on the particular provocation that is set up. For example, one of my students knew how to use American sign language, so she was able to teach me the appropriate way to sign her name and other words familiar to her. I was the learner and she was the teacher, the peer in this instance in which I learned from and gained new knowledge from. I used knowledge, I had of sign language, but it was limited compared to her capacity since she was born using this form of communication. A provocation such as, the picture above was an invitation to learn for not only me but any student that wanted to learn more about American sign language. It was also an opportunity for another child to become the teacher and together we worked so that my capacity for understanding grew. However, her capacity for learning sign language also grew, because she became more interested in furthering her vocabulary as a result.
My continual goal for my preschool is that it grows and changes with each student that walks through the doors. By taking into account each child’s unique capabilities and limitless capacity for learning I can set up provocations that not only grab their attention but enable each child to take on roles that are not usually strong in traditional preschool classrooms. Children have diverse capabilities and each contains knowledge on subjects that others may not possess, so why not use provocations as a vehicle to allow each child to become either a “teacher” or “student” while interacting together. Why not continually use my knowledge as a teacher to stretch each child’s capacity for understanding? I love challenging children in ways that neither I nor they ever thought of. And guess what? We all benefit from this wonderfully social way of teaching and learning!
Creativity is my next topic that fits into everything we do. Creativity is not one skill that fits neatly into the subject of art. Creativity is a part of how human beings make things happen. We use creativity to form new theories, to experiment, to construct, to use and to gain new understandings. Creativity is an innate part of being human. Children utilize creativity in both a more open, expressive and unique form and in a more unorganized, haphazard and unrefined way. I say this because we all know that young children are still developing in many different physical and cognitive ways, so their approach is not going to be polished and refined such as older children, and adults. Creativity fits nicely into any provocation or project because children use this form of expression to understand what they are dealing with. In the pictures above, I included examples of different areas in which creativity is the main part. When using recyclable materials creativity is vital to how a child will gain new insight. Recycled materials are items that were used for a different purpose at first and are now free to be used any which way a child can come up with. By incorporating other known objects into the provocation I am stretching that child’s current understanding and communicating that I trust he/ she is capable of using these materials in a new and maybe better way.
Setting up blocks with fairies was not enough for one child. This child needed the geoboards as well. The fairies were going to use the blocks as furniture and the geo-boards were to be movie screens. This provocation was an invitation that took on a more complex form and what followed was this child dramatized how she behaves when she is at the movies. This particular provocation could have stayed with using two materials, blocks and fairies, but it evolved through this child’s own ideas and knowledge. Creativity was vital for this to happen. Creativity was the vehicle in which this idea was allowed to take off.
As we all know painting is one of the very best and most recognizable in terms of creativity. As long as there are no pre-cut shapes and lines to stay within, children are enabled to be as creative as they wish. The colors, the feel, the temperature, the paper, and paint brushes are all very recognizable and much-used materials in creative expressions. Color exploration is one of the first things I notice children enjoying. Discovering that blue and yellow make green is so exciting to see happen for the first time! Another aspect that opens the mind and is very captivating is being able to feel the cool, shiny and wet paint. The texture, the tactile experience alone can invoke creativity in a child. This is not a waste of time! Children’s minds are opened to so much more understandings if they are allowed to explore paint and color without the close-ended coloring books and worksheets that are so often the staple and “proof of learning” in more traditional preschool programs. In the picture above a three-year-old formed a cat on a blank piece of paper with no lines to follow, no adult assisting and only her imagination and love of cats. 🙂
My last category for this posting is “the zone of proximal development”. Children come to school having knowledge, they actually are not empty sponges soaking up everything once they start school. When a child has knowledge of a topic it doesn’t matter how much or how little the child knows, what matters is that the knowledge they already possess becomes the platform onto which more information can be obtained. The process of gaining new information and learning happens when peers, adults, and the environment are utilized as pieces of information to construct with. A child will learn and be competent in anything he or she desires or anything they are required to know as they grow, however, that process is assisted by those who can impart knowledge, can assist, can support the need for new information for understanding. Learning only happens when we as human beings interact with people and the environment. And most importantly, where your child learns must be positive, kind, empathetic, and safe for that child to continue to have the internal and external motivation to learn.
An environment that does not respect children, their capacity to learn, their emotional sensitivities and their interests, is not supporting “the zone of proximal development”. When we want to learn something new, we turn to other resources, whether that be books, articles, classes, online information, friends, family or strangers. We are supported in doing so because as adults it is expected of us and we are supported in positive ways most of the time, in doing these things. The same positive and supportive environments should be 100% available to young children too.
Tell me your thoughts on provocations, creativity and the zone of proximal development. I would love to engage in this topic more with anyone who has the time, experience and interest! 🙂
Thank you for stopping by The Marigold School of Early Learning! 🙂