Multiple Meanings

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Provocations have multiple meanings.  Provocations are open-ended in the sense that a child is not limited as to what they can do with the material.  The picture above has inch worms, a doll, a wooden bowl and a glass jar.  With these items, children are inspired, but what exactly that inspiration is, depends on each child’s interpretation of the scene before them.  At first glance, a child could count the worms and dismiss the other items.  They could pattern the colors or group by size the worms.  They could use the doll and form a story with the worms being worms. Taking out and putting in again from each the bowl and jar can also be a choice each child has to make when seeing a scene such as this one.


The picture to your right is a standing area and some items on the shelves set out for use.  For the standing area again there are multiple choices within this provocation.  Some children will push aside the numbers and start stacking the blocks.  Or they could start counting the blocks.  Some children will count and associate the counting with the numbers.  Another child may choose the book and ignore the other items.  Another child may see the doll and use the blocks to form a home for the doll.  How a child interprets the provocation depends not only on interest, but the child’s age and developmental level, and their personality.  Some children may ask a friend to join in their play and together make meaning from this provocation.  A child may decide to move the small blocks to a larger area to expand upon an idea they want to try out. Provocations to us adults may seem so simple, yet when we dissect what is really there for children to explore, we see how complex they can be. 

The shelves contain many items for the children to explore and again those items communicate multiple meanings as well.  Things may look at first simplistic, yet when given further attention and from a child’s perspective, there is so much more to gain from items like these.  A learning environment is chalked full of educational opportunities even if we adults miss that fact.


With cloth to designate the area, recyclable items, dolls, blocks, wood rounds, and cars there are many different choices set up into one provocation.  Too much?  Not really.  Every child that comes upon a scene like this one will either push items away they are not interested in, or they will narrow down the items they choose to interact with.  The older and more sophisticated the play becomes is when all the items will be used and make sense.  For a younger three-year-old child choosing one direction of play for this provocation will be enough.  For another child choosing two directions of play will be appropriate for their growing mind, and for another child using all the items will be just right and will cause some disequilibrium.  Provocations can be multilayered and provoke deeper thoughts and cause the mind to stretch in an attempt to understand the new information put before them.  My job is to support and expand upon the learning that takes place at all levels of development.  And that is one very special aspect of early learning and teaching! 🙂


The Marigold School of Early Learning!  A Reggio Emilia Inspired school for young children ages three to five!

Heidi Scott, BA & MIT

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