Monday, July 14, 2014

Thoughtful, Intentional, Provocations in FDK

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A couple of years ago I wrote a post about Learning Provocations - what are they? how are they used? what is their purpose? Like all aspects of teaching, the more I have learned about them and the more I have grown in my practice...the more questions I end up with!

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While instructing our course this summer, Cheryl and I fielded so many great questions:

In a Full Day Kindergarten classroom with potentially 30 children, how realistic is it to set up multiple an intricately displayed provocation for learning? Do you move them during lunch? How many provocations should be out at a time? Should the provocation have a specific academic focus (e.g. just math? just literacy?) Is it ok if a provocation is simple? Do you have to introduce provocations to children, or let them explore? What is important about a provocation for learning? Is it the aesthetics of it?

Sometimes, we see provocations shared online that look too "precious" or "staged" for the children to interact with. Although I believe that how materials are set up, organized and presented to children is important, I just wonder if some provocations are too over the top and don't leave enough room for children to create, explore, and be active participants?

The piece that I think about the most is the children. You want provocations to be aesthetically inviting, yes, but you don't want to feel as though the children can't truly explore with the materials because of the way that they are displayed. I know that throughout our learning centre time the provocations always looks nothing like they did at the beginning of the day. They looks played with, explored, investigated, and all moved around...which is what we want!

Here are some of our reflections based on our time and experiences. It is always important to think critically about what others share and believe, so please do challenge and ask questions. These reflections are based on our own journey, experiences, and the children we teach.

Provocations should be open ended:

While working with our Student Work Study Teacher -
(Patti and Sandy - they shared this image with us. To me it answers the question about whether or not provocations should be completely subject based. The more open ended the provocation is, the more room that is left for children's interpretations and learning. If we compartmentalize provocations into subject areas, we will quickly direct the children to use it in perhaps one way.

On the contrary, we absolutely have things out such as board games or puzzles which are not extremely open ended activities but rather support development, personal or social interactions, and math skills. We tend to do a lot of our "teaching" in a small group, but when the children love the games they will bring them out into the classroom during learning centres.

Quantity and Quality of Materials
It is important to always be reflective about how much or how little we are putting out in terms of materials. When there is too much children can become overwhelmed and when there is too little there isn't as much that they can do or create. My advice...mess around! Play with the provocation to see if you have included things that will spark interest and excitement for the children and be reflective of whether or not there is "enough".

How many is too many?
This question comes up a lot for those new in play based programming. In our first year of FDK training, I remember hearing the message that "all materials should be placed out INTENTIONALLY". That message has stuck with me throughout my learning. All of the areas in the classroom have intentional provocations or invitations, some may be more simple than others. At the beginning of the year, we may start with a provocation that includes attribute blocks and a mirror - simple yet many entry points and opportunities for the children to explore.

Challenging ourselves to think about WHY we should not keep out all of the water materials for the water centre. Rather, we should carefully select specific materials that will invite the children to slow down, experiment, and play. Having everything out at once can be very overstimulating to children.

When to change a provocation?
Another common wondering is when to change provocations. Traditionally, many educators would create a learning centre plan and then each week change all of the centres in the classroom. As we grow in our knowledge of supporting young children, many educators are reflecting that this may not be the only way. Listening to the children while they play and interact with the materials will guide you as an educator to know when it may be time to change it (or perhaps you could add/take away materials to enhance what is out). We have found that we do not change things based on time, rather based on interest.

Do you introduce provocations?
Generally, we do not take the time as a whole class to introduce new provocations in the classroom. Sometimes we will introduce new materials or provocations in a small group if it makes sense (e.g., a new art tool that may require experimentation/instruction or a game). However, since we do not put out all new provocations weekly we are aware of the area where new materials have been set out and will make a conscious effort to interact with the children and the materials there. We feel it is important for the children to experiment and play with what is set out, sometimes when we introduce or talk about provocations we set out an agenda for "what to do" even when we try not to!

Caution with Pinterest:
Pinterest is an incredible place to find inspiration, unique ideas, and to share! But I feel like Pinterest should come with a disclaimer. Using pinterest for inspiration is fantastic, but like everything we do we should always think critically. Does it make sense for YOUR CHILDREN? Would the children in your classroom be interested? Is the provocation/idea open ended? Will it take you hours to create - will it be worth it?

A few years ago, I posted this photo on Pinterest and it is my "most pinned" provocation. I still want to delete it most days that I see it, but I leave it there as a reminder to myself to be reflective. When we created this provocation we thought it was fantastic, but after a few days no children showed interest. We started to reflect on how closed the activity truly was, there was only really "one way" to use the materials we set out.

Could we have done something similar in a small group so that it was differentiated and connected to the context of a book, read aloud, or poem?

Finding Inspiration:
We absolutely still use Pinterest to share, to find inspiration, to review rich research/videos, and to reflect on new ways to engage with children. On that note, I reached out to some of the incredibly inspiring educators that I connect with daily on Twitter. I am always inspired by their creativity, eye for beauty, and sense of wonder. I am grateful daily for my connection to educators across Ontario. They were gracious enough to open their classrooms up via photos and I created an iMovie for the course that Cheryl and I taught this summer. The participants absolutely loved the video and were inspired by the ideas that were shared.

Creating Invitations for Learning:
Check out this really great, easy read by Deb Curtis -


  1. I was just mesmerized. I love every.single.thing. in your inspirational photos. Thank you so much for sharing. The songs were a perfect compliment. I can only strive to achieve what you presented!!

  2. Thank you so much for the kind words. We feel very blessed to be connected to so many inspiring educators across Ontario via social media. Start small and go one step at a time ... it's a journey driven by passion and excitement for learning!

  3. Superb blog 4 new & experienced! We should never stop asking Qs, wondering, messing about and being reflective. After all, isn't that what we want our students to do? The iMovie is so carefully and lovingly put together - mesmerizing, I agree!
    Thank you for sharing your ongoing, 'passionately curious' thoughts with all! You have left me in deep thought... As always.

  4. It was really very informative post!! Yeah Kindergarten School provides good education as well as also provides unique and good games for school.

    Phoenix pre-k