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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)

Are you making this mistake with your invitations & provocations?

Recently I went back into the classroom full time to support a class of 3-4 year olds. The classroom international teacher needed to leave for 1.5 weeks. It was a good opportunity to see how the teachers organize themselves, plan, and communicate during the day as well as use their observations to enhance the daily learning of children. Creating provocations and invitations is one important skill of an early years educator.

During one project time both myself and the Chinese teacher noticed some interesting play happening in the block area with three boys. Using toy construction trucks and some round wooden blocks they were playing building a home. They built a wall around the "rubble" with a large gate to let vehicles in and out.

During the teacher planning time we sat down and reflected on the morning. We discussed this play in particular, what we observed and if there is any possible additions we can add. As the students are Chinese the reflections of both myself (the non Chinese speaker) and the Chinese teacher are useful for discussion. Usually lots of children play in the block area throughout the day so we decided to create a "construction site" invitation using a tuff tray, some sand and the materials they used previously.

The next day this new invitation was on display and took the interest of multiple children. Pretty soon this invitation was overun with children, mess, arguments, and conflicting ideas. I could see from the look of the class teacher she felt it was causing too many problems.

Why did this happen?

This is a common mistake teachers can make when moving towards a play based approach or Reggio inspired practice. Teachers design

the environment and add daily and weekly provocations and invitations but then hit a wall as to why children's ideas and learning aren't progressing like they thought it would when moving to this way of working with children. They see their efforts ignored and their designs destroyed. The reason for this is they observe an interest, design something to explore that interest further but don't target it at those who were directly invovled in it. This is something I discussed with Susan Stacey, authors of many books on play based learning/emergent curriculum.

Three boys were engaged in this construction play in the above scenario. Our (the teachers) ideas to add an invitation was designed for them and so teachers should be clear about who can play in this area. This is not the same as mandatory centers with rotations. This is observing children in play, planning based on their play and giving them the opportunity to go further. Does this mean other children can't play this invitation? Of course not. Others can also also play after the three boys who were directly involved have their chance, to see where it goes, to honor their creativity, interests and ideas.

The reason this invitation wasn't very successful was too many children wanted to play it. Not because they were interested in this play but because it was a new sensory play area. The 'newness' attracted them not the specific elements of the invitation. For us, the teachers, we wanted to see if the three boys took their ideas of construction and building a house further or go somewhere new with it. When all these other children came to play the "new toy" the ideas all got muddled in different levels and interests.

If you have these similar misfortunes with your invitations and provocations try being more purposeful with them, who they are for and why. It will be a little messy to begin with but over time children begin to understand who are designing the environment around them and what they do.


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