Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Accidental Provocation: A Stranger in the Woods Becomes a Mini Reggio-Inspired Experience

Reggio Emilia Inspiration
A Reggio Emilia-inspired education is something I long to whole-heartedly embrace with my young children, synthesizing it with other methods that appeal to me, such as Montessori.  But, being a novice –and a busy mom and independent contractor one at that, with limited time to truly research and apply Reggio concepts – I find myself simply dabbling at Reggio.  Layering a piece of inspiration acted upon here.  Immersing myself in a concept reflected upon there.  Coloring our days with a tint of the philosophy, but not being enriched by the full, deep hues of it yet.

It is with this pale wash of Reggio Emilia philosophy that I share a bit about the other afternoon, reflecting on an accidental provocation, which is a complete oxymoron in Reggio-speak.

You see, a “provocation” is an experience organized by an adult that invites children’s curiosity and makes their interests and wonderings visible.  It is a thoughtful, deliberate action on the educator’s part to provoke children to discover learning.  It is designed with a clear intent, usually to help teachers discern what children know, what misconceptions they have, what they are wondering about and what sort of project might unfold.  Thus, if you are a Reggio purist, there can be no “accidental” provocations.  They are all well-planned.

I am not a purist.  I am a mom who needed to do this:

 Yep, bathe the baby while keeping his two older siblings peacefully engaged in something within eye and ear-shot – preferably something that was a “treat” (and, thus, something they would remain occupied with) that was not simple mind candy.  Something that was simple, but would give them a bit to chew on.

Now, don’t laugh heartily as I share what that was:

Yes, a video!

Now, let me preempt the protests I hear coming:  I know Reggio classrooms would likely not employ the use of videos for much, especially provocations; videos are far too passive.  And, I do not allow a ton of screentime in our home.  However, Luke and Nina have been loving the Stranger in the Woods book (about animals trying to discover who the stranger -- a snowman that children have built and set food out on -- is in their wooded area), Winter Friends board book and all things snow-related, so I thought that watching Stranger in the Woods, the Movie. would be an acceptable "exception" as  away spark some further interest and learning.

Was I ever right?

The Experience Unfolding

As Jack “oo”ed over his siblings ideas...

 Luke and Nina asked if they could raid the fridge and winter gear baskets for materials for their mini-project.  I allowed them to do so, and, then, agreed to let them go outside to literally construct their learning as I watched from the window while nursing Jack.

What a joy it was to see them working together to build their very own snowman, deciding how to use the turnip and radishes as a face and where to find some sticks and twigs in our snow-covered yard, all while working together as a team so nicely.

As I witnessed their cooperative "work", I smiled, thinking about the joy they were experiencing in taking the lead in their own project and the inherit learning of that project.  Also, I was simply happy to see them interacting with such focus and compassion for each other and for the creatures around our home.  So, I was more than happy to help them get bird seed out of the cabinet when they came tromping in to ask for some.  

Of course, they wanted to put it on snowman’s hat and sprinkle it on the ground to feed the birds and squirrels.  And, I was equally happy to say "yes" when they asked for the camera to document their own work -- including the trail of food they left to lure the animals in...

and their snowman feed-the-animals sculpture...

In fact, Luke and Nina enjoyed all this so much, they later asked if they could raid the fridge again – this time for radishes and a potato in order to build a “sideways turned” snowman, that they photographed on their own again. 

Then, the next day, they ran out to see what, if anything, the animals had dined upon, as well as to collect their mittens and hats so animals and wind would not carry them away.

So, now the question:  Was this a deep, well-facilitated Reggio-inspired project?  No.  Was it a somewhat accidental provocation that encouraged a curriculum of curiosity where the children experimented with what sorts of food might appeal to wildlife creatures, how they could construct a snowman without help, how they might photograph their construction and how they could work together?  Yes. 

Shades of Reggio colored this experience in that I did not say to the children, “Watch this video and see how you can copy it.”  Nor did I ask, “Would you like to feed critters by building your own snowmen?”  Nor did I direct, “Let’s build our own snowmen, put food on them, leave them out and check on them in the morning.”  Instead, I simply offered a provocation (the video – however poor and unimaginative a provocation any “real” Reggio educator would say that was – and free reign of  our refrigerator produce drawer) and, then, observed what the children happily set about exploring and doing as a result.  In doing so, I came away with some questions/ideas for future learning:

  • What animals near our yard like which foods?
  • Do certain foods seem to freeze more than others when left outside, making them unappealing to animals?
  • Are there other reasons certain foods might not be appealing to local critters?
  • How can you roll, pack, shape and stack snow to make a sculpture?
  • What angles allow you to take the best photographs?
  • How does light and shadow play into photographing a subject, especially in the snow?
  • What other sculptures might we build?
  • How else could we be kind to creatures in the winter?

Will we explore these questions?  In all honesty, probably not many of them anytime soon.  But, simply through setting out the provocation and letting the experience unfold as far as it did, we all came away with something to chew on:
  • Luke and Nina learned a bit about teamwork, kindness to critters, properties of snow, etc.
  • I ended up with more to reflect upon.
  • The animals got some new nibbles.
  • And, Jack had a peaceful moment to explore his toes!

These are the days I love the freedom of homeschooling!

This post is being shared at sunrise learning Lab’s Reggio Wednesday, plus at We Are THAT Family’s Works for Me Wednesday (because Stranger in the Woods really works for us as an impetus to enjoy an afternoon of snow fun) and at A Mommy’s Adventure’s Story + Art (because the art of the snowman “sculptures” stemmed from an interest in the Stranger in the Woods video that was preceded by a week of loving the Stranger in the Woods book.)  Enjoy the ideas others share at all of these link-ups.


The Sunshine Crew said...

Great post!
Love the snowman!Your kids are so adorable. I miss having a little one to give a bath to like that. Mine are now big enough to play in the tub...they make the most of bathtime though with tons of Playmobil toys along for fun...
Will try to put a link up for Reggio Posts on Friday. Have the giveaway stuff up today and have to have surgery on my ear, so it will be up either on Friday or else maybe just next week.
Have a happy one,

Lisa Quinones Fontanez said...

Hi! Following you from Best o the Best :)
Great blog especially love the Printables.

Lisa Quinones Fontanez said...

Hi! following you from Best of the Best - love the blog, especially the printable!!

Jena @ HappyLittleMesses said...

Hi There, visiting from HappyLittleMesses where we also dabble in the Reggio approach. Don't be too hard on yourself. A master teacher that I used to work with says that it takes 10 years working the method to grasp it 100%. Sounds like you and you family are well on your way. They made the mot beautiful snowman I've ever seen.


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