In Reggio Emilia schools, provocations invite children to explore and express their ideas. A provocation may come in the form of something set up by a teacher, and can be very simple, like setting out colorful threads on a table. Teachers then observe how children interact with the provocation, and listen to the thoughts, ideas, questions, and discussions provoked. At Athens Forest Kindergarten, provocations are an important part of how we think about early childhood education in nature. Nature is a provocation, and the teachers are constantly observing children to see the thousand and one different ideas, actions, discussions, and interests that will come from the children. As each child in our group interacts with a rock, acorn, fallen tree, leaf, or insect they come across, we the teachers learn something more about their unique interpretation of the world. This week, we had a new provocation that Amy in particular has been eagerly anticipating- mud!
Mud is such a delightful provocation. It invites children to immerse themselves in it, and it can be manipulated in so many different ways that mud play never gets old. One of the first ways we encountered mud was noticing how it changed the way we moved. When we arrived at Root World, some children went right to the ravine where we build stick bridges and slid down! Suddenly, a physical activity that they had mastered became more challenging. If children wanted to go back up the slope of the ravine, they had to change the way they were climbing. The mud provoked children to come up with new ways to climb a hill. Some decided to crawl up, some children provided a helping hand to others, and still other children used sticks or vines to grab hold of and pull themselves up. Children who did not enjoy the feel of mud on their hands and arms simply found new places to climb up where leaves were still covering the slope and could provide more traction.
Children are not expected by the teachers to love mud or want to cover their bodies in it. Several children had to manage feelings of discomfort with having the mud caking their hands, or being on parts of their bodies where they did not want it. Provoking feelings of discomfort and dislike is also a part of the Forest Kindergarten experience. As children learned ways to clean the unwanted mud off their hands using wet leaves or tree bark, they began to understand that their bodies could handle being uncomfortable. Even though some mud remained on their hands, they managed to continue playing and enjoying themselves. The mud provoked children to build resilience!
In general, the mud provoked feelings of pleasure and displeasure alike amongst all the children and the teachers. It was both fun to go down mud-slides, but also scary when you were not expecting to slip and go down the hill on your bottom! Putting mud on faces and hair was very funny for the first few minutes it was there. One child even stored a mud-ball in his hair for later. But as the mud dried, children felt how it could make their skin feel itchy and tight, and the child with the mud in his hair did not like it when it got stuck like chewing-gum and pulled out a few of his hairs when he tried to remove it! Yet, pleasure and satisfaction were what dominated the day. Children had evidence of how hard they had played and how much they had challenged their body when they wiped the mud from their hands, or noticed their pants were now red instead of blue! Mud seems to be unparalleled in provoking us to take pride in being dirty!
Getting our first taste of how mud can change our Forest Kindergarten experience this Friday was exhilarating! Now that we have been provoked by mud for the first time, the teachers are excited to see how our second encounter with mud will go! What new actions, ideas and questions will the mud provoke and what will children remember and want to repeat from their first experience? Our curiosity makes us look forward to the next rainy day!