For a long time I struggled with understanding the place and power of provocations.  A few years ago I had a huge ah-ha moment.  I am in an inquiry.  I am a researcher.   With each provocation – new understandings emerge.   I love that it is a process of learning for both myself and the children.   We are in it together.

So what follows is my experience with provocation.  Is it everything there is to know?  I hope not!

Provocations are experiences I set-up in response to children’s interests and ideas. When I set up a provocation I am providing hands-on exploration for children to practice, test, construct and deconstruct their ideas and theories.

I set up a provocation and listen.  I engage in the children's thinking.  It is my thread to lead us onward.

A provocation will PROVOKE thinking!  I have witnessed if children are not engaging in the provocation as a support to their ideas and concepts – I have to check with my own agenda or perspectives.  Am I really honing in on their thinking or mine?


In the public school arena, where I incorporated Reggio Inspired practices – two distinct types of provocations arose:

  • Child Interest Based Provocations – These provocations built upon and expanded student ideas, interests, and wonderings.
  • Standards Based Provocations – These provocations built upon and expanded state mandated objectives and standards. The materials and tasks set out to achieve the standards and goals that are mandated.

Why Provocation?

One of the most interesting things to me as a researcher-teacher is understanding the learning process. We have all heard – – and know – – the importance of the child’s emotional connection and safety in the classroom as the foundation of the learning environment. I would be so bold to say a quality education equals quality relationships in the classroom.

It is inside this value system I have found the sleeping giant. If safety, trust, and respect provide the foundation – then the next level of support is being invested in children's interests and curiosities.

provocations18When we pay attention to the interests of children, children get serious about learning.  When I listen keenly to a child or group of child negotiating an idea – something magical happens.

Think about it.

Children come into the world wired to make sense of life. When we pay attention to the things that children are interested in, learning becomes incredibly important.  Deep inside the thinking of children – lies the fairy dust of education – – meaningful engagement!

Clearly– a curious mind is one that is primed for learning.

I know when I am interested – hold on! – I am highly invested!   What defines my state of engaged learning is a high level of focus and attention.

Focus and attention are the keys to developing strong pathways in the brain. Powerful provocations give children opportunities to attend to the world of ideas and concepts with incredible focus and attention.


Provocations, then, can be support systems in response to children’s interests through meaningfully curated loose parts and materials.

  • The magic lies in the fact these parts and materials curate new languages or ways of interacting with children's ideas or wonderings.  I listen keenly to children to uncover the unique perspectives of what they see and think.
  • A well-crafted provocation engineers play that is, in actuality, provoked by the children!

Provocations support the unfoldment of ideas and theories of the children.  Not my ideas.  Not my interests.  The children's.   And when I really invest myself in this process – new and expanded possibilities for children's exploration and inquiry arise.  And this . . . is teaching fairy dust!

Want to learn more about Provocations? Click here to download our eBook, Provocations: A Start Up Guide. In it you will learn what is a provocation, what is an invitation and the breakdown of 13 provocations!

I would love to hear your ideas and experience with provocations. Please share in the comments!