Following a Child's Lead

In the Reggio Emilia Philosophy, paying close attention to children is of paramount importance. Observing children, how they play, and their verbal and non-verbal communications allows for the teachers to extend their learning in an authentic way. When children are interested in what they are doing, they are far more engaged and this naturally leads to more critical thinking and long term learning. Most importantly, the child has a good experience with learning and being challenged. The children give their teachers infinite opportunities to infuse the projects with classic academics such as literacy, math, and science in a multi-sensory way. Below are some projects happening around the school that beautifully demonstrate children being engaged and learning on their own terms.


With the international festival approaching, we have been learning about our diverse cultures. One student's heritage lead us to China. As we discussed Chin as a class, it led to a conversation about eating with chopsticks.  We had a lesson on using chopsticks and incorporated math into our project!


The children in the sky class have been making many lego boats and they enjoy the different provocations with play dough. To offer an additional challenge in critical thinking, the teachers set up two separate provocations for the children. With the lego boats, the children were challenged to predict if theirs would sink or float. With play dough, the children were given popsicle sticks and challenged to make a 3D object - this is a common STEM activity because it incorporates so much math, physics, and analytical thinking into the creation.


The children in the Sand class are still interested in shapes! We find shapes in the books we read, the drawings we paint, our faces, our environment and everywhere else we can! To further enrich this project, the teachers created shapes of glue lines with cut yarn for the children to place on the glue. This was a difficult fine motor and gross motor task for the children to complete but they did not give up! The children were also presented with tape outline of shapes and colors we have been discussing often in class.


Our infants are constantly curious! Food is always a fascination at this age. They instinctively touch, squeeze, pinch, and explore food. The teachers created a beautiful and inviting provocation with apple slices on the light table. We encourage our infants to grow their natural curiosities by giving them plenty of sensory experiences and opportunities to make sense of the world around them.


Provocations in Seashell/Seaweed and Sand Classrooms

 What is a provocation?

The word provocation is one that you will hear often throughout our school. It is central to the child-led learning that happens every day. Provocations are set up by the teachers in an effort to introduce, reinforce, or further any topic of interest or an academic skill. Provocations are designed to “provoke” thinking and creativity

A provocation can be as simple as presenting natural materials like rocks, sticks, and leaves arranged in an inviting way on a table paired with paints and paper. The child is free to interpret the materials in any way they want. One child might arrange the materials to create an art piece. Another might start counting the items present or see how high they can stack the rocks and sticks. While another might use the sticks to paint the rocks while narrating a story. The goal is for the child to feel free and relaxed to think and create.  Provocations are especially wonderful because they allow each child to work within their comfort level and it exposes children to the unique ideas of their peers. This naturally lends children to learn from each other in a way that is authentic and true to who children are. 

Due to the vast nature of provocations, we will focus on 2 provocations created by the teachers for the Sand and Seaweed/Seashell Classrooms.   

Sand Classroom

Scribbles are taken seriously in our school. There has been a lot of research done about the early marks of human beings. In one long term research by Rhoda Kellogg, she determined that scribbles were not accidental markings but rather deliberate marks. She identified 20 basic scribbles. 

The children in the Sand Class are especially interested in circles! The teachers repeatedly see the children try to draw this shape and point out various things in their environment that are circular. The teachers created simple a provocation to extend their interest in circles. The teachers covered a large table with paper and paired this with circular lids and markers. 

  • The large working area is necessary for young children to have enough room to work - young children draw big and they need enough space to feel free to explore
  • The circular lids provide the inspiration for the desired shape in an object that can be easily manipulated by the children
  • The markers are an important component because markers allows for a richer color mark to be created because young children do not have the manual dexterity yet to apply varied amount of pressure to a writing instrument to achieve a dark enough mark

Providing the appropriate materials allows for the children to work longer and more thoughtfully. In this provocation, the markers are key to allow the child to see a vivid mark with every stroke! This simple detail encourages them to continue to make marks. Working with markers also has the built in fine motor skill of not only using the writing utensil but placing the lid back on the marker! As the children drew circles they engaged in conversations and chose different colors to continue their marks. 

The following developmental/academic skills were incorporated and/or naturally occurred as part of this project:

Literacy: Creating marks that represents another idea or item is the beginning of literacy 

Mathematics/Fine Motor Skills: The children analyzed their marks to see if they were circular, reinforcement of shapes, creating shapes, using the markers to create a specific shape

Collaboration/Language: The children had to find ways to communicate with each other when they wanted certain colors of markers, they had to respect each others working area, they communicated their creations with each other and their teachers

Cognitive Thinking: The children used a tangible object to observe and then create the shape on the paper, the children are understanding the relationship between marks and symbols 

Social/Sense of Self: Taking turns, helping each other, working on a collaborative project with their peers

Parental Support: Anytime a parent takes the time to do an activity with their child - especially an activity that is an extension of school work - the child receives the message that their work  and learning is important and valuable. Please extend this project at home by placing 3 varied shaped items on the table and asking your child to give you the one shaped like a circle. You can also go on a shape hunt around the house or have your child bring you things that are a circle. Point out circular items in the books you read together. Give your child pipe cleaners and make circles with them! This can be applied to any shape (or letter, number as your child gets older). Feel free to bring in their work from home so they can share it with their class!

Seaweed/Seashell Classroom

Math is all around us! In our school the children count constantly - we count steps, numbers of legs on animals, our friends in class, plates at lunch, beats of the drum, number of seeds, ladybugs we catch, and on... and on. The act of counting is adding. We highly recommend parents to read the book Young Children Reinvent Arithmetic by Constance Kamii to gain a deeper understanding of how children construct mathematical concepts and why our current educational math model is failing our children. Click HERE to buy the book on amazon. The books offers easy and fun games to play with your child that will greatly aid their development of number sense and give them a very strong mathematical foundation. 

The teachers in the Seaweed/Seashell Classroom know how important math is and created this provocation to allow the children to play with mathematical concepts like one to one correspondence, adding, and number sense. This provocation allowed each child to engage in this activity at a level that they are comfortable with. Children naturally learn from one another and they provided instant feedback to each other while they played.

The following developmental/academic skills were incorporated and/or naturally occurred as part of this project:

Mathematics: One to one correspondence, adding, number sense, compare and contrast amount

Fine Motor Skills: Pairing this activity with child tweezers added the benefit of strengthening the small muscle groups in their hands needed for writing and challanged them to be patient while they mastered picking up each pom pom

Collaboration/Language: The children instantly started to discuss, debate, and collaborate with each other. Children had to find ways to articulate their ideas

Cognitive Thinking: Each child approached this activity at their comfort level - some began to discuss adding and some focused more on the written numbers

Social/Sense of Self: Taking turns, helping each other, teaching and learning concepts from peers

Parental Support: Anytime a parent takes the time to do an activity with their child - especially an activity that is an extension of school work - the child receives the message that their work  and learning is important and valuable. Please extend this project at home by placing small objects in a bowl with several cups that have large numbers. Ask your child to fill each cup with the amount designated on the cup. You can discuss which cups seem more full and ask why? If you feel your child is up to the challenge, use a cup with a number less than 5 and you place a few items the cup (but less than the number on the cup indicates) and ask your child how many more is needed to reach the desired amount written on the cup. Scramble the cups and ask your child to put them in order. Please bring in photos or anything else so your child can share it with the class!