“It’s like a place for wish magic!”- CL
At our Reggio-inspired school we are called to be facilitators of exploration. We set out provocations to provoke wonder, curiosity, engagement, reflection, and learning through experience. We follow the children throughout the year, carefully listening, trying to understand the hundred languages that each child speaks to us and build ideas for curriculum through their interests. When setting up our environment at the very start of the school year, however, we don’t have the children to follow. Beginning provocations are often guided by our own ideas and our general understanding of (our) children. We usually try to keep it simple to start- drawing materials, blocks, books, beads, sensory work, and dolls are all well-loved materials. So we set all these out in our classroom, but there was one room we had a different idea for.
Starting this school year in a new space has been exciting for us all. In this new space we have gained so many things, including a dedicated studio room (an ‘atelier’ in Reggio schools)! A room with sunlight, a room with storage, a room to get messy in. Instead of deciding to fill it with the usual colored pencil cups, papers, and crayons, I did something a little wild- I took every single thing off of the shelves and covered the entire room in white paper. It took forever. I wanted the children to feel the impact of having an atelier. A room we can do big things in that we don’t have to worry about taking apart before lunch, or sharing with an office and laundry room. I wanted to provoke a feeling of space, of openness, like walking into a blank canvas. A room empty of everything and yet so full of potential. This is their space and I want them to own it.
If you have ever moved before (and many of these children have), you might recall the strange feeling of emptiness. You try to imagine where the furniture will fit in to this new space, while just the sound of your footsteps echo in its barren expanse. I wanted the children to be able to experience this in a way. Moving is a huge transition and while we wanted our classroom to generally be warm and inviting, I also wanted to hold a space for it’s strangeness. In this room the children see blank walls and only the vagueness of furnishings. I borrowed library books about moving and all the details and feeling that we might experience around this enormous transition.
What is this space calling you to do? What potentials are in these walls? What do you imagine filling these shelves and scattered on these tables? Most adults when looking at the space see paper and wondered if we would draw all over the room. That would be my first inclination. Instead I put one provocation here- a light projector, a few gems, and mirrors. I wanted to invite the children through these materials to literally see themselves reflected in this space, and to see their ideas projected on these walls. Again, to gift to them the dichotomy of an empty room, full of ideas and potential. Imagining a new space is projecting ideas in that space. (Also, I just wanted to save the paper from immediately being used up so we can do many things with it!)
I was so excited to show this room to the children when they arrived. I wondered how we would choose to fill this space, and how any of us choose to fill space in our lives. I wondered how the children would own their atelier.
Here are some sweet initial reactions:
“Let’s cover it in silk and make tunnels to the projector!”
“It’s a ghost hotel!”
“Yeah! Let’s make ghost costumes!”
“Its like a place for wish magic!”
The children thought, first of all, that I was really silly to go wrapping an entire room in paper. But they wanted to wrap it more! They wanted white fabric, they asked for more paper for the floors, they wanted to wrap themselves in white as well. I found lace curtains and we made tunnels, white t-shirts they wore around, and rolled out the paper for the floors. They didn’t ask for a marker once. It was interesting to see that the first thing they wanted to do was bask in its barren color, and to close it in around them. In this open room, they wanted to create their cozy hidden places that they seek out everywhere.
Since then we have introduced some other color through overhead markers and cellophane. I plan to introduce other kinds of projectors next, but it changes each day in there, and now I have the children with me to follow!