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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

Provocations in context

In the course of the last two months I have found myself participating in deep and interesting dialogues about the phenomenon - "provocations" it is a word often used in a Reggio Emilia context... and yet there seems to be a lot of uncertainty about where the idea of provocation really comes from, is it even something used in the Reggio Emilia Approach, and how is it being interpreted...? (see the link below for more discussion about that)

And, in a way, this dialogue has got me reflecting in a similar way to reflections about the youth climate movement... and then this morning I listened to Dr Red Ruby Scarlet and and Professor Karen Malone about "Becoming with Earth" - a live chat on Mulitverse and it made further connections for me between the three.

The posthuman look at the world, learning and play... about it not being just about the human at the centre but the interactions, the relationships, the equality of context, human, nature and culture... this massive interconnectedness and glorious complexity. If you look through my posts you will find I have written about my struggles with coming to terms with the phrase "the unique child" - you will see that I write about democratic learning, about "mwe" . the idea of me and we together... of Original Learning - where learning and play are interwoven, of play ecosystems (where context impacts the human that impacts the context, play impacts learning and vice versa, people impact each other regardless of age... etc) - my observations of philosophical dialogues in the early years (and older) have also shown the importance of the community of learners and sharing ideas, changing your mind, and that making mistakes provide richer learning opportunities than simply highlighting and focusing on the individual child and their right to share their opinion. we need to listen too.

It is not about not looking at the individuals and the uniqueness of each person... it is about seeing more than this and how the individual is connected to others around them, the cultures around them, the nature around them etc etc. As Red Ruby Scarlet's "Mulitverse" suggests... if we are focusing on the child at the centre... it is like seeing it as the universe (UNI-one) a kind of one dimensional approach - of what we now know - instead, we should think of the teaching and learning interaction like the mulitverse - the interactions with everything including the not yet known, a multidimensional realm of play and learning potential.

So how does this connect to the climate strikers and provocations...? Well, in the case of the climate strikers it is not just about the climate crisis, it is also about climate justice... we cannot just make changes that reduces the need of fossil fuels etc if it is at the expense of already fragile peoples, communities and nature... we need to see the whole - and there tends to be a very white, western, centred approach that fails to listen to the indigenous and other small communities that tend to go unheard for a whole variety of reasons (that needs to be addressed) As for provocations... well, if we are only providing the "provocation" as a way to see the child's response then we are back to the one dimensional way of viewing the child... out of context.

We need to be setting up learning and play opportunities (activities, experiences, provocations, invitations) in context with the child, the children, the setting, the culture, the nature, the community and to where the child is in their development (cognitive, emotional, physical). We also need to ensure that this is not a voyeuristic approach that we have... we are a part of this process not just as a provider of possibilities, but as a listener and co-learner. We learn about the play, about the learning, about childhood, about each child, about the interactions between children, between children and the materials and the world around them.

We also need to take a step back and regard play as children do. As I tell the preschool teacher students I meet - in play things become real for the children... I have shared many times in my writing and also in workshops and lectures how the International Fairy Tea Party gave me the opportunity to explore what is make-believe and what is real through the eyes of the children - the consensus was, when I asked if fairies were real, "fairies are real, pretend real". In play they become real. In play the child becomes the lion, the cat, the dinosaur, the parent, the baby... whatever they are playing... and by becoming they learn... they test theories about how does this feel, what facts do I need to become a lion, what emotions can be dealt with through this play (fear, love etc) the play is incredibly complex... and they go in and out of it... becoming the play and then narrating the play to inform others playing too of what is going on and to refine the collaboration of the play. Even in play it is a multiverse. As I teach the university students I transform myself into a T-rex... and I can feel it, in my body as I go up onto my toes, retract my arms to make them shorter and start to move - how play can fuel this connection. And yes, the students giggle at me.

The idea of "becoming with earth" is this connection children have with both play and nature. I still get that... I can be in a place and I overwhelmingly become a part of it. it is why it is so hard for me to think outside, I come inside to daydream and to deep dive into ideas... as in the outdoors there is just so much input, and its not that I dislike that, it's just not easy to focus.

I think one wish I have had since childhood, and still have rather often, is to be like Snow White, or Cinderella in the Disney films... not because I want to be a princess or wear beautiful dresses... but because they could talk with the animals. I spend quite some time talking with animals - every once in a while they look back at you and there is connection... I try in English and Swedish, but I am still waiting for my full on Snow White moment (there I have said it... its out there now!!)

But to connect with nature, and with the world around us means we need to #slowdown and #lookclosely.

These hashtags I have been using for well over a year now in my attempt to encourage others to slow down and look closely - not just at nature, but at all that life has to offer us. I think being a parent and being a teacher requires a lot of patience. We need to slow down and we need to be able to tune in with what is actually going on on multiple levels and not just the one expected level.

It keeps coming back to time.. I talk about children’s time and adults time a lot.. (aeon and chronos - see link below) but maybe we need to consider the child within us as we play with ideas - what time is then needed? I think time gets reduced because, even on an adult time schedule, there is not enough to be able to do the work that is expected of us, especially in the early years - we have to be efficient and we have to find those short cuts which mean things get missed or given lesser value because there is not the time. So much needs to be crammed in If you are not cramming then there is the chance you are perceived as lazy or doing it wrong - yet slowing down does not mean taking it easy - it means having the chance to see and listen more... to connect and to know and understand the context and to provide the right experiences rather than a series of random experiences. Offering a "provocation" that is in context is going to be more meaningful, filled with more potential for learning than several random "provocations" no matter how beautiful they look. If teachers were trusted If teachers had more time If teachers had not been learners in a system of learn-this-fast-get-tested-now-learn-this... then maybe there would not be the need for provocations in the sense of the cookie cutter activities that look beautiful and probably do inspire learning and play in the child to an extent but have little to no context with the REAL learning that is underway. But is thinking of these activities, as provocations, the first step away from adult-controlled-activities to a more democratic form of learning where children and teacher enter a dance - teaching each other the steps and creating something unique together? Can words help transform our thinking and our actions... or do words hide the adult-down agenda of control in a way that makes it sound more child-led?

When I talk about Original Learning I talk a lot about curiosity and fascination. I think this is not something that should be merely for the children as the fuel for their learning and play... it needs to be an important quality in a teacher (regardless of age they are teaching). A teacher needs to be curious and fascinated... needs to be driven to find out more about the children they are working with and how to construct a learning community with them.

We need to not just focus on the child, we need to adjust our lens and see the whole. The child and the context. An ecosystem of play and learning.

Further reading

Suzanne Axelsson - Provocations

This post will be published in Swedish shortly.. Jag kommer att översätta mitt inlägg snart

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