Paints and Paper: a Provocation for Young Infants

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A few weeks ago our young infant teachers set out to give their children a new experience. Out of three children in their care that day, they realized one had never been at school for a painting project. The other two children had experienced paint at school before and really seemed to enjoyed it. They decided to give the first child this new experience. They covered the bottom of the sensory table with butcher paper, placed two large blobs of paint (one white and one green) on the paper and laid paint brushes next to the paint. The teachers were curious… would the child manipulate the paint brush to spread the paint on the paper? Would he dig in deep to create a head to toe sensory experience for himself with the paint? Would he even touch it?

While these questions were the driving force behind the activity, the teachers realized a paint provocation would also bring great opportunities for the two other children. They were being provided repeated exposure with paint; a chance to become even more familiar with the feel of paint and the ways it can be manipulated. It was also an opportunity to present the paint in a different way and observe how their experience changed. In the past the children had explored with one color at a time, so the teachers also wondered how the addition of a second color might affect their exploration of paint.

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When it was finally time to start exploring, the teachers watched as all three children jumped right in. They observed the first child as he explored the paint for the first time in school. He manipulated the paint brush, using it to spread the paint across the paper. He also dug in with his hands and squished paint curiously between his fingers. It was an exciting first experience!

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However, it was a moment the teacher observed of one of the other children which seemed to stand out the most. The child started by painting on the paper alongside her friends, but suddenly grabbed her paint brush and moved to the wall. She seemed to be recalling a previous painting project where they painted on paper taped to the wall. The teacher decided to allow her this freedom and observed her next moves. After a few moments, her attention turned toward the garbage can near by. She looked at it briefly, seemingly questioning in her head, “what if…?”, then went for it. As this child happily turned the garbage can green, the teacher saw her desire to explore with the paint in a different setting than the sensory table. The teacher asked her, “Would you like a piece of paper on the wall?” and quickly moved to tape the paper up. This solution seemed to satisfy the desires of the child. She stood at the wall and spread the paint all across her paper like she had her very own giant easel.

The provocation of paint and paper started out being focused around the desire to provide one child a new experience. While they were able to observe this child’s experience, it was the repeated exploration of another child that seemed to alter the direction of the activity and mold the teacher’s original questions into new ones. In the end a purposeful provocation was re-purposed to provide the children free exploration of the materials in ways the teachers hadn’t expected.

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