A cornerstone of the Reggio Approach to Early Childhood Education is setting up provocations that are open-ended and child-directed. Children should be able to create freely with the materials provided, even if their set-up and design suggests a specific use.
Sometimes provocations are used to explore a specific concept, while still being open to individual interpretation. The Language of Art suggests that one of the first provocations that children explore should be exploring black and white paints.
I think this is the perfect first Reggio provocation for a few reasons:
- It’s not intimidating to set up
- Children feel freedom exploring the medium
- It teaches a foundational concept that can be built on in later provocations or activities
- Uses materials that can be used over and over again, and that you likely already have on hand
- It is simple and isolates a concept, without being boring
I was really curious how my mixed-age group would approach this provocation, and we got some really different results. I’ve written before how painting with black can be comforting for children and I was expecting to see some pages filled entirely in black, so I was surprised that the presence of white paint really altered their processes and the final outcomes.
This provocation allows children to experience shades and paint mixing, as well as focusing on how the brush strokes differ and interact. The lack of colour also gives a reverence and boldness to the child’s work.
It is essential to speak with children as they are exploring the artistic process and encourage them to go slow. Provide lots of paper, time, grace, and different sized brushes, and this provocation will be a huge success.
Also, children should be taught and expected to clean up their work spaces and materials after they have finished their exploration. They are always welcome to come back to their work later and “build upon it,” but the work area needs to be cleaned in the meantime.
This provocation also works seamlessly with Montessori, and to build on it, you could add in one colour the next time that you set this up, so that children can explore hues and tonalities — as in the Colour Boxes.
- black paint
- white paint
- mixing trays – one for each child
- wipes or towels for clean-up
- paper – 5 to 10 sheets per child
- plastic lunch-style trays (if leaving on a shelf in the Montessori-style)
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What do you think? Would you try a black and white painting provocation?