The Experience

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Early learning teachers enhance children’s outdoor play experiences by planning and programming for experiences that children will find engaging and interesting. The terms invitations and provocations are used as a way to describe what traditionally have been called activities or learning centres. The term used to describe the experiences that are planned for and with children is not as important as the actual experience. By reflecting on the meaning of the words invitation and provocation, early learning teachers may have additional ideas surface. Click on the words below to gain further information.


An invitation is the action of inviting. To be inviting is to request the presence and participation of children in a kindly, courteous and complimentary way. This may be done verbally, pictorially or in printed form.


A provocation is something that arrives as a surprise to children. It is something unexpected and generally displayed in a way that will trigger children’s curiosity.

course11-lesson2-topic1-photo1When thought of as experiences provided for children outdoors, invitations and provocations refer to how the materials are presented in the environment. These are different from activities and learning centres. There is great attention to detail in the design or the aesthetics of the experience. Consider this invitation that uses various natural materials, mortars and pestles and paper to invite children to pound, smell and create. If the children come outside to find these materials displayed, it can be deemed a provocation as it arrives as a surprise and entices them to engage.
Curtis (2004) identified five considerations for setting up an invitation, which Dietze & Kashin (2016) have adapted in this module to reflect outdoor play and learning.

  • Designate an accessible location with enough space for one to four children to experience the invitation such as under a tree or on a small table set up in the outdoor play space.
  • Provide a background for the materials such as a cloth or a tray to highlight the materials and define the area of the invitation.
  • Offer collections of like objects, for example nature materials and baskets for sorting. According to Curtis (2004) these like objects create a context for the materials so the invitation does not look “cluttered” (p. 40).
  • Place like objects in baskets together with tools that can be used (such as magnifying glasses) so that children see what is available and how the materials relate to each other.
  • Arrange the materials in beautiful ways that suggest how they might be used. For example, create a small mandala that the children can build upon.

course11-lesson2-topic1-photo2What kinds of invitations can you think of that would provoke children to engage with natural materials outdoors? If you are thinking of something exotic or different, you may wish to think about how everyday items can add intrigue to children. Even though children see pinecones, leaves, rocks, pebbles, sand, water and bark daily, they can still be inviting if you defamiliarize the familiar. Invite children to look closely and notice details. The definition of “defamiliarization” is the artistic technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar or strange way, in order to enhance perception of the familiar. When materials are presented as initiations or provocations, it will be unfamiliar to the children and will encourage them to notice and ideally become intrigued with them.