Another first day of school

One of the things I love about the school year beginning each year is the opportunity we have as teachers to start fresh, set goals and the enthusiastic nature a new year brings in. The first morning as we meet back as a staff after a well deserved break is always full of enthusiasm and excitement. Sadly, I have been part of many first days where that excitement is withered away with endless descriptions of protocols, overviews and inductions. Usually presented with a dry PowerPoints and limitless pieces of paper reminding us all what we should be doing.

This year’s start to the school year for me started at the Melbourne Museum, with who we have developed a wonderful partnership over that last year with ongoing projects. The aim of the day was to provoke our thinking about how we provoke children’s learning. A meta provocation if you will.

As a Reggio Emilia inspired school we use provocations to provide meaningful and emotional connections to learning. Leaving the OHS induction for another staff meeting, we were able to hear from two amazing speakers who shared their designs for the Children’s Museum at Melbourne Museum and reflect on how we might design purposeful provocations for our children.

First we heard from Mary Featherston, who was was in the original design team for the Children’s Museum in the 80s. She spoke about recognising that although museums in the 80’s had established themselves as treasure houses for the community there was nothing for children. They understood the importance of talking to and listening to children in the development of the museum and observing how children made direct connections with the artefacts and their experiences. They were able to identify that children learn through their senses, vigourously. They learnt that hands on exhibits that were deemed boring by the children were often vandalised and that they needed to find a way to slow children down and allow them to dig deeper in the artefacts. Quickly our teaching team was beginning to compare and contrast learning experiences in schools and museums.

As the Children’s Museum is now going through a redesign we were lucky enough to hear from the most recent design team about how they have tried to create a “wondrous museum place for children.” They see children as co-creators of the museum and have worked with a variety of audiences to develop a balance between the familiar and unfamiliar and high and low pace experiences.

The staff interacting in one of the exhibits

We had time to walk through the current Children’s Museum asking ourselves the questions; What is the essence of a provocation? How is a provocation more than just an object? How do we find rich ways to engage in the world with our objects?

Now back at school and a week in, we are still thinking and reflecting on the experiences of our first day. When the museum staff spoke about the design of a welcome space to draw children in. A space to let the child know that the authority of their learning and experiences had now been handed over to them, has certainly inspired us to think about how we welcome children to our learning neighbourhood. How does a child know that when they enter the school or our spaces that we respect them and recognise their desires for learning? How do we show them that this is a place that is not separate from but connected to their home and community?

Already in the first week we have begun to unpack the children’s understanding of welcome and how we make people feel safe and cared for and in the coming weeks we will use provocations to think about how we might transform our welcome foyer into a space that hands over the authority to children.

Much better than walking away from the first day with a checklist of frameworks and protocols……