When it comes to organising our Early Years environment setting up high quality continuous provision is crucial. It allows young children to be active learners that are in charge of their own learning while also developing key skills that allow them to flourish as life long learners.
What exactly is continuous provision I hear you ask? It is the every day environment that you create in your setting that's consistently available to the children each and every day and what they can use freely. It's not just about the resources we have available here but it's also about the way we as adults challenge and support the learners through our interactions with the children and the way the daily rhythm is organised. The environment that we create must also be reflective of the cohort of children that we have working with us today and change in response to our observations and knowledge of their needs and interests.
Traditionally we may have waited to make changes to our learning environment until the data from the next assessment cycle became available or maybe the following Monday when a topic changed. Yet if an area isn't working it needs to be reflected upon and changed in that moment to best meet the needs of the children.
I now want to take this time to answer some of your most popular questions when it comes to the barriers you face in making it work for you.
Do I need specific areas of provision?
Instead of thinking about needing lots of different zoned areas of provision like the maths area, writing area and home corner instead think more holistically. Ask yourself what opportunities do my children need? What does my assessment data/ knowledge of the children tell me. I like to then list these down and write how these can be met holistically across the environment. For example a child that needs the opportunity to use number names in their play can do this through the seasonal treasures and numicon available outside, working with the shells in the clay or when playing a target game with the bean bags. Instead of having a specific writing area you can create opportunities to engage learners to mark make for a purpose across the areas. For instance clipboards and bird spotter sheets in your outdoor space, labelling their paintings or designing what they might make with the blocks.
If you're a childminder and provide home based child care you're offering something unique than the nursery down the road from you. You don't need to see how many areas you can cram into your front room, instead view the space holistically between inside and out.
How much time should children have in Continuous Provision?
We want children to have the freedom to be the lead in their own learning. This doesn't happen when we constantly break children's time up learning in continuous provision. This could be by leaving the space to go and do an intervention with a specialist, working with an adult at a table on an adult led task or as a child minder cutting into their time with different group visits. Take a look at your time table and see if you can offer long uninterrupted sessions of at least 2 hours.
Should I enhance every area each week?
When we get into the habit of enhancing every area each week we take away some of the opportunity for children to be independent and creative. Children will begin to only 'do' whats been set up by an adult in that area. For example if there is always a challenge for children to make an adult led craft in the junk modelling space they will stop thinking for themselves and never decide to make 'a lanyard with their name on it' because they want to play 'teachers!'.
Instead in that moment of seeing an interest or fascination think of how you can enhance it with a provocation that deepens and extends the learning.
Documenting your provision
I like to take photos of the way my environment is organised every 6 weeks or when i've made any significant changes. These photos can then be annotated with an explanation about why the areas of changed, always linking back to my knowledge of the children.
I don't know how to resource for mixed ages?
If you find yourself having a mixture of ages in your setting it can be tricky to ensure you have resources that meet the needs of those accessing it while also having the space. This where open ended resources work well and promote creativity and independent play. For instance, block play is a fantastic resource that's suitable for toddlers who love stacking and creating towers to older children who make more elaborate structures and combine it with other loose parts and small world to make up their own stories. I also find it useful to have trays of smaller loose parts that can be pulled out when a younger child is napping.
How do I set up continuous provision when i'm in a pack away setting?
Decide what opportunities your children need and create a plan of spaces. Then look at using furniture on wheels, moveable display boards, soft furnishings, baskets, pallets and tyres to zone up your areas. If possible see if you can negotiate with where you hire the space from for a storage space. This then needs to be super organised with a marked storage box for each area that can easily be taken in and out each session. You could include a photo inside the box so children can help you with sorting what needs to go back in here at the end of each session.
Be creative with your spaces and instead of thinking, ' we haven't mamy tables' consider how you can use different levelled platforms for work off. A cable drum, a pallet, two tyres with a sheet of wood on top, two wooden chairs pushed together, a wooden crate for a small world scene.
For outdoor spaces see if you can involve the children in helping you uncover the sand pit or opening up the shed doors to access resources.
You could also give each member of staff a space to get ready each morning in the 20 minutes or so before you open. At the end of the session plan a group story that might free up some staff members to begin tidying away.
How can I ensure my children are challenged?
Review your environment regularly and adapt when possible to make sure it fits in with your children's current needs. Create challenge through your use of scaffolding and interactions with the children and teach their next steps through the provision instead of taking children away and to a table.
When it comes to having a larger setting or perhaps a school with a nursery and reception classroom you want to ensure that their is progression in the provision on offer. For instance in my school nursery for 2 years we had a large sand tray with opportunities for pattern making, digging, pouring and using the buckets and spades. In the nursery provision for 3-4 year olds there was more of a focus on sand play with the opportunity for language development. Here we added some small world resources like desert animals, small world people, sand buggies, small blocks to construct with. In the Reception classroom there was a deep outdoor sand pit with spades, large trugs and a pulley system that allowed children to develop upper body strength as well as a sand in miniature collection that worked on more precision skills.
As a childminder I struggle to balance my continuous provision and home space?
If you're working and living in the same space it's important to be able to clear everything away at the end of the day and switch off. This is important for your mental wellbeing too and needing some downtime. Having sideboard units where resources can be stored away out of sight in baskets helps. A trolly on wheels with mark making resources in or art supplies can also be useful to wheel where is needed.
When it comes to having displays instead of using wall displays you could have moveable displays. For instance a piece of lattice trellis with string and pegs on to display work. Or flip books to document the learning journey that children can look back at.
Remember that a huge part of your continuous provision is also your physical local area and the opportunities to learn here. Perhaps your local woodland area, library, Post Office and walk to school. These al offer an opportunity for children to learn that should be considered.
What is the best way to store my resources?
Where possible less resources is actually more! When reviewing what you already have ask yourself 'are there multiple ways that this resource can be used or does it just have one purpose?' A toy farm will always be a toy farm, but some wooden blocks can become a representation of the farm you've visited or something else entirely!
Where possible try to have open shelving where children can see the resources on offer and self select what they might like to use. Transparent jars and vases are ideal for storing loose parts.
How can i involve my children in the process?
Children will respect your environment and use it with higher levels of engagement and involvement if you involve them in the setting up process. Ask your children what they like/ don't like about their learning space. When creating a different area try and involve them in the set up. For instance if they've shown an interest in performing on a stage you might decide to add a stage block to your learning environment. Write a list with the children about what else they might need here? Musical instruments, curtains, costumes, puppets or a microphone? Then start collecting these resources together and involve your children in the process of making the signs as well.
For more support on your learning environment take a look now at my online course Provocations to support learning.