Early Years Education is special and unique with its focus on child development, effective learning characteristics and holistic approaches. If we’re not careful though, the correct use of some of the terminology used to explain approaches to pedagogy can be lost in translation or diluted.
Let’s take the term continuous provision. This is a term that’s used a lot when describing the classroom environment and pedagogical philosophy but can have very different meanings when reflected in our practice.
So, what is continuous provision, and why is it important?
Continuous provision relates to all the different learning areas which are consistently available for your children to use every day.
Within each of these areas of provision there should be a core range of resources, which are gradually enriched to reflect your curriculum and the developing needs of your children.
Planning effectively for continuous provision is crucial and involves a consideration of classroom layout and resourcing that will enable staff to offer a breadth of learning possibilities.
Carefully planned continuous provision will enable children to learn skills, will challenge their thinking and help them to embed and connect concepts.
It should also provide the context for a variety of learning conversations between children and adults with rich opportunities for modelling and extending speech and vocabulary.
It is within this learning environment that the children will also develop key learning attributes. How your environment is planned, resourced, valued and used can impact positively, or negatively, on children’s engagement, independence, collaboration, self-confidence, resilience, self-regulation and curiosity.
If you’re looking to develop your continuous provision, you’ll need to start by reflecting on some key principles.
Children will be more likely to be engaged within your continuous provision areas if you create enclosed, clearly defined spaces. Creating provision areas in this way tends to lead to fewer distractions and provides the context for children to collaborate, form relationships and communicate.
For children aged 3-7 yrs we recommend shelving units of approximately 1 metre high, and you can see our range of units here.
Key to maximising the impact of classroom provision is having clarity around how it relates to your curriculum and the opportunities it provides for rich, connected learning.
Certain areas placed close together can powerfully support this. For example, placing paint and workshop/model making areas together gives children access to a huge range of highly creative and mixed media possibilities. Placing small world resources close to block resources provides children with opportunities to build the settings for their stories, supporting language development and early literacy.
The resources and materials within each area of provision will need to earn their place based on the number of learning possibilities that they provide and the needs of your children.
Be careful not to overload provision areas with resources as too many materials will lead to clutter and potentially a lack of purpose in children’s play.
You can see good examples of resource collections on our website to help you get a sense of how much to provide.
To help you with this you could use our free Early Excellence audit tools to help you to reflect on the possibilities offered by different collections of resources.
Once you have planned your classroom layout and set-up your carefully selected resources, be consistent. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of changing a room around on a regular basis or rotating resources.
If you are confident that the resources and materials provided offer a broad range of possibilities, then allow the children to learn and develop by using them over an extended period of time.
A well-planned learning environment should encourage children to follow their own interests and express their own ideas. Separating out materials and resources into small containers or baskets so that the children can easily see what is available to them is an effective strategy that can support this.
Where appropriate, storing some resources directly onto shelving with silhouettes/shadows can also build in opportunities to support and embed learning.
So, as you reflect on your own learning environment, there are a number of key questions to consider:
The Early Excellence Curriculum team is able to fully support you as you develop your learning environment. Our Guide to Continuous Provision is packed with detailed advice and also contains a full set of Continuous Provision Planning Guides for you to use and adapt.
If you are developing your environment fully, our free Room Planning Service will help you to create an inspirational vision for your classroom space.
One customer from Brimington Manor Infants, Chesterfield, explained that “Your classroom plans are fantastic. They really helped me to look at my space with fresh eyes. I am buzzing with ideas and can’t wait for our classroom to arrive.”
We also have our Back to School: Planning Your Environment Webinar available where you can develop your vision for a vibrant learning environment and review and evaluate your current classroom layout.
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