Last reviewed 20 September 2019

Children’s natural curiosity can be seen as a gift to inform Early Years Foundation Stage continuous provision suggests Rebecca Fisk.

Children are naturally curious, and even if hesitant at first, will usually explore places and things of interest to them. This innate curiosity can be seen as a gift to providers when planning interesting and inspiring learning experiences. Early years providers can empower children to make discoveries through exploring the familiar and unfamiliar, investigate big ideas and showing their knowledge of and thinking about the world. As most providers offer both indoor and outdoor provision, so too can they offer play opportunities for children to connect with their inner and outer worlds through rich first-hand experiences.

What is continuous provision?

Continuous provision refers to the opportunities available for children to learn through play independently, selecting from what interests them from the available resources. This is a natural process for children. The resources and environment on offer have the ability to promote deep engagement for children, or not. Open-ended, real resources often used in the adult world, and not just toys, are the most versatile and flexible, allowing children to access them at their own developmental stage. Authentic resources better enhance continuous provision and provide rich opportunities for language and vocabulary development. Some toys can have a limitation to what they do, and children can discard them, preferring something real instead, such as a cardboard box.

It is important to hold children’s engagement through continuous provision and to do so resources need revisiting, updating, mixing up, extending, and changing in order to ensure children keep learning from new experiences as well as building on learning from the familiar. This helps children to make connections and link their learning to their own experience. Continuous provision in an enabling environment could provide learning opportunities across all aspects of the Early Years Foundation Stage, even is space is limited, with resources being rotated over time. The chance to be creative as a practitioner is there in the developing of continuous provision, where activities are not as adult-directed and children’s imaginations can run free.

Outdoor learning is particularly key to continuous provision, and as Pete Moorhouse notes ‘when children are given unhurried time in an outdoor environment, their learning can have deeper meaning and create long-lasting memories’.

Example of how a building activity could be enhanced through continuous provision.

In order to understand continuous provision better, an example of building resources is provided. Simplistic and limited resources can hinder children’s developmental opportunities, as they do not lend themselves to being manipulated and used in a variety of ways. This is not to say that children cannot build amazing structures with simple block shapes, such as Lego, but that often providers do not have a generous enough supply of them for children to really extend their building skills in this way. Combining resources can keep children’s interest and encourage them to learn new skills. Allowing children to select resources to combine themselves promotes their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Examples of resources to add to the building selection could include:

  • Wooden blocks (various sizes and shapes)

  • Pegs and fabric prices

  • Bamboo canes and string

  • Circular discs

  • Logs and twigs

  • Stones and pebbles of various sizes for stacking/arranging

  • Metal springs, nuts and bolts, bungies, elastic bands

  • Real bricks and tiles

Generosity in continuous provision

Continuous provision benefits children most when it is ‘complex, generous and surprising’, allowing for repetition and continued exploration where children return time and again to extend their thinking, as well as introducing unexpected stimulus to encourage new experiences.

Rich, Drummond and Myer highlight three different types of generous environments for children;

  • that which provides an abundance of ‘stuff’ for children to handle,

  • that which provides an abundance of ‘big ideas’ and concepts for children to investigate,

  • that which provides an abundance of ‘time for thinking and doing’.

As a result of such environments for continuous provision children “were extraordinarily active, more active, more curious, more creative, more exploratory, more inventive than children in a less generous environment could ever be.”

Continuous provision as an opportunity for ‘awe and wonder’ (Ofsted)

Children are often fascinated by their world. There is a real difference between providing activities to keep children busy compared to organising continuous provision to encourage deep play and concentration which promotes children’s characteristics of effective learning. In the revised Early Years Inspection Handbook (May 2019) it says that during an Ofsted inspection there will be opportunities for practitioners and children to talk with the inspector about why they have chosen specific activities. The inspector will consider if the activities are age appropriate, developmentally engaging, inclusive, and challenging enough. Children are discovering the world and often experiencing things for the first time. This can provide a sense of awe and wonder in the child, as we as adults might experience when we see a double rainbow or wonderful view. Children have not yet ‘normalised ‘many experiences so it is easy to present them with something unfamiliar or to help them to re-look at the familiar in a different way. For example, children may just eat apples in their everyday experience. However, if they experience apples growing on trees, cutting open apples, smelling and tasting different varieties of apples, cooking with apples, watching apples rot over time and planting apple seeds, they are likely to be much more engaged and express surprise and wonder at the processes of change and nature.

The gift of curiosity

Continuous provision can aid children to ‘be in the world, explore the world, act on the world and think about the world’ (Rich, Drummond, Myer 2014) and could be a gift to children as learners, as their natural curiosity is a gift to teachers.