Challenge in Continuous Provision

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Challenge in Continuous Provision can be a tricky old thing. It is hard to get that balance between 'encouraging' children to take on a challenge whilst maintaining a high level of engagement and 'telling' them they have to do something and risking low levels of engagement and low levels of attainment.

There are two main types of challenge in CP – Implicit and Explicit

Implicit challenge is what underpins how your environment is structured and resourced. Your environment should be linked directly to summative assessment and the areas of provision that you put in it should be levelled to reflect children's ability in that area.

Implicit challenge also comes from a large 'dollop' of ambiguity. You need lots of open ended resources and experiences that encourage children to explore, investigate, think, ask and answer. When it comes to challenge, ambiguity is always your friend!

Explicit Challenge usually comes through direction or request. It can be very informal where adults in provision will prompt or ask children to carry out a particular task on an adhoc basis, depending on who they are working with. Or, it can be more formal and apply to all children. 

Two of the settings that I have been working with have been experimenting with explicit challenge in Continuous Provision through the use of a Challenge Book or Challenge Passport.

Both are still at the 'tweaking' stage, but are experiencing very positive responses from the children and positive results.

Although neither is yet the finished model, I thought it might be useful to share their ideas so far.

St Andrew's C of E Primary have introduced a Challenge Card for their Nursery and Reception children.


The children have been split into groups. Each group has it's own symbol. Each child has their own card which shows their group's symbol and their name.

The idea is that new challenge sheets can be inserted inside the Challenge Card every week, thus keeping a record of the challenges that the children have completed across the year.

This is what one of the prototype inserts looked like:


Staff chose the areas that would have a challenge in them based on assessment, observation and need. There was NOT a challenge in every area (that would be completely unmanageable).

There is also a space for any member of staff to create any extra challenges.

In the areas that had been chosen for challenge the team created a talking postcard on which they wrote the challenge and also recorded it. 

You knew which was your challenge because it had your group's symbol on it.


During sessions of Continuous Provision, children could choose to take their Challenge Card into play, find their challenges and complete them.

When they had completed a challenge and adult 'signed it off' and/or gave them a sticker for their book.

On the day I was there it was very popular with all groups.




Points worth considering….

As the children are in 'broad' groupings for all subjects it means that differentiation between areas isn't possible on the Challenge Card, so the adult would need to take on that role.

If you put all of the challenges in all of the areas on Monday morning , not only is that a lot of work, but also some children will just motor through them all at the exclusion of everything else. 

It might be worth considering putting challenge in 3 areas on Monday, 3 on Wednesday and so on. This way you stagger your week and your workload.

The Friars Primary are also having a go at using a Challenge Card in Reception and Nursery.

In Nursery, the children are grouped by their Key Person , so at this stage their challenges are very generic. This is to get the children used to the idea and the system. Nursery are going to try a more differentiated system after Christmas.


Each Key Group in Nursery has a 'mascot'. It is these mascots that Emma has linked to specific challenges. The challenges are recorded onto talking tins and written.



The Friars has grown to be a two form entry Reception for the first time this year. They are running their Continuous Provision sessions together so they are devising a challenge  system that will work with up to 60 children over 2 classroom spaces.

Sarah has given the children 3 challenge groups each, one for Literacy, one for Mathematics and one for more general challenges.


For the Literacy and Mathematics challenges, the children have a book for each


Like St Andrew's, the challenges are linked to the symbol on the front of their book. They are also written in the appropriate area and recorded onto a talking tin (or similar).



The challenges are differentiated according to ability.


So, Spot's group have to fill the bottle with the correct number of peas – all numbers are below 5. (You can see a visual reminder of groups in the background).


Owls on the other hand have numbers beyond 10. In the photo you can see and adult checking the challenge before the Challenge Book is signed.

For more general challenges Sarah doesn't use a book, she uses Mini Me's. She has created a challenged area. In this area every child has a Mini Me stuck to the wall. 

Each week the type of challenge in that area changes and staff just move the Mini Me's around to create differentiated groups depending on what the new challenge is.


You complete the challenge below your Mini Me. This time when you have completed your challenge, your Mini Me gets a sticker! It is very easy to see who isn't visiting the challenge areas.

Once again, on my visit, the children were very enthusiastic about getting their challenge books out and completing their challenges. There was lots of evidence of adults asking the children to do a 'bit extra' if they achieved their challenge too easily.

If a child completes all of their challenges, they get an extra 'Star Slip' which is part of the school's reward system.


Although this system was working extremely well and it was making challenge in CP very visible, my only concern was around the amount of preparation that Sarah and the team were putting in on a weekly basis.

After some discussion, Sarah is going to try giving the children a Challenge Book or Challenge Passport each. (Just the one)!

The outside of their book will be laminated and folded with holes punched for treasury tags.

Each child will get a weekly insert sheet with a new set of challenges on it.

The challenges that go into the areas will be differentiated by colour. (They could have been differentiated by images like Spot, but this is much more fiddly to produce)

So in my Challenge Book, next to Mathematics, I might have a red dot or sticker. Next to Mark Making, I might have a purple dot or sticker. As I go into each area I  look for my colour, making differentiation a much less time consuming task.

I will let you know how it goes!


Explicit Challenge should always remain FIRMLY FIXED in the ethos of good Early Years practice. It should be activity based, dressed around children's interests and FUN. If it is dull then children will not do it. Their Challenge Books should be a choice, not a requirement. If children don't want to do them it says more about the type of challenge you have set up than it does about  the child!

Make sure that Explicit Challenge is an enhancement to your Implicit Challenge, where your areas have been structured and levelled based on accurate assessment with a large dollop of open ended ambiguity….


 Grip Assessment


How could you free Power Rangers from ice?

Enjoy the challenge of a challenge!












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Comments 8

  1. Hettie

    Alistair thank you. You always seem to manage to post something helpful just when I need it. I had an EYFS meeting with my head just last week where I was saying that I didn’t feel that my reception children were being challenged enough. They’re very happy and settled but there’s a lot of low level play going on (literally often as they’re very into being ‘dogs and cats’!) I did challenges towards the tail end of last year and they worked well for some although I found it hard to keep it manageable. Can I ask – is there a separate adult led task going on too or is everything being met through continuous provision. I am struggling to balance my YR/1 mix at the moment. I have 6 very lovely year ones and it feels like they need a lot of me and I’m not getting much time to just be/play/interact with the reception children.

  2. abc does

    Hi Hettie
    In this particular setting there is no specific adult led task going on, but all of the adults will have an objective led plan that they are taking into play. This allows them to teach, observe, support, reset the area and manage the challenges – just not all at the same time!

  3. Lisa

    This is very useful, especially as this is an area I need to develop. Thinking about how this is all managed, I wanted to know how many adults were involved in setting up/planning the challenges? In my reception class it would be just me setting this up for a class of 30 children and wondered if you had any tips on managing this. Especially as I only ever have 1 adult supporting me.

  4. Nicola

    We love mini me’s and I think this is a fab way we can use these to differentiate challenges. I’m going to velcro them up in my brick area to start with and take it from there. Thank you to the two schools for sharing time effective ways of differentiating continuous provision. I love the idea of stickers on the mini me’s. Has anyone found an effective and time efficient way of sharing these next steps with parents?
    Also – thank you for the partly sliced tennis ball idea. Finally I’m seeing a little more learning in the sand tray – they love using tweezers to fill these (how do they feel differently – heaviest/lightest/full/empty?) and the squeezing action is supporting our dough gym exercises.

  5. Dorothy Hallam

    I like this idea. I also worry about providing enough challenge for children at all levels of ability. Do you have any other examples of challenge activities. It would be useful to compile a list of possible activities. Thanks


    Thanks for these ideas they are fab! However I am struggling to see how I would incorporate it into my reception class. We have continuous provision but also adult led/supported activities going on. Do you have any ideas of how to manage this, when working in continuous provision is limited?
    Thanks Hayley

  7. Jennie

    Can I ask… I have a reception year one class with a huge range of abilities. I am tying to implement objective led planning but also want to challenge the children. So far I have 5 gruff all characters and movable faces of the children so I can group them differently each week if needed. The group then has a picture of the area they are to go to to find the challenge but I’m struggling with how to introduce the challenges to the children and when… If I do it all on a Monday it feels very overwhelming and potentially the challenges are done and dusted. Do I introduce a challenge to two groups on Monday and then another two groups Tuesday etc? And do I tie in the objective led planing to the challenge or should this be separate and have the challenges related to the direct teaching going on that week? I hope this makes sense. Many thanks

  8. abc does

    Hi Jennie
    I would always run OLP separately to any explicit challenge that you are putting into the environment.
    As far as explicit challenge goes, it depends how you are executing it. If you are using something like a challenge book or a challenge passport then I would give the children all of their challenges on Monday, but only resource some of the challenge areas on Monday, then some on Wednesday and some on Friday.
    This means that you don’t have to organise the giving out of challenges to different groups on different days and also the children can’t do all of their challenges on the first day because the resources aren’t available.
    Good Luck

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