Why is Continuous Provision Important During Early Years Education?

It’s important that nursery practitioners understand what is meant by the term continuous provision and how they can implement this in their practice.

It is sometimes thought that continuous provision simply means to provide children with resources that are safe for them to explore on their own.

However, these resources shouldn’t just be things that happen to be ‘out’ at nursery, as there should be constant opportunities for children to extend and enhance their learning.

As such, nursery areas need to be properly planned and considered to ensure they are both engaging and challenging for young learners.

It shouldn’t become a stagnant process where children are interacting with the same objects time and time again.

You want children to be active learners, who are curious to try new things without being led by an adult.

In this post we’re going to explore why continuous provision is an integral part of early years education, and what nursery practitioners can do to improve their own practice.

What is Continuous Provision?

Continuous provision is the resources and areas that you have laid out in your nursery which are free for children to explore.

These areas must be safe and secure, as children should be able to play in these areas without being led by an adult.

Because children are exploring independently, they are free to make their own choices and decisions without being instructed.

Therefore, these areas should leave some ambiguity so that children can use their creativity and imagination to figure out different concepts without there being an obvious answer.

This encourages children to be active learners who use their own thinking and problem solving instead of relying on others.

When nursery practitioners are designing these areas and deciding what resources to include, they should keep the needs and interests of the children in mind.

They shouldn’t follow what everyone else is doing just because it works for them. Instead, they should focus on their own group of children and tailor the environment accordingly.

3 toddlers playing on car mat

Why is Continuous Provision Important?

Continuous provision is important because it helps support children’s development.

By providing children with resources that extend their learning, you can see which areas/ resources children are most interested in.

This allows a nursery practitioner to better plan the spaces in their nursery classroom so that they are providing children with resources that appeal to their interests. After all, if a child is not interested in a particular activity, then they are not going to engage with it.

Most importantly, effective continuous provision should enable children to demonstrate the characteristics of effective teaching and learning identified by the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).

There are three characteristics of effective learning which are:

  • Playing and exploring – children investigate and experience things and essentially ‘have a go.’
  • Active learning – children focus and keep on trying if they encounter challenges and enjoy their achievements.
  • Creating and thinking critically – children develop their own ideas, make links between different ideas, and develop strategies for doing things independently.

Therefore, the learning environment created should stimulate a child’s curiosity and encourage them to think on their own.

For example, in the construction area of a nursery classroom, children might consider how high they can build a tower by using wooden blocks. They might try arranging blocks in different ways, or trying out new materials to see if they can make the tower more sturdy.

In the process, children will discover that adding too many blocks will make the tower tip over, or that using certain materials makes the tower too weak. This activity is a perfect example of children demonstrating both playing and exploring.

Furthermore, continuous provision allows children to return to their explorations and consolidate their learning over a period of time. When children revisit certain activities, they can explore what happens to things when they make changes or try to explore new ideas.

What Does Continuous Provision Look Like in a Nursery Setting?

When planning for continuous provision, nursery practitioners need to play attention to the interests of the group.

As we’ve previously touched on, continuous provision should be constantly evolving in line with the children’s interests and next steps.

That’s why it’s crucial nursery practitioners observe children, as this allows them to see which areas of the nursery children are most drawn to, and which areas they find less engaging.

If certain areas are not being used by the group, then this suggests there are not enough opportunities for children to play and interact with their environment.

When preparing resources for continuous provision, nursery practitioners should:

  • Make sure that each area you set up for continuous provision has the necessary resources to encourage children to play and explore in a variety of ways.
  • Offer a range of high-quality resources that will act as a good starting point for the children’s explorations.
  • Use open-ended questioning to engage the children in conversations and prompt their creative thinking.
  • Give children time to revisit what they did yesterday, last week, or even a few weeks ago.

Children playing in a sandbox outside

How Often Should Continuous Provision Change?

As the needs and interests of children regularly change during EYFS, it’s important nursery practitioners revisit and assess continuous provision.

They need to be sure that the nursery environment is still serving the children in their care, and is continuously engaging.

Young children need constant stimulation as this helps them to progress with their learning.

When making changes to their continuous provision, nursery practitioners should use insights from their observations to see if something is/ isn’t working. This includes identifying typical behaviours, interests, and patterns of children’s learning as this will impact their future planning.

That’s why it’s important nursery practitioners understand what children find most engaging, as this ensures they’ve got a continuous provision that works for everyone.

What is an Adult’s Role in Continuous Provision?

Even though continuous provision is all about letting children lead their own learning, a nursery practitioner’s role is still vital.

Apart from providing an engaging environment that is full of different resources, they must also support children to interact with these resources to maximise their learning opportunities.

When children are engaging with continuous provision, nursery practitioners should use this opportunity to interact with the children more, instead of purely focusing on formal observations. Whilst these observations are key as they allow nursery practitioners to understand key areas of interest, it’s also important for them to be fully present in the moment.

Through their experience of interacting with the children, they will understand how to enhance the environment in the future.Furthermore, this gives them the chance to establish rules, set boundaries, and identify behavioural expectations.

Once children understand the rules and know what is expected of them, they will be able to explore their environment with more confidence. However, if children do not know their boundaries, they will often return to ‘familiar’ play, which is less challenging, and therefore less valuable. It is therefore important that the ’familiar’ play’ is regularly monitored and modified by the nursery practitioner to ensure that each child is constantly learning.

Furthermore by interacting with the children, nursery practitioners can model language and ideas which will inspire the children in their own learning. It also gives them the opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions, which extends children’s learning even further and encourages them to look at things from a new perspective.

Multiple children with their arms in the air inside of a classroom

How Nursery Practitioners Can Improve Their Continuous Provision

When planning continuous provision, nursery practitioners must ensure it is linked to the needs and interests of the children in their class.

The environment needs to provide familiar areas for children to explore, which will only be enhanced as and when children’s learning progresses.

However, there are always ways that continuous provision can be improved, some of which we have outlined below.

Adults as Facilitators

We’ll keep this section fairly short and sweet as we’ve already discussed the role of adults in the section above.

However, it’s important to reiterate that whilst continuous provision is about letting children develop their independence, adults still need to facilitate learning.

By this, we mean going into the different areas of play to understand the children’s interests, so that they can identify how children are interacting with their environment. Some activities will be fascinating to young children and will keep them engaged for longer, whereas others might be less successful.

And that’s absolutely fine. As long as nursery practitioners are recognising these insights and using them to set their future planning.

There will also be lots of opportunities for adults to scaffold and support a child’s learning, perhaps by asking open-ended questions which makes the child dig deeper into their own thinking process.

Challenge Common Play Behaviours

It can be all too easy for children to stick to the play areas that are most familiar to them.

Whilst this is a positive thing as it means children are engaged and happy, it’s important for children to feel challenged as this extends their learning.

If they are only ever engaging with the same few resources that they have played with time and time, they are less likely to be progressing.

To combat this, nursery practitioners need to make sure there are sufficient resources in each area of their continuous provision that engage children at every level. This means providing tools that require finer motor coordination, or larger collections of items to improve their number recognition.

It’s important to note that adults are not telling children which resources they need to engage with. Instead, they are providing children with the option to progress to higher level activities by providing a range of different resources.

Give Children Time

Continuous provision is all about letting children go on their own learning journey.

Whilst they should be able to revisit old explorations, it’s equally important that they have enough time to follow their interest in new concepts.

It’s important nursery practitioners understand that continuous provision is not a ‘time filler’ in between adult-led learning activities. This should be viewed as an integral part of a child’s day and as such, enough time needs to be allocated to it.

When children are absorbing information and learning during their early years, they need time to fully explore their ideas. Unlike adults, they don’t just do something once and ‘get it’, they need to be able to revisit things to consolidate their understanding.

Therefore, nursery practitioners need to take this into account when planning the structure of their say to ensure they are not disrupting a child’s learning.

For example, do children really need to stop for lunch precisely at 12pm every day? Or are you taking them away from an activity they enjoy just to stick to a schedule?

Whilst this is encouraged, it is also important that there is routine in place with things like eating times, which is where the nursery practionwer’s role is important. The skilled practitioner will gently guide the child back to their activity after the break.

One idea can be for nurseries to provide self-service snacks for children, so they can choose when they eat. This also helps children become more independent as they are able to make their own decisions. Also, another part of each child’s learning will include developing social skills during, for example, lunch time.

Why is Continuous Provision Important During Early Years Education?

Continuous provision is important during early years as it provides children with new and interesting ways to develop their learning.

This is important for your child to reach key developmental milestones, and to also become a more independent being.

Whilst adult support and supervision is still essential, children should be free to explore areas of their environment without being instructed or led. It’s important to stretch a child’s learning, and provide them with a wealth of resources that ignite their own curiosity.

At The Hunny Pot Nursery, we provide a fun and stimulating environment in which every child is able to thrive. We know how important it is to create a setting where your child can flourish and develop into a confident, active learner.

We have a team of expert staff who will facilitate your child on their learning journey, making sure they have access to the support and resources they need. To find out more, or to book a tour of the nursery, simply get in touch.

We look forward to meeting you and your little one!

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