Once you have seen children making progress in their thinking and in developing positive self-esteem by solving difficult problems, you will probably want to learn more about how to create challenge effectively. Unfortunately there is no single easy answer to the question: ‘How do I create challenge for young children?’. There certainly is no ‘one size fits all’ strategy for creating an effectively challenging classroom for every child and teachers need to develop their professional skills in judging what is appropriate for each group and even for each child. As an initial step, observe children carefully as they struggle with the first cognitive acceleration activities that they encounter. This can reveal a lot of information about the children’s thinking ability, their social skills and how they deal emotionally with difficulty. All of these factors are important when trying to create challenge for the children and these factors need to be considered when you establish the groups through which much of the work will be conducted.
The ideal is that each child will encounter some challenge which is just a little ahead of his or her current capability. Too easy and the child soon becomes bored and under-stimulated; too difficult or not enough support and the child is turned off the activity and, again, becomes bored (and, if so inclined, disruptive). Some challenges will be pertinent to a specific group only and some will be personal to particular children, but there are some general principles which can be applied to frequently occurring situations.
Many of the problems in the Let’s Think! and other cognitive acceleration materials have no right answer, or there are a number of answers that are equally valid. But in some activities there is actually one correct answer. For example, in the first main activity in Let’s Think! for Year 1, the children are asked to arrange a series of up to ten sticks in order of length. There is only one correct final arrangement. At the end of the activity the majority of children can see when they have been successful and they are also able to describe how they know the order is right. However, during the activity the teacher will probably need to assist the children by questioning and encouraging them to describe and explain what they are doing and why they are doing it in their chosen way. Even if putting the sticks in order of length is itself quite easy for some children, this focus on explaining what they are doing creates an extra challenge.