Excellence in the Early Years

0 - 6 year olds

Supporting Pre-Schools

This section shares some of the highlights of James’s work with educational settings for 0-6 year olds including EYFS, pre-schools, daycare centres, kindergartens, nurseries and playgroups.

James is well known in many parts of the world for his inspirational, practical and thought provoking work with early years settings. 

His most popular themes include:

  • Philosophy for Children (P4C) for 3-7 year olds
  • Teaching young children how to learn (At lære børn at lære)
  • Developing dialogue and questioning in early years settings
  • Enhancing challenge and motivation for young children
  • Using praise and feedback to improve progress in pre-schools
  • Developing a Growth Mindset in young children and their families

In addition, James and his team at Challenging Learning have a large number of on-going long-term projects with daycare centres in Denmark and pre-schools in Sweden. You can find out more about the process they use at ChallengingLearning.com

  • Thanks for the many wise words - and a liberating way to describe everyday life in pre-school and the many opportunities that lie ahead to create more learning.

    Mette Mariendal

  • Entertaining speakers who are easy to understand. The workshops very much exceeded my expectations.

    Pre-School Pedagog

  • I just want to thank you for lifting me back to a state of “I love my job.” Thank you for a couple of fantastic hours in Århus today.  I have been a little “tired” lately but now I am back on track :o)

    Pre-School Leader

  • We were so impressed at how well you “translated” all the important points from your own and Hattie’s books into the pre-school context – and that your examples were spot on.

    Pre-School Editor

    Dafolo, Denmark
  • The course was inspiring and informative, focusing on better teacher-student relations through dialogue and teacher-teacher feedback through action learning

    Assistant Leader

    Sprogcenter Midt, Denmark
  • Great speaker who managed to keep the energy high all day! / Fantastisk foredragsholder som formår at holde gang i energien hele dagen!

    Pre-school assistant

  • Nothing short of an AMAZING speaker. Time flew by! Although it was in English, the language was never a problem! / Intet mindre end FANTASTISK oplægsholder. Tiden fløj af sted! Selvom dagen foregik på engelsk, blev sproget aldrig på noget tidspunkt et problem!

    Pre-school teacher


    Areas of Expertise

    Here are the topics offered by James and his team at Challenging Learning. A keynote can cover highlights of 1-2 themes; a day’s presentation can cover 1-2 in depth or highlights of 3-4; and the many long-term projects James runs tend to cover them all!

    Building Children’s Self-Efficacy

    Helping young children develop a sense of confidence & self-belief

    We all try to help young children develop a sense of confidence and self-belief. However, many of the things that happen in pre-schools have the opposite effect. These include certain types of praise, rewards, activities, sticker charts and other external motivators. Building on the most credible and up-to-date research, we show you ways to identify what really works and what doesn’t; and how to design learning environments that really do enhance intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy in all young children.

    Connected topics: Challenge & Progress; Family Learning; Feedback; Growth Mindsets; Philosophy for Children; Teaching Thinking


    Challenge & Progress in the Early Years

    Helping all young children to be comfortable with challenge so that they make optimal progress in their early years setting 

    So much of what we do in pre-schools is child-led, and rightly so. However when given choice, far too many children pick the thing they know they can do well (often because they want to be praised by the adults). At Challenging Learning, we have developed strategies to help all young children enjoy and seek out challenge. This in turn helps those young learners make more progress in their learning so that they are more happy, rounded and able children.

    Connected topics: Building Children’s Self-Efficacy; Developing Dialogue; Family Learning; Feedback; Growth Mindsets; Philosophy for Children; Questioning Skills; Teaching Thinking; Visible Learning


    Creativity in the Early Years

    Introducing unique and engaging ways to further enhance creativity in pre-schools and other EY settings

    Some of the Challenging Learning team were leaders in the Creative Partnerships movement in the UK between 2006 and 2012. When they joined our team, they brought with them outstanding ideas for enhancing creativity in all educational settings – including pre-schools and playgroups. They have since developed these strategies further to make them relevant for early years settings outside the UK – particularly for the Scandinavian and Australasian contexts. So if you would like to better understand creative approaches to literacy, numeracy, problem-solving, reasoning, and group-work then this is the topic for you. 

    Connected topics: Developing Dialogue; Philosophy for Children; Questioning Skills; Teaching Thinking; Vision & Strategy

    Developing Dialogue with Young Children

    Improving the quality of dialogue with and between young children

    Dialogue is the foundation of learning because it allows interaction and engagement with the ideas of others. It also provides the opportunity for chlildren to move from surface-level knowledge to deeper understanding of concepts. As a pedagogical tool, it is amongst the most effective ways to give feedback, guidance and challenge. At Challenging Learning, we have developed some superb strategies and approaches to dialogue that will help all pre-school staff to make the most of the possibilities. 

    Connected topics: Challenge & Progress; Creativity; Family Learning; Feedback; Philosophy for Children; Questioning Skills; Teaching Thinking

    Family Learning

    Helping parents of young children understand how best to support their child’s learning

    When we work long-term with pre-schools, we very often run workshops for parents too. We show how important challenge is and how they can encourage their children to get out of their comfort zone (and into their Zone of Proximal Development). We show how some types of praise and rewards can be detrimental to learning. And we look at ways to improve talk, play, thinking, and feedback with young children.

    Connected topics: Building Children’s Self-Efficacy; Challenge & Progress; Developing Dialogue; Feedback; Growth Mindsets; Philosophy for Children; Teaching Thinking; Visible Learning; Vision & Strategy

    Feedback for Pre-Schools

    Increasing the quality and impact of the feedback you give young children

    According to researchers such as Dylan Wiliam and John Hattie, feedback can double the rate of progress children make. Yet how many pre-schools are actually achieving these gains? In fact, some feedback can actually have negative effects on children’s learning! In response to this, we have developed a range of strategies to share with you that will ensure your feedback is effective, personalized, credible, timely, and well used by all pre-school staff.

    Connected topics: Building Children’s Self-Efficacy; Challenge & Progress; Developing Dialogue; Family Learning; Growth Mindsets; Philosophy for Children; Questioning Skills; Teaching Thinking; Visible Learning; Vision & Strategy

    Growth Mindsets

    Helping young children and those who work with them to develop a growth mindset

    Carol Dweck is the world’s leading researcher on motivation and engagement. Every 2-3 years, we host and co-present conferences in Europe alongside Professor Dweck. This puts us in a perfect position to help you understand Dweck’s Mindset research so that you can develop young children’s resilience, independence, persistence and intellectual risk-taking.

    Connected topics: Building Children’s Self-Efficacy; Challenge & Progress; Creativity; Family Learning; Feedback; Teaching Thinking; Visible Learning; Vision & Strategy

    Philosophy for Children (P4C)

    Engaging and practical ways to use P4C with children aged 3-7

    Philosophy for Children is why Challenging Learning is one of the leading innovators it is today. We have been using the approach with 3 - 19 year olds since the early 90s, and members of our team can be seen on various TV documentaries using the approach. We offer accredited training, support, online materials (link to www.p4c.com) and keynote speeches about P4C. We have also been at the forefront of developing the approach for use with children aged 3-7.

    Connected topics: Building Children’s Self-Efficacy; Challenge & Progress; Creativity; Developing Dialogue; Family Learning; Feedback; Growth Mindsets; Questioning Skills; Teaching Thinking

    Questioning Skills for Pre-School Staff

    Increasing challenge and deepening learning through effective questioning

    Increase challenge and deepen learning through the outstanding use of questions. Discover the six most effective questioning techniques, including diagnostic questioning; deep thinking questions; and challenging, facilitating, and responding questions. Also understand how questioning lies at the heart of Assessment for Learning (AfL) techniques, and leads to improved student achievement and progress.

    Connected topics: Challenge & Progress; Creativity; Developing Dialogue; Feedback; Philosophy for Children; Teaching Thinking

    Teaching Thinking

    Teaching young children how to think for themselves and how to think together

    All children can be taught to be a better thinker. ‘Better’ in terms of being more effective, ethical, social, creative and reasonable. With improved thinking, children become more successful learners and more confident, independent people. The Challenging Learning team are leaders in the field of teaching young children to think. We can show how to develop Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS); de Bono's Lateral Thinking techniques; Habits of Mind; the Thinking Through series from Newcastle University; Thinking Maps; and Philosophy for Children.

    Connected topics: All topics shown on this page

    Visible Learning

    We are the only company in Scandinavia working directly with John Hattie. As such, we are uniquely positioned to help you understand the truths (and myths) about his research

    Visible Learning plus is an in-depth model of professional learning and development. It is based on the principles of Visible Learning that have developed from John Hattie’s research. Together with Professor Hattie, we have developed a range of strategies to help pre-schools make the most of the Visible Learning research and how it applies to young children. We also offer shorter courses in Visible Learning, all accredited and signed by John Hattie.

    Connected topics: Challenge & Progress; Family Learning; Feedback; Growth Mindsets; Philosophy for Children; Teaching Thinking; Vision & Strategy

    Vision & Strategy

    Developing leadership to generate focus, energy and commitment from everyone in your pre-school community

    Choosing to lead rather than simply manage has dramatic implications for the success of your pre-school. We can show you how to balance your leadership-management seesaw; where to place your energy to sustain growth and learning; and how to align everyone behind a common vision/goal. We will also show you how to deal with resistance, speak with one mind and one voice, plan powerfully and grow leadership capacity. You will take away a leadership toolkit to put into practice immediately.

    Connected topics: Creativity; Family Learning; Feedback; Growth Mindsets; Teaching Thinking; Visible Learning

    Recommended Reading

    Challenging Early Learning

    By James Nottingham and Jill Nottingham (2017)

    Jill and James Nottingham started an educational company in 1999 to support local nurseries and schools with the development of Philosophy for Children. This evolved into a multi-million pound, social regeneration project to raise the aspirations and abilities of young people in North East England. With the success of this project, early childhood centres across Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand wanted to get involved in the Nottinghams' award-winning approaches to challenge, dialogue, feedback, questioning and progress. This book shares the best of those strategies.


    This book shows early childhood practitioners and parents some of the best strategies for helping children grow into even more curious, resilient, happy, articulate and thoughtful learners.

    Sophie Ellgaard Soneff, Editor-in-Chief, Dafolo

    Encouraging Learning

    By James Nottingham (2012)

    This inspiring, humorous and practical book shows what you can do to help children of all ages develop into confident, thoughtful and independent learners. For everyone living and working with children – particularly teachers, parents, carers and youth workers.


    I recommend this book to anyone wishing to help children learn. In it you will find some lovely ideas for improving the way we encourage, support and praise all young people.

    Professor Carol Dweck, Author of Mindset, Stanford University, USA

    James has developed a rare skill for blending arresting anecdotes, hard-edged research and practical advice into a truly compelling narrative.

    Professor Barry Hymer, Author of the Gifted and Talented Pocket Book, Cumbria University, UK

    The Learning Challenge

    By James Nottingham (2017)

    The Learning Challenge describes the theory and practice of guiding students through the ‘Learning Pit’. It is a practical book filled with ideas for making lessons engaging, thought provoking and collaborative.


    This book includes so many worthwhile processes to invoke the various stages of learning, to show the connections between these stages, and to identify evidence of impact from techniques that have been tried and tested in many contexts around the world by James Nottingham and his team. It is a pleasure reading a book that puts the challenge back into learning.

    John Hattie, 2017