Challenge By Choice

Image of boy and girl climbing the vertical challenge at school camp high ropes adventure activities.

Let’s take a minute to talk about CHALLENGE BY CHOICE which can be described as; 


Daily life is full of challenge! Teachers in particular, have no need to go looking for challenge, it is ever present! Sometimes in waves, sometimes in seasons and sometimes in what seems like a never ending barrage. In these moments we draw heavily on our internal resources for resilience, our personal fortitude for courage and our capacity to rise above.

Amazingly, most of the time we do rise above! We were made for challenge and the best thing we can do for students is prepare and equip them for that reality and to strengthen their capacity to rise to meet challenges head on. Challenge by choice is a great tool for gaining strength and building capacity for all that life will bring.

Enabling students to choose challenge provides a safe place to explore their ability to rise above and assists in strengthening a capacity for hard things. It creates a perfect opportunity to stretch the bounds of students capabilities! If the first time our limits are stretched is when we face something out of our control we may not know how to respond.  If we have presented students with appropriate challenge and allow them to find courage to tackle something stretching, we are serving their capacity to thrive.

Challenge by choice is built on the principle of presenting a particular challenge and allowing each participant to opt in at whatever level they feel comfortable in stretching themselves. For a family, that could mean taking a hike and offering the opportunity to climb some rocks, take the steep route, or stay on the path.

As educators it takes some creativity, but allowing some of what we present to students to include varying levels of engagement can be very empowering. For instance, allowing freedom for students to approach an art project with a challenging level of difficulty could be incredibly valuable, especially if the purpose is challenging them to attempt tasks which may seem just out reach. Rewarding the variety of attempts is essential. This allows various levels of participation without creating a sense of failure for not choosing the most challenging option.  


During the adventure climb activity here at Golden Valleys, campers are invited to climb a series of obstacles while being belayed by their team. For some, the challenge of just imagining this and watching others climb while assisting with the belay is enough! But others feel challenged to climb as quickly as they can and to reach the top faster than the last time! Still others feel a sense of accomplishment in just taking 5 or 6 steps up the first obstacle. Choosing to approach a challenge with the simple goal of stretching past comfort zones and then debriefing the experience with safe people is so fruitful! 

Camp is an incredible place to practice challenge especially when coupled with safe facilitation and an opportunity to consider the experience. It’s one of things we love most about our school camps and school holiday camp programs! Seeing young people gain confidence in their ability to face all that life brings is a core value of the Golden Valleys team. We never want to push someone past their own choice to challenge themselves, but we love presenting challenging experiences and seeing kids thrive.


We want to leave you with a few thoughts and tips on how to bring “challenge by choice” into your classroom!

1. Be intentional in engaging challenge

Not everything can be a challenge but some things just have to be. Challenge can be so refreshing to a student especially when the challenge is coming from themselves! Maybe this is through extra work projects or advanced reading options. Possibly this is through providing options where each student selects their own pathway and level of investment for a project or physical challenge. It could be a creative space where a student chooses a medium to express themselves, and one that may vary the degree of difficulty. Whatever it might be, the essential element is that there is no pressure of external demand to chose the more difficult options, but each student is explicitly encouraged to challenge and stretch themselves. This will be an incredibly beneficial experience for those who choose to do so! 

2. Present a choice!  

Not everything can be a choice especially in the classroom, but presenting choice where possible assists in empowering our students. When you are beginning to pursue capacity growing challenges, it’s essential for the level of engagement to be a choice, not just participation! Why is this important? The part of each of us that grows through these experiences shuts down when stress becomes too high. It’s the difference between choosing to jump off the cliff scared and gaining confidence through it, or being pushed off the cliff scared and gaining trauma! We want to lead our students to the cliff and allow them to consider their capabilities for themselves. Chances are they will surprise themselves in the process. Whatever the choice, there is value in the in considering the options and making a choice that we determine to be challenging. There is even value in the discomfort we experience during a challenge which is stretching to us.

3. Celebrate the stretch – no matter how big or small

Success in a challenge is not about completing the task perfectly or even completely.  Success is about approaching something uncomfortable and engaging it at some level! There is a generative process at work even in imagining a new challenge and deciding “it’s not for me.” The only place nothing is produced is in never considering or being presented with stretching challenges. Begin to find ways to notice and celebrate whatever progress or accomplishment was made in considering a challenge! Things like:

“It was so brave that you came with us and watched!”

“You went further/faster/higher than you ever have before!  That’s amazing.”

“You weren’t able to finish this time, but it was incredible to have a go at all!”

4. Talk about it!

So much of this gold is uncovered in considering these experiences together afterwards.  Questions like “how did it feel to have done that?” or “what did you notice within yourself in the process of trying this new thing?” or “what surprised you most about yourself in doing this?”.  Questions which cause us to consider ourselves in light of our experience create opportunity for deeper growth and learning through each challenge.

As we embrace challenge by choice we begin to normalise struggle for students and create opportunity for them to explore their limits, try out new experiences and develop their capabilities. This is essential even from a very young age. Children would never learn to crawl, walk, climb stairs or ride a bike if they were not afforded the opportunity to stretch and challenge themselves.  We are delighted to see adventure camps at Golden Valleys providing spaces and places to challenge your students!

Headshot of Brad Olsen - Managing director at Golden Valleys Adventure Camp in Flinders on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.

Brad Olsen

Managing Director

“Thanks for being part of the village.”