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Enabling Environments:
Early Years Foundation Stage

Enabling Environments...

enabling environments

The environment plays a key role in supporting and extending children's development and learning.

3.1 Observation, Assessment and Planning
3.2 Supporting Every Child
3.3 The Learning Environment
3.4 The Wider Context

3.1 Observation, Assessment and Planning

Starting with the child

  • Observe children to find out about their needs, what they are interested in and what they can do.
  • Note children's responses in different situations.
  • Analyse your observations and highlight children's achievements or their need for further support.
  • Involve parents as part of the ongoing observation and assessment process.


  • Planning can be for the long-/medium-term and can show how the Principles of the EYFS will be put into practice.
  • Some planning will be short-term – for a week or a day and will show how you will support each child's learning and development.
  • This planning always follows the same pattern – observe, analyse, and use what you have found out about the children in your group so that you plan for the next steps in their learning.


  • Assessments are the decisions you make using what you have observed about a child's development and/or learning.
  • One type of assessment, often referred to as assessment for learning or formative assessment, is what you do every day when you observe children and note their interests or abilities.
  • Another type of assessment is used to give a summary of a child's achievements at a particular point in time so that their progress can be tracked. This is known as summative assessment. The EYFS Profile is a summative assessment of each child's achievement at the end of the EYFS.
  • You may be involved in contributing to the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) for a child who has additional needs. The CAF is a standardised assessment which gives a full picture of a child's additional needs at any stage. It includes information from the child and their parents and covers all aspects of a child's development including health, education and social development.

Effective practice

  • When you are planning remember that children learn from everything, even things you haven't planned for – such as a fall of snow.
  • Plan to observe as part of the daily routine.
  • Analyse your observations to help you plan 'what next' for individuals and groups of children.
  • Develop records of learning and development.
  • Ensure that parents have regular opportunities to add to records.

Challenges and dilemmas

  • Ensuring flexibility in planning for the group, while keeping a focus on children's individual and present learning needs, or interests and achievements.
  • Planning time for regular observations of children who attend the setting on an irregular basis.
  • Involving parents in contributing to the observation, assessment and planning cycle when they are already busy.
  • Creating records that are clear and accessible to everybody who needs to see them.

Reflecting on practice

It is important to consider all the factors that affect children's development and learning.
  • Are the views of parents and practitioners reflected in children's records?
  • Do you review the environment and the resources after each session?
  • Do you think about which children were involved in different activities and use this information to plan further?

3.2 Supporting Every Child

Children's needs

  • Children need sensitive, knowledgeable adults who know when and how to engage their interests and how to offer support at different times.
  • Children benefit from a range of experiences, including those that are predictable, comforting and challenging.
  • When children's physical and emotional needs are met they are more ready to take advantage of the play and learning opportunities on offer.

The learning journey

  • Learning is a continuous journey through which children build on all the things they have already experienced and come across new and interesting challenges.
  • Every child's learning journey takes a personal path based on their own individual interests, experiences and the curriculum on offer.
  • All areas of Learning and Development are connected and all are equally important.
  • The support children receive as they learn is personalised to meet their individual needs and to extend their talents.

Working together

  • A setting which recognises the needs of every child plans learning journeys which are suitable for groups but flexible enough to cater for individual pathways along the way.
  • When children's needs are central to the learning process children are listened to.
  • Parents and professionals work together to identify what is necessary for each child at any particular time.
  • Settings communicate and work together for the benefit of children, so there can be continuity in their learning.

Effective practice

  • Understand the complex relationship between child development and how children learn. Plan to provide appropriate, realistic experiences that build on children's interests.
  • Use the experiences children bring from home such as their family, the shops or the park as the starting point for their learning.
  • Maintain a clear view of the learning journey for all children but provide different opportunities for individual children or groups who may need varied routes to reach a similar place.
  • Involve people from the wider community to familiarise children with those who work together to support their learning.

Challenges and dilemmas

  • Recognising that while a setting may have very good written policies, in practice there is a gap between the things that are written down and the reality of the day-to-day experience.
  • Keeping individualised planning realistic while maintaining a focus on broader learning outcomes.
  • Combining the knowledge, skills and expertise of parents, staff members and of the multi-disciplinary team to support children's learning and progress.

Reflecting on practice

Even the most ordinary events can be made more exciting and interesting when you give some thought to it. Think about:
  • going to the toilet - guessing how many strides it will take for the practitioner and the child to get there;
  • setting the table - making up a song about 'jumping beans';
  • getting ready to go home - making up a story which has 'and then' after each 'event' until the ending: “and then we will be back at home”.

3.3 The Learning Environment

The emotional environment

  • The emotional environment is created by all the people in the setting, but adults have to ensure that it is warm and accepting of everyone.
  • Adults need to empathise with children and support their emotions.
  • When children feel confident in the environment they are willing to try things out, knowing that effort is valued.
  • When children know that their feelings are accepted they learn to express them, confident that adults will help them with how they are feeling.

The outdoor environment

  • Being outdoors has a positive impact on children's sense of well-being and helps all aspects of children's development.
  • Being outdoors offers opportunities for doing things in different ways and on different scales than when indoors.
  • It gives children first-hand contact with weather, seasons and the natural world.
  • Outdoor environments offer children freedom to explore, use their senses, and be physically active and exuberant.

The indoor environment

  • The indoor environment provides a safe, secure yet challenging space for children.
  • For some children, the indoor environment is like a second 'home', providing a place for activity, rest, eating and sleeping.
  • The indoor environment contains resources which are appropriate, well maintained and accessible for all children.
  • Indoor spaces are planned so that they can be used flexibly and an appropriate range of activities is provided.

Effective practice

  • Understand that some children may need extra support to express their feelings and come to terms with them.
  • Encourage children to help to plan the layout of the environment and to contribute to keeping it tidy.
  • Ensure that children have opportunities to be outside on a daily basis all year round.
  • Help children to understand how to behave outdoors and inside by talking about personal safety, risks and the safety of others.
  • Create an indoor environment that is reassuring and comforting for all children, while providing interest through novelty from time to time.
  • Where possible link the indoor and outdoor environments so that children can move freely between them.

Challenges and dilemmas

  • Finding ways to promote the importance and value of the outdoor environment to all those involved in the setting, for example, the senior management team, other professionals, staff and parents.
  • Meeting the needs of children of different ages in a shared outdoor space.
  • Overcoming problems in accessing and using the outdoor environment because of the design or organisation of the building.
  • Ensuring the indoor environment is 'homely' enough to feel comfortable while providing an environment suitable for learning.

Reflecting on practice

  • What support is available to practitioners who may feel 'drained' emotionally when a child requires extensive support for their feelings of sadness, anger or frustration?
  • How well do you reflect examples of outdoor learning in your observations and assessments of children?
  • Does indoor provision meet the needs of all the children as both a place to feel 'at home' and a place to learn?
  • How do you ensure that the deployment of staff is flexible enough to respond to the flow and movement of children between indoors and outdoors?

3.4 The Wider Context

Transitions and continuity

  • Children may move between several different settings in the course of a day, a week, a month or a year.
  • Children's social, emotional and educational needs are central to any transition between one setting and another or within one setting.
  • Some children and their parents will find transition times stressful while others will enjoy the experience.
  • Effective communication between settings is key to ensuring that children's needs are met and there is continuity in their learning.

Multi-agency working

  • In order to achieve the Every Child Matters outcomes for children - being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and achieving economic well-being - practitioners need to work together across services.
  • This may involve, for example, working with home visitors, outreach workers, health or social care professionals, ethnic minority achievement service staff, librarians or local artists.
  • To best support children and their families all these groups need to communicate well, listen carefully to all concerned and to put the children's needs first.

The community

  • Every setting is part of its community even though not all the children may live in the surrounding neighbourhood.
  • The local community may contain many different racial, cultural or religious groups. Even if it doesn't, there will be children and adults of various ages with different views, beliefs and backgrounds using the setting.
  • When the setting values the local community it can encourage the different community groups to work together for the benefit of all.

Effective practice

  • Ensure that parents are kept informed in advance about what will happen at transition times, such as when children join the setting.
  • Involve parents at transition times, valuing what they say and encouraging them to stay with their children while they settle in.
  • When children attend several settings ensure that practitioners from each setting regularly share the children's development and learning records and any other relevant information.
  • Take time to listen to colleagues from other professional backgrounds and be open about differences of language and approach.
  • Involve children in learning which takes them into the local community, such as walking to the shops.
  • Invite members of the local community into the setting to share their expertise, for example, digging a new flower bed or talking about their own childhood.

Challenges and dilemmas

  • Finding time to record children's progress and development in ways which can be easily shared across agencies.
  • Finding sufficient time to really involve parents fully in decisions made about their children.
  • Maintaining good relationships with professionals whom you only see once in a while.

Reflecting on practice

  • Do you have a policy for transition and continuity which is shared with everyone involved both in and beyond the setting?
  • How do you help children and families who are new to the area or your setting to settle in and get to know people? What is the role of the key person in this?
  • How well do staff know the local area and use this knowledge in planning for children's learning?

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