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Learning and Development:
Early Years Foundation Stage

Learning and Development...

Children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates and all areas of Learning and Development in the Early Years Foundation Stage are equally important and inter-connected.

learning and development

4.1 Play and Exploration
4.2 Active Learning
4.3 Creativity and Critical Thinking
4.4 Areas of Learning and Development

4.1 Play and Exploration

Learning Through Experience

  • Children have to experience play physically and emotionally.
  • Children may play alone or with others.
  • In their play children use the experiences they have and extend them to build up ideas, concepts and skills.
  • While playing children can express fears and re-live anxious experiences. They can try things out, solve problems and be creative and can take risks and use trial and error to find things out.

Adult Involvement

  • Play comes naturally and spontaneously to most children, though some need adult support.
  • Practitioners plan and resource a challenging environment where children's play can be supported and extended.
  • Practitioners can extend and develop children's language and communication in their play through sensitive observation and appropriate intervention.
  • Practitioners always intervene in play if it is racist, sexist or in any way offensive, unsafe, violent or bullying.

Contexts For Learning

  • Children need plenty of space and time to play, both outdoors and indoors.
  • Children who are allowed to play with resources and equipment before using them to solve a problem are more likely to solve the problem successfully.
  • Making dens and dressing-up are an integral part of children's play and they don't require expensive resources.
  • Role-play areas allow children to take on and rehearse new and familiar roles.

Effective Practice

  • Provide flexible resources that can be used in many different ways to facilitate children's play and exploration. These might include lengths of plastic guttering, tubing and watering cans near the sand and water play areas; lengths of fabric and clothes pegs in a box; large paintbrushes and buckets near the outside tap; boxes, clothes horses, old blankets and tablecloths to make dens and shelters.
  • Observe children's play and help children to join in if they find it hard to be included, but watch and listen carefully before intervening.
  • Find out how children play at home and value different cultural approaches to play.
  • Value play which is based on people such as superheroes who may mean a lot to children, even if you do not appreciate them yourself!
  • Tell and read stories and encourage children to act them out.

Challenges And Dilemmas

  • Valuing the play of all the children, even those who tend to play noisily or often base their play on themes with which you are unfamiliar.
  • Knowing when to get involved and when to allow children to carry on playing.

Reflecting On Practice

Imagine that it's a lovely sunny day. You are sitting outside under a tree reading a story to a group of attentive girls when suddenly the peace is shattered by a group of boys running around the tree, shouting loudly and waving sticks.

You gather that they are superheroes on a mission and they run off to another tree to do the same thing there. After a few minutes they run back to their den, disappear inside for a few seconds and then come out again to run around shouting.

  • How would you react? Why? Does your reaction have anything to do with whether you are male or female?

4.2 Active Learning

Mental And Physical Involvement

  • To be mentally or physically engaged in learning, children need to feel at ease, secure and confident.
  • Active learning occurs when children are keen to learn and are interested in finding things out for themselves.
  • When children are actively involved in learning they gain a sense of satisfaction from their explorations and investigations.
  • When children engage with people, materials, objects, ideas or events they test things out and solve problems. They need adults to challenge and extend their thinking.

Decision Making

  • Active learners need to have some independence and control over their learning to keep their interest and to develop their creativity.
  • As children become absorbed in finding out about the world through their explorations, investigations and questions they feel a sense of achievement and their self-esteem and confidence increase.
  • As children grow in confidence they learn to make decisions based on thinking things through in a logical way.

Personalised Learning

  • Personalised learning involves planning for each child, rather than the whole group. It should also involve parents in their child's development and learning.
  • Begin to plan for personalised learning by knowing about each child's well-being.
  • Look at children's involvement in their learning as well as at the nature and quality of adult interactions in children's learning.

Effective Practice

  • Ensure children's well-being and involvement in learning by making each child feel secure and confident, and allowing them some control over their learning.
  • Have realistic expectations of every child based on information from parents, what children themselves 'tell' you and from observation.
  • Review your environment to ensure that it is interesting, attractive and accessible to every child so they can learn independently.
  • Make learning plans for each child from talking to them, their parents and your colleagues and by observing the child.
  • Recognise that every child's learning journey is unique to them.

Challenges And Dilemmas

  • Making sufficient time for busy staff to reflect on what has been observed about individual children and to reach conclusions about what has been learned.
  • How to make the principle of active learning a foundation for learning while maintaining a focus on planning for the group.
  • Gradually giving children greater independence in their learning while retaining control over the curriculum.
  • Giving children time to follow a particular line of enquiry given the constraints of your routines and access to areas such as outdoor spaces.

Reflecting On Practice

Children develop and learn in many different ways. How does your setting take this into account in planning for:
  • an individual session;
  • a week;
  • six weeks;
  • a year?
Is every child's learning journey reflected on and celebrated with the child, parents and peers? How do you do this?

4.3 Creativity And Critical Thinking

Making Connections

  • Being creative involves the whole curriculum, not just the arts. It is not necessarily about making an end-product such as a picture, song or play.
  • Children will more easily make connections between things they've learned if the environment encourages them to do so. For example, they need to be able to fetch materials easily and to be able to move them from one place to another.
  • Effective practitioners value each child's culture and help them to make connections between experiences at home, the setting and the wider community.
  • It is difficult for children to make creative connections in learning when colouring in a worksheet or making a Diwali card just like everyone else's.

Transforming Understanding

  • New connections help to transform our understanding but this can often be a long process.
  • For example, children may need to run, jump and walk through puddles many times to check out what happens. In this way they begin to understand more about the effect of force on water (KUW). They learn how to stay steady on their feet on a slippery surface (PD). They might create a little dance about splashing (CD) or say a rhyme such as 'Doctor Foster' (CLL).
  • Effective practitioners record the processes that children go through. This will help everyone to see how the children's thinking is developing. Both children and adults can then talk about the learning that has taken place.

Sustained Shared Thinking

  • In the most effective settings practitioners support and challenge children's thinking by getting involved in the thinking process with them.
  • Sustained shared thinking involves the adult being aware of the children's interests and understandings and the adult and children working together to develop an idea or skill.
  • Sustained shared thinking can only happen when there are responsive trusting relationships between adults and children.
  • The adult shows genuine interest, offers encouragement, clarifies ideas and asks open questions. This supports and extends the children's thinking and helps children to make connections in learning.

Effective Practice

  • Value what parents tell you about the way in which children behave and learn at home.
  • Allow children to move equipment around your setting, indoors and outside, to extend their own play and learning.
  • Ensure that there is a balance of adult-led and child-initiated activities.
  • Document children's learning through photos and words. Use these to talk to children and parents about the learning that has taken place.
  • Model being creative, for example, "I wasn't quite sure how to join this wheel on the car but then I thought about what we did last week. Can you remember what Kanisha did with her bus?".

Challenges And Dilemmas

  • Ensuring freedom for children to access resources while ensuring that they develop their understanding of the importance of tidying up and putting things back where they belong.
  • Giving very young children opportunities to express their ideas in all sorts of different ways - valuing movement and dance as highly as drawing and writing.

Reflecting On Practice

  • What open-ended activities do you provide for children in your setting?
  • Do you give children the experience of playing with paint and glue before expecting them to use them to make a product such as a Christmas card?
  • Have you ever taped your interactions with children to see how you support the development of creativity and critical thinking?

4.4 Areas Of Learning And Development


The EYFS is made up of six areas of Learning and Development. All areas of Learning and Development are connected to one another and are equally important. All areas of Learning and Development are underpinned by the principles of the EYFS.

The areas of Learning and Development are:

  • Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED)
  • Communication, Language and Literacy (CLL)
  • Problem Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy (PSRN)
  • Knowledge and Understanding of the World (KUW)
  • Physical Development (PD)
  • Creative Development (CD).

Learning And Development

  • The six areas of Learning and Development together make up the skills, knowledge and experiences appropriate for babies and children as they grow, learn and develop.
  • Although these are presented as separate areas, it is important to remember that for children everything links and nothing is compartmentalised.
  • The challenge for practitioners is to ensure that children's learning and development occur as an outcome of their individual interests and abilities and that planning for learning and development takes account of these.

Effective Practice

Each area of Learning and Development card shows how settings can effectively implement that particular area by ensuring that children have appropriate experiences and are supported by:

  • Positive Relationships
  • Enabling Environments


There are separate requirements for each area of Learning and Development shown in 'Requirements' on each of the areas of Learning and Development cards.

The requirements set out what practitioners must provide in order to support babies' and children's development and learning in each aspect and area of Learning and Development of the EYFS.

Personal, Social And Emotional Development


Children must be provided with experiences and support which will help them to develop a positive sense of themselves and of others; respect for others; social skills; and a positive disposition to learn.

Providers must ensure support for children's emotional well-being to help them to know themselves and what they can do.

Aspects Of Personal, Social And Emotional Development

Personal, Social and Emotional Development is made up of the following aspects:

Dispositions and Attitudes - is about how children become interested, excited and motivated about their learning.

Self-confidence and Self-esteem - is about children having a sense of their own value and understanding the need for sensitivity to significant events in their own and other people's lives.

Making Relationships - is about the importance of children forming good relationships with others and working alongside others companionably.

Behaviour and Self-control - is about how children develop a growing understanding of what is right and wrong and why, together with learning about the impact of their words and actions on themselves and others.

Self-care - is about how children gain a sense of self-respect and concern for their own personal hygiene and care and how they develop independence.

Sense of Community - is about how children understand and respect their own needs, views, cultures and beliefs and those of other people.

What Personal, Social And Emotional Development Means For Children

  • For children, being special to someone and well cared-for is vital for their physical, social and emotional health and well-being.
  • Being acknowledged and affirmed by important people in their lives leads to children gaining confidence and inner strength through secure attachments with these people.
  • Exploration within close relationships leads to the growth of self-assurance, promoting a sense of belonging which allows children to explore the world from a secure base.
  • Children need adults to set a good example and to give them opportunities for interaction with others so that they can develop positive ideas about themselves and others.
  • Children who are encouraged to feel free to express their ideas and their feelings, such as joy, sadness, frustration and fear, can develop strategies to cope with new, challenging or stressful situations.

Communication, Language And Literacy


Children's learning and competence in communicating, speaking and listening, being read to and beginning to read and write must be supported and extended.

They must be provided with opportunity and encouragement to use their skills in a range of situations and for a range of purposes, and be supported in developing the confidence and disposition to do so.

Aspects Of Communication, Language And Literacy

Communication, Language and Literacy is made up of the following aspects:

Language for Communication - is about how children become communicators. Learning to listen and speak emerges out of non-verbal communication, which includes facial expression, eye contact and hand gesture. These skills develop as children interact with others, listen to and use language, extend their vocabulary and experience stories, songs, poems and rhymes.

Language for Thinking - is about how children learn to use language to imagine and recreate roles and experiences and how they use talk to clarify their thinking and ideas or to refer to events they have observed or are curious about.

Linking Sounds and Letters - is about how children develop the ability to distinguish between sounds and become familiar with rhyme, rhythm and alliteration. They develop understanding of the correspondence between spoken and written sounds and learn to link sounds and letters and use their knowledge to read and write simple words by sounding out and blending.

Reading - is about children understanding and enjoying stories, books and rhymes, recognising that print carries meaning, both fiction and fact, and reading a range of familiar words and simple sentences.

Writing - is about how children build an understanding of the relationship between the spoken and written word and how through making marks, drawing and personal writing children ascribe meaning to text and attempt to write for various purposes.

Handwriting - is about the ways in which children's random marks, lines and drawings develop and form the basis of recognisable letters.

What Communication, Language And Literacy Means For Children

  • To become skilful communicators, babies and young children need to be with people with whom they have warm and loving relationships, such as their family or carers and, in a group situation, a key person whom they know and trust.
  • Babies respond differently to different sounds and from an early age are able to distinguish sound patterns. They use their voices to make contact and to let people know what they need and how they feel. They learn to talk by being talked to.
  • All children learn best through activities and experiences that engage all the senses. Music, dance, rhymes and songs support language development.
  • As children develop speaking and listening skills they build the foundations for literacy, for making sense of visual and verbal signs and ultimately for reading and writing. Children need varied opportunities to interact with others and to use a wide variety of resources for expressing their understanding, including mark-making, drawing, modelling, reading and writing.

Problem Solving, Reasoning And Numeracy


Children must be supported in developing their understanding of Problem Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy in a broad range of contexts in which they can explore, enjoy, learn, practise and talk about their developing understanding.

They must be provided with opportunities to practise and extend their skills in these areas and to gain confidence and competence in their use.

Aspects Of Problem Solving, Reasoning And Numeracy

Problem Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy is made up of the following aspects:

Numbers as Labels and for Counting - is about how children gradually know and use numbers and counting in play, and eventually recognise and use numbers reliably, to develop mathematical ideas and to solve problems.

Calculating - is about how children develop an awareness of the relationship between numbers and amounts and know that numbers can be combined to be 'added together' and can be separated by 'taking away' and that two or more amounts can be compared.

Shape, Space and Measures - is about how through talking about shapes and quantities, and developing appropriate vocabulary, children use their knowledge to develop ideas and to solve mathematical problems.

What Problem Solving, Reasoning And Numeracy Means For Children

  • Babies' and children's mathematical development occurs as they seek patterns, make connections and recognise relationships through finding out about and working with numbers and counting, with sorting and matching and with shape, space and measures.
  • Children use their knowledge and skills in these areas to solve problems, generate new questions and make connections across other areas of Learning and Development.

Knowledge And Understanding Of The World


Children must be supported in developing the knowledge, skills and understanding that help them to make sense of the world.

Their learning must be supported through offering opportunities for them to use a range of tools safely; encounter creatures, people, plants and objects in their natural environments and in real-life situations; undertake practical 'experiments'; and work with a range of materials.

Aspects of Knowledge and Understanding of the World

Knowledge and Understanding of the World is made up of the following aspects:

Exploration and Investigation - is about how children investigate objects and materials and their properties, learn about change and patterns, similarities and differences, and question how and why things work.

Designing and Making - is about the ways in which children learn about the construction process and the tools and techniques that can be used to assemble materials creatively and safely.

ICT - is about how children find out about and learn how to use appropriate information technology such as computers and programmable toys that support their learning.

Time - is about how children find out about past and present events relevant to their own lives or those of their families.

Place - is about how children become aware of and interested in the natural world, and find out about their local area, knowing what they like and dislike about it.

Communities - is about how children begin to know about their own and other people's cultures in order to understand and celebrate the similarities and differences between them in a diverse society.

What Knowledge and Understanding of the World Means For Children

  • Babies and children find out about the world through exploration and from a variety of sources, including their families and friends, the media, and through what they see and hear.
  • Babies and children need regular opportunities to learn about different ways of life, to be given accurate information and to develop positive and caring attitudes towards others.
  • Children should be helped to learn to respect and value all people and learn to avoid misapprehensions and negative attitudes towards others when they develop their Knowledge and Understanding of the World.
  • Children should be involved in the practical application of their knowledge and skills which will promote self-esteem through allowing them to make decisions about what to investigate and how to do it.

Physical Development


The physical development of babies and young children must be encouraged through the provision of opportunities for them to be active and interactive and to improve their skills of coordination, control, manipulation and movement.

They must be supported in using all of their senses to learn about the world around them and to make connections between new information and what they already know.

They must be supported in developing an understanding of the importance of physical activity and making healthy choices in relation to food.

Aspects of Physical Development

Physical Development is made up of the following aspects:

Movement and Space - is about how children learn to move with confidence, imagination and safety, with an awareness of space, themselves and others.

Health and Bodily Awareness - is about how children learn the importance of keeping healthy and the factors that contribute to maintaining their health.

Using Equipment and Materials - is about the ways in which children use a range of small and large equipment.

What Physical Development Means For Children

  • Babies and children learn by being active and Physical Development takes place across all areas of Learning and Development.
  • Physical Development helps children gain confidence in what they can do.
  • Physical Development enables children to feel the positive benefits of being healthy and active.
  • Physical Development helps children to develop a positive sense of well-being.
  • Good health in the early years helps to safeguard health and well-being throughout life. It is important that children develop healthy habits when they first learn about food and activity. Growing with appropriate weight gain in the first years of life helps to guard against obesity in later life.

Creative Development


Children's creativity must be extended by the provision of support for their curiosity, exploration and play.

They must be provided with opportunities to explore and share their thoughts, ideas and feelings, for example, through a variety of art, music, movement, dance, imaginative and role-play activities, mathematics, and design and technology.

Aspects of Creative Development

Creative Development is made up of the following aspects:

Being Creative - Responding to Experiences, Expressing and Communicating Ideas - is about how children respond in a variety of ways to what they see, hear, smell, touch or feel and how, as a result of these encounters, they express and communicate their own ideas, thoughts and feelings.

Exploring Media and Materials - is about children's independent and guided exploration of and engagement with a widening range of media and materials, finding out about, thinking about and working with colour, texture, shape, space and form in two and three dimensions.

Creating Music and Dance - is about children's independent and guided explorations of sound, movement and music. Focusing on how sounds can be made and changed and how sounds can be recognised and repeated from a pattern, it includes ways of exploring movement, matching movements to music and singing simple songs from memory.

Developing Imagination and Imaginative Play - is about how children are supported to develop and build their imaginations through stories, role-plays, imaginative play, dance, music, design, and art.

What Creative Development Means For Children

  • Creativity is about taking risks and making connections and is strongly linked to play.
  • Creativity emerges as children become absorbed in action and explorations of their own ideas, expressing them through movement, making and transforming things using media and materials such as crayons, paints, scissors, words, sounds, movement, props and make-believe.
  • Creativity involves children in initiating their own learning and making choices and decisions.
  • Children's responses to what they see, hear and experience through their senses are individual and the way they represent their experiences is unique and valuable.
  • Being creative enables babies and children to explore many processes, media and materials and to make new things emerge as a result.

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