Characteristics of Effective Learning – The Golden Thread in the EYFS

Laura Gregory and Shamim Ashraf, Edge Hill University

The three Characteristics of Effective Learning (CoEL) are:

  • Playing and exploring – children investigate and experience things, and “have a go”
  • Active learning – children concentrate and keep on trying if they encounter difficulties and enjoy achievements
  • Creating and thinking critically – children have and develop their own ideas, make links between ideas, and develop strategies for doing things.


We know that learning through play is pivotal in early years, including in the CoEL, but the way in which children are given opportunities to play varies drastically from setting to setting.

“Play is central to learning and for most children it is natural and unthwartable.”

(Page, Clare and Nutbrown 2013:76)

Taking this into account, we must as practitioners reflect on the power that embedding the CoEL can have for all children’s learning and development and the influence that this will have for play opportunities offered to children.

In relation to the CoEL the DfE Statutory Framework (2021) states:

“In planning and guiding what children learn, practitioners must reflect on the different rates at which children are developing and adjust their practice appropriately.”

(DfE 2021:15)

Taking a more detailed approach in reference to supporting the CoEL, Birth to 5 Matters (Early Years Coalition. 2021) express that children need consistent lived experiences of autonomy alongside support for their growing awareness and control of the processes of thinking and learning.

The CoEL can allow children to engage in deep level learning through their play and exploration within an environment which allows them to explore, be curious and to follow their own lines of enquiry. One example of this is a child in a setting discovers that the toys left overnight outside are frozen in a bucket and cannot be released. The skilled practitioner supports with effective questioning and engages in sustained shared thinking to promote the child’s curiosity and problem solving. The child recalls what her dad did to defrost the car windscreen, and communicates this to the practitioner, who supports the thinking process. Through following their own lines of enquiry, the child releases the toys.

The child may go on to explore further the effects of temperatures on water, by leaving water around different parts of the environment indoors and out.

Early years practitioners in settings which thrive on developing high quality provision within a stimulating environment, make provision for the CoEL, so that when evident in practice, these can contribute to the development of  a high-quality environment with knowledgeable practitioners who are aware of how young children learn.

Let’s take a further look…

Playing and exploring/ Engagement – children investigate and experience things, and “have a go”

In early years settings where the level of engagement is high, the indoor and outdoor environment, and the adult’s role within it, is designed to allow continuous observation, reflection and adaptation of the environment to maximise the opportunities for learning, allowing children to lead their learning. For example, if a child is observed taking the playdough cake across the setting to the oven in the role play area, then the action would be to provide a second oven near the malleable area.

Consideration should also be given to children’s feelings of safety and belonging, experimentation and mistakes need to be viewed as part of the learning process. Promoting a culture where space is given to allow children to wallow in free-flow play will in turn enhance children’s feeling of wellbeing and involvement leading to deeper engagement.

Time is another vital factor when supporting this aspect. Reflecting on the recent work of Alison Clark and the Froebel Trust there is a case for allowing children to feel unhurried and to engage in slow knowledge and in turn receive a ‘timefull’ approach to their early years.

“The case is made for a ‘timefull’ approach to Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) that can offer a more sustainable and play focused approach to early childhood across generations and communities.”

(Clark 2022:123)

Active learning /Motivation – children concentrate and keep on trying if they encounter difficulties, and enjoy achievements

In addition, we should reflect here on Piaget’s views that children are ‘lone scientists’ who experiment and explore with the world.

Children’s deep level involvement can be enhanced through the provision of challenges through science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). These provide children opportunities to use their problem solving skills, using creativity and design, whilst adults support through a sustained shared thinking approach to extend this learning. One setting we spoke to told us: “One example of this type of challenge, is to provide the children with a small crate of turnips and ask them if they can make a turnip tower. The skills involved in this challenge, can demonstrate children’s creativity in problem solving in a variety of ways, demonstrating the characteristics of effective learning”.

Creating and thinking critically/thinking – children have and develop their own ideas, make links between ideas, and develop strategies for doing things.

These challenges can be provided throughout the environment.

Loose parts play can encourage children’s thinking skills and allow for deep level engagement. Allowing children to mix their own paint using powder paint, or providing primary colours only, can allow children to explore, investigate colour mixing and establish their ideas. Through deconstructed role play children can express their ideas through creativity and develop. This approach promotes inclusivity and allows all children to explore and learn at their pace and stage of development.

Drawing on approaches such as Reggio Emilia we must recognise the power of creativity and critical thinking and see these not as a stand-alone aspects of learning but integral to the learning process

“This institution, in fact, can play a very special role in cultural development and real socio-political experimentation, to the extent that this moment (designing) and this place (the school) can be experienced not as a time and space for reproducing and transmitting established knowledge but as a place of true creativity.”

(Rinaldi 2021:62)

In her earlier work when Rinaldi talks about the critical and creative thinking that is evident in children’s work in Reggio Emilia, she states that children have been paid extraordinary attention and respected deeply, and this seems to have made all the difference. A key value in these settings is that of seeing the children as “competent” learners and researchers. Creativity is not just the quality of thinking of each individual it requires a context that allows it to exist, to be expressed and to become visible.

How can we embed the CoEL in our practice?

Embedding the CoEL in your practice is about ethos and vision. Reflection on how you support this through provision, documentation, interactions and relationships is key.

We need to allow for all children to have freedom in their play with time and space to enable children to experience the awe, wonder and joy that leads to a lifelong love of learning.


Clark, A. (2022) Slow knowledge and the unhurried child: time for slow pedagogies in early childhood education. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group

Early Years Coalition (2021) Birth to 5 Matters: Non-statutory guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Department for Education (2021) Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage.

Page, J., Clare, A. and Nutbrown, C. (2013) Working with babies & children : from birth to three. Second edn. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Rinaldi, C. (2021) In dialogue with Reggio Emilia : listening, researching and learning. Second edn. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group

The power of professional confidence

by Lewis Fogarty

Nothing should grow there, right? In dark conditions, with a lack of light and a malnourished environment, but despite all odds there is immense beauty all around. This is true of the lotus flower that grows in dark and dirty waters and is also true in early years, where despite immense challenges of underfunding, misinformed political initiatives and harsh regulatory controls, beautiful and literally life-changing moments happen daily and children all around the world grow and shine.

But how long can this go on for?

I suggest here that professional confidence is part of the solution to ensuring this growth can be sustained as the waters possibly become darker and more challenging for growth. Professional confidence emerged from my doctoral research with a sample of fifteen early years professionals representing each type of provision available in the early years. This is combined with my experiences of running a small group of three nurseries and being a dad to two wonderful little boys.

Simply put, professional confidence is the confidence you have in your professional role. In my unpublished thesis I have defined this as:

Being aware of injustices and confusions in the sector and actively correcting them, through thoughtful and skilful advocacy for collective action, working towards a better future for the ECEC [Early Childhood Education and Care] workforce and children.

I will suggest here that if leaders can provide an enabling environment, promoting professional confidence in their team, there can be positive change in the sector. As Birth to 5 Matters suggests, high quality early years provision “provides personalised learning, development and support – tailored to the needs of individual children”. The adults in our teams need to be treated uniquely too. In other words, the leader is the team’s “key person”.

Being aware of the injustices and confusions in the sector is about embracing the lotus flower analogy above and understanding this is the reality for the sector. That doesn’t mean accept it and do nothing about it but understand it for what it is. From here, we can work together for collective action through thoughtful and skilful advocacy to actively correct these wrongs. This requires us all to find our voices and spread the word. We need to be engaged in our own learning and challenge respectfully if we disagree with something or are met with “this is the way we have always done it here”. This also means we need to role model exemplary practice and be the change we want to see.

Collaboration is key, so if we can come together and find a shared voice, recognising everyone’s strengths and seeing ourselves as one sector, with one purpose, to do the absolute best for the children in our care, we can engage, grow and share together. This will be beneficial for all stakeholders and reinforces a key message within the Birth to 5 Matters guidance that states “learning together with adults and with other children is important across all contexts”.

Fostering togetherness and empowering individuals to have a voice is not an easy challenge and is one that requires everyone to engage in it, not just leaders in a formal sense. We need to get past personality issues and feelings of a disparate sector in competition with each other. We need to work towards enhanced professional development and genuine career trajectories for the sector and continue the fight for fairer pay.

I urge you to consider your role as an early years professional (or interested and supportive outsider) and challenge yourself to raise the status of the sector. We need collective action and we need it now. More broadly, consider your own level of professional confidence and the level of those around you and support the growth of this for the betterment of your organisation and the sector as a whole.

Practically, I would recommend you reaching out to neighbouring settings and opening your doors to them to visit. This can be true not matter what part of the sector you work in. When was the last time you spoke with someone other than a direct colleague about your work? All the organisations involved in the Early Years Coalition which produced Birth to 5 Matters can provide valuable networking opportunities and new insights to challenge your thinking – why not explore how they can help you build your professional confidence?

Lewis Fogarty runs a small group of three nurseries in Berkshire, leads the MA Education programme at Brunel University, is a trustee of TACTYC, co-convenor of the BERA ECEC SIG, an Area Lead for the DfE Experts and Mentors Programme and is in the final stages of writing up an EdD thesis focused on a new understanding of leadership in ECEC.

Black History Month 2022

by Liz Pemberton, Director of The Black Nursery Manager Training and Consultancy

Black History Month in the UK has been recognised since 1987 and was established by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. Akyaaba was a special projects officer at the Greater London Council and then later at the London Strategic Policy. He recognised the need for Black people throughout the UK to have a month dedicated to celebrating and more importantly acknowledging the contributions of many Black Britons to the rich cultural tapestry of the UK.

Moving gradually away from a sole focus on largely African-American figures, most notably Martin Luther-King Jr or Rosa Parks, it has remained an important factor that the month of October in the UK was one that recognised the contributions of individuals such as Betty Campbell, Wales’ first Black Headteacher, or Olive Morris who fought for Black women’s rights in Britain during the late 60s and 70s.

Now, in 2022, it is equally important to remind our youngest children of the contribution of Black people to the societies that they are a part of throughout the UK especially as we aim to work towards more meaningful anti-racist practice. The need to provide children with a balanced perspective of their history in what can quite often be a very biased and unbalanced view of the history of the UK means that we should strive to reverse the sense of erasure of the contributions of Black people from our educational consciousness and there is no better place to start this work than in the early years.

Black History Month as tokenistic

It has been argued that to save all of the celebrations of Black people for one month in the year as a way of notably recognising their achievements is the height of tokenism and I would not completely disagree. As a Black woman and former nursery manager whose demographic of children and families attending my nursery were predominantly Black, the need to recognise October as a month of explicit celebration of Black people was admittedly not something that we did every year as we prided ourselves as a setting that actively “celebrated” the beauty of the many nuances of the multitude of Black cultures 365 days a year. It became embedded within our pedagogy. But I also recognise that this is not going to be the case for early years settings across the UK and so I would suggest that the need to introduce children, particularly in all-white settings, to important figures within Black Britain during Black History Month can be equally as valuable. I think that if executed meaningfully this can be a brilliant way to extend learning opportunities for all children.

Some key UK figures from history and the present to recognise for Black History Month in 2022

  • Phyllis Akua Opoku-Gyimah 
  • Claudia Jones
  • Amy Ashwood-Garvey
  • Akala
  • Mary Seacole
  • Dr Yvonne Thompson
  • Trisha Cooke
  • Rageh Omaar
  • Laura Henry-Allain MBE
  • Dina Asher-Smith
  • Lenny Henry CBE
  • Roy Hackett MBE
  • Ramla Ali
  • Diane Abbott
  • Bukayo Saka
  • Trevor McDonald OBE
  • Marsha de Cordova
  • Hanan Ibrahim
  • Beryl Gilroy
  • Nadine White
  • Warsan Shire
  • David Olusoga OBE
  • Edward Enninful
  • Marcus Rashford MBE
  • Dapo Adeola
  • Stormzy
  • Dame Floella Benjamin DBE
  • Casey Bailey

Meaningful Black History Month celebrations for Pre-Schoolers (3-4 years old)

Meaningful must also mean relevant for the children that we are engaging with, and the context of history must not mean that we should forget about bringing this up to the present day. With this in mind here are some ideas:

  • Talk to the children about the brilliance of the current Black children’s television presenters for example Nigel Clarke, Emma-Louise Amanshia, Gyasi Sheppy, Joanna Adeyinka-Burford. Have pictures of them displayed in your room and help children to make connections by asking questions such as “Have you seen *insert presenters name* on TV when you watch Cbeebies ?”, “What do you love about *insert presenters name* ?”.  It is very likely that the children will be familiar with these people already and may also be able to draw on the similarities and differences between themselves and these individuals including the kinds of clothes that they wear, their hairstyles, the colour of their skin, whether they look like members of their family etc.
  • Incorporate the showing of different episodes of Laura Henry-Allain’s hit children’s TV show and first children’s animation to centre a Black family, Cbeebies JoJo and Gran-Gran. They are also set to have a Black History Month special this year too which is perfect!
  • Plan your month carefully and intentionally around the children’s interests and link these into Black History Month.  You could think about everyday experiences for the children such as eating lunch/snack times. The power of food should not be underestimated, and this will give you a chance to research a range of African and Caribbean heritage food that the children may be able to try. Perhaps offer plantain crisps as an alternative at snack time or vary the fruits selection so that the children are eating mangoes, pineapple or soursop. Look at purchasing the Original Flava Cookbook by Shaun and Craig McAnuff for the person who makes your nursery meals so that they can attempt something new, get a copy of Rochelle Watson-Senyah’s children’s book The A to Z of African and Caribbean Foods, or the Wholefood Fruit Puzzle, created by the company Little Omo, for your nursery.
  • If there are Black people in your local community who lead in culturally specific activities that you could invite into the setting then this is ideal, although there are some things to consider here:
  1. Do not invite people in and expect them to deliver their services for free – have a budget.
  2. Plan way in advance! As a guide, if you are reading this article and it is already October plan for your invited guests to come in next year. You want to be respectful of people’s time and expertise in whatever they do.
  3. Make sure that you are thinking about the many ways in which Blackness is represented so be sure to acknowledge the intersections of Black LGBTQ members of the community, Black disabled members and Black Muslim or Jewish members of the community. You are aiming for a diverse representation for your children to see and interact with.

What not to do for BHM

  • Generally speaking, unless parents or carers offer, I would steer away from the expectation for Black parents to take the lead in your Black History Month activities at the nursery. This is a chance for you to really use your own initiative and invite all of the parents to be a part of this so that it is still a wholly inclusive month. Remember, celebrating one culture is not a rejection of anybody else’s.
  • Do not single out the Black children and ask them things like “what do you do for Black history Month?”. This is not helpful and doesn’t approach the celebrations with sensitivity or respect.
  • Do not “dress the children up” nor dress yourself up as “Black people.” Be conscious of stereotyping.  That means steer away from brown body paint or pretending to be a rapper. Don’t ask the Black children to come dressed in their “cultural clothes” to act as a spectacle for the other children. If you want to do an activity that centres cultural dress then you can do this by having clothes displayed on mannequins or fabrics on display for children to look at and touch.

The key for this time of the month is enjoyment for all. Don’t let the fear of getting it wrong stop you from doing anything at all. Our society is made up of a variety of different people from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds and the UK is a place which has greatly benefitted from the contributions of Black people from the past and present. There is nothing wrong with showcasing these wonderful things during Black History Month at your early years setting!

Time for babies and toddlers

By Patricia Johnson and Sacha Powell

Have you ever wondered what a musical score would be like if it tried to capture the daily pace, rhythm and activity of a baby or toddler room: fast and frantic like The Flight of the Bumble Bee; slow and lilting like a soothing lullaby; or perhaps a little of both?

Research tells us that babies’ and toddlers’ brains are developing more quickly than at any other time during a human’s life. Things are happening at lightning speed in those little heads: around one million new neural connections per second are forming in young brains (Harvard CDC, 2022). But learning builds gradually over time and “nurturing care for the mind is critical for brain growth” (CDC, 2022).

Babies and toddlers benefit from “having freedom and time to play”, explore, rest and reflect in order to make sense of the world around them and create strong bonds of attachment (Birth to 5 Matters, p10). This doesn’t mean leaving them to their own devices, especially the quiet babies and toddlers who may sometimes attract less attention from adults.

Babies and toddlers “learn and develop well in enabling environments” with care, teaching and support from “adults who respond to their individual interests and needs and help them to build their learning over time” (EYFS Statutory Framework p6, our emphasis).

When most babies and toddlers are feeding from the breast or the bottle, they suck and swallow at their own pace and sometimes rest. They stop when they have had enough, or to communicate in different ways. In this way, they are showing adults that they can control their own needs at that minute in time, and the rhythm of their meal.

Many babies enjoy spending some time as onlookers too, soaking up and contemplating all they can see, hear, smell or feel. Sometimes adults might stand back and mull over what a baby or toddler is doing, feeling, seeing, hearing or perceiving around them. Sometimes then stepping in sensitively to support and extend play or to offer comfort and reassurance.

“Respectful caregiving requires respectful interactions…” which includes “being patient and giving the child time to respond and participate.

(Birth to 5 Matters, p13)

New research by Alison Clark (2022) has indicated that slowing down has many benefits, including time for adults and children to really observe and think about what is happening; and to respond to each other in a considered and meaningful way.

What opportunities exist for the babies and toddlers in your setting to influence the pace and rhythm of their mealtimes, play, care routines, welcome or departure?

Settings should ensure physical caregiving is given sufficient time and thought to create situations that are valuable and enjoyable for both child and practitioner.

(Birth to 5 Matters, p12)

Researchers who studied infant and toddler spaces in early years settings in Australia discovered that care moments can take up 80% of the day (Bussey, Peryman & Martinez, 2021). This finding emphasises the fact that patience, and tuning into babies and toddlers’ rhythms should be part of a whole approach, which incorporates these important care and learning experiences.

What is the pace and rhythm of your room like and who or what conducts the musical score? What are the sounds that greet babies and toddlers when they arrive? What dictates the speed of their day (and yours)? Is there time and space for calmness, stillness, slowness and quiet contemplation?

Being conscious about the pace of life and work can be very beneficial for adults too.

Slowing down lowers stress and blood pressure, enhances decision making and other cognitive functions, and restores emotional equilibrium. In allowing ourselves to experience the present – rather than rushing toward the future – we become more attentive to what is happening around and within us.”

(Stewart, 2018)

When you are the primary carer, the key person in the lives of children throughout their early years, you shoulder a huge responsibility for parents’ “most precious things” (Goouch & Powell, 2013). Can you make time to slow down and boost your own well-being? 


Bussey, K., Peryman, B. & Martinez, S. (2021). Respectful attuned attachment relationships and care. The First Years: Nga Tau Tuatahi. New Zealand Journal of Infant & Toddler Education, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp.23-28.

CDC (2022). Early Brain Development & Health.

Clark, A. (2022). Slow knowledge and the unhurried child: time for slow pedagogies in early childhood education. London: The Froebel Trust.

Department for Education (2021). Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage. Setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five.

Early Years Coalition (2021). Birth to 5 Matters. Non statutory guidance for the early years foundation stage. St Albans: Early Education.

Goouch, K. & Powell, S. (2013). The Baby Room. Principles, policy and practice. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Harvard Center on the Developing Child (2022). Brain Architecture.

Stewart, S.A. (2018) Slowing Down as the World Speeds Up. Slowing down enhances health and well-being. Psychology Today, 17 December 2018.

Developing a positive sense of self

In this conversational blog, Shaddai Tembo, Dr Sharon Colilles, Vicky Hutchin and Aaron Bradbury discuss with Donna Gaywood practical ways to support children to develop a positive sense of self and feel that they belong in their early years setting. They tackle how to talk about race and racism openly, how practitioners can give space to children from mixed ethnic backgrounds to develop a positive sense of self, ways to support children to feel that they belong and how to provide positive spaces for children to develop their own gender identity.

DG: Birth to 5 Matters encourages practitioners to talk about race openly. Shaddai, what advice would you give to a staff team that feels worried about saying the wrong thing, or don’t feel confident to talk to children and their parents about race.

ST: I do sympathise with this position. Many people feel like this, and they may have the false impression that such an issue is taboo or inappropriate to talk about in the early years. It can feel overwhelming when practitioners start to think about how to have these conversations about race with their colleagues, children, or parents and carers.

My advice to these practitioners is that they first remember that all staff have a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 to eliminate discrimination against people, including children, on the basis of race. So as uncomfortable as these things may be, you are legally required to meet this equality duty.

If you are not sure where to start – the best place is with yourself. Self-reflection about our own histories is an important first step and provides a springboard to then consider these issues with others and in your practice.

As uncomfortable as issues of race and racism may be to talk about, these feelings pale in comparison to the actual effects of racism for Black and minoritised children. Given what is known about the significant effects of racial discrimination and prejudice on a child’s life experiences, educational outcomes, their self-esteem and wellbeing, it should be clear that we cannot afford to shun responsibility for this work just because we are worried about saying the wrong thing.

DG: You mention about the importance of self-reflection and thinking about our own backgrounds. What would you say to someone who says, “I don’t see different colours, I treat everyone the same?”

ST: For any practitioner, being colour-blind and aiming to treat everyone the same is not an appropriate strategy for a number of reasons. Young children are often already aware of differences in their own and others’ skin colour and are beginning to form assumptions informed by wider cultural stereotypes about race. We should not leave them to understand these differences themselves and need to be able to challenge any harmful beliefs that they may have developed. As is clearly written in the Birth to Five Matters guidance, a position of colour-blindness “simply allows the continuation of bias in society which disadvantages people from black and minoritised groups”.

DG: Sharon, your work is concerned with how children from mixed ethnic backgrounds perceive their identity. How can practitioners support children to explore their identity so that they move away from being colour blind?

SC: It’s important for practitioners to think about the racial groupings of the children that they work with because children bring to their play rich funds of knowledge from the home about racial identification. These experiences will be mirrored in their play repertoires with peers. Practitioners can think about the culturally appropriate resources they provide for developing children’s positive self-image.

DG: What sort of activities can practitioners provide for children which will support them to express ideas about their identity? 

SC: The experiences that practitioners provide will be dependent on the ethnic/cultural groupings of children they are working with. Essentially though, it’s learning about the children in your setting. This can be achieved by talking to parents and carers initially. Then it will involve careful observation of the children’s interests.

Helpful activities/resources could include:

  • Skin coloured paints, mirrors, paper for building a positive self-identity amongst diverse groupings of children.
  • Children’s literature with excellent animation/representation of ethnic difference/similarity.
  • Storying and Storytelling.
  • Home corners that reflect the diversity of ‘communities of practice’ that children live in.

It is important that a play-based pedagogic approach is used that provides space and time for the children to have conversations with peers, their friends and practitioners about their identity.

DG: Sharon spoke about the importance of creating space and time for children to think about their identities. Vicky, I know that you also believe in the importance of creating safe spaces for children to develop a sense of belonging in the early years

VH: Sharon mentioned storying and storytelling which often happens at circle or group times, these can be a minefield for children who don’t feel they belong, having to sit with others in the group, when they feel excluded. So, we need to make this into a safe space where all the children feel at home. Think about the size and make-up of the group as well as watching for the subtle non-verbal clues which suggest the children don’t feel safe.

This is where using a Persona Doll to develop Persona Doll stories can be so useful. The doll is not a toy but a special doll for which you create a persona and family background as if it was a real child. Think about the type of doll to use so that it will reflect some of the characteristics of the child or children you feel need most support in belonging – gender, skin tone and hair are important attributes. You then develop stories about the doll’s life which you tell with the doll sitting on your lap. The stories should mirror common experiences of your children in the group (eg likes and dislikes, favourite food and activities) but they will also provide windows into other lived experiences.

The doll becomes like another child in the group and the children welcome their ‘friend’ when she/he comes to visit. It is often just the presence of the doll which has some similar characteristics to themselves which helps children to feel that they belong, raising their self-esteem and respect from the others. Sometimes it may be the issue that you have addressed in the doll’s story that helps – an experience the child identifies with. Many of the doll’s stories are happy, but some are about difficult or sad events the doll needs help with (e.g. bullying, stereotyping, racism, Islamophobia, name calling). Working together, the children help the doll solve the problems. The positive effect on children’s sense of belonging can be quite dramatic, providing an opportunity for children who feel excluded to have their lived experiences visibly valued.

DG: Feeling that they belong is very important for children, isn’t it Vicky.

VH: Yes, a sense of belonging is inextricably intertwined with a child’s wellbeing. Many children struggle because they feel excluded or like outsiders. Certain groups of people are at risk of being excluded due to a host of factors over which they have no control, such as ethnicity, culture, gender, language, poverty, disability and/or special educational need. The cause may be overt but is often deeply engrained, hidden and unconscious, based on unquestioned, ‘traditional’ ways of doing things and attitudes.

Birth to 5 Matters explicitly states the importance of listening to the child’s voice, right from the very beginning of the preface.  Some children are very good at making their needs and desires known to adults and other children, while others can too easily remain unheard, thus receiving less attention from staff and less involvement with other children. These children need to be included. This means watching carefully as well as listening to the many ways they may use to communicate, particularly non-verbally, and then getting involved.

DG: Aaron, as the lead for the Birth to 5 Matters Inclusion and Equalities group what advice can you offer practitioner to help all children feel that sense of belonging in terms of LGBTQI+?

AB: My first point of call would be for the parents to take the lead on this with the practitioners’ support, just like any other forms of child development. It is paramount that the setting allows all children to understand difference within their setting, making the case for representation of all within the setting. Trying to remain gender neutral in the approach within your setting, no gendered colours or resources, just colours and resources etc. and allowing gender flexible play as a typical part of many children’s development. 

We have to be mindful that children are still finding their place within society and at this age it is common for children to act out different scenarios in the early years, both developmentally and socially. However, we also need to listen to the child and see what they are saying, doing and most importantly how the practitioners are dealing with the child’s uniqueness. 

Kholberg’s stages of gender development suggests that a preschool aged child is not yet at the gender permanence stage in relation to development, so it is important to accept that children might be exploring their gender identity, so practitioners need to support parents and carers, remain non-judgemental and keep child at the centre.

In summary:

  • When thinking about racism, start with self-reflection
  • Be aware of your legal obligation (Equalities Act 2010)
  • Racism is damaging to children, so is silence about racism
  • Children need space, time, positive resources, and supportive practitioners to talk about their identity
  • Persona dolls can also be a supportive resource for children and help them to feel like they belong
  • Feeling like they belong is vital for all children
  • Practitioners need to be sensitive to the non-verbal communication of children to think about how the children are experiencing the setting
  • Parents are important partners when thinking about children’s developing gender identities
  • Adopting a gender-neutral approach can be helpful
  • Remaining non-judgemental in practice and keeping the child at the centre is key to supporting children

About the authors

Aaron Bradbury is an Early Childhood academic, paying close attention to all aspects of Early Years and Child Centred Practice, Workforce development, Child Development and Early Help. His current role is Principal Lecturer for Early Years and Childhood at Nottingham Trent University. He is also the Chair of the LGBTQ Early Years working group and manages his own website and community called Early Years Reviews.
Sharon Colilles is Senior Lecturer in early childhood education at UWE – Bristol, a Trustee on Froebel Trust Council, and an associate trainer for the Centre for Research in Early Childhood Education (CREC) and British Association for Early Childhood Education (BAECE). She recently worked as project assistant for the development of Birth to Five Matters guidance as well as participating in the review of QAA Benchmark Standards. She is an active member of Early Childhood Education Research Association and CREC learning circle. Sharon’s research is concerned with play based participatory pedagogies and its part in developing children’s mixed ethnic identity learning and development, she also has a deep interest in work that develops anti-oppressive and anti-racist practice.
Vicky Hutchin worked in inner city playgroups before becoming a teacher, then an early years consultant/adviser in local authorities, in the National Strategies and finally working independently. All her adult life she has been committed to celebrating human diversity, trying to eradicate prejudice and discrimination and in particular implementing anti-racist practice. This was the focus of her Masters and from 2014 she decided to make this the main focus of her work. Vicky worked closely with Babette Brown, the founder of Persona Doll Training, When Babette died in 2019, Vicky became the coordinator to ensure Babette’s legacy lives on. The joy of the role is being in touch with the high numbers of committed early years and primary practitioners in the UK and worldwide who want to celebrate human diversity and make a difference to children and families facing prejudice. Vicky is an Associate for Early Education.
Shaddai Tembo is a lecturer in early education and childhood practice at Perth College UHI, an associate lecturer at the Open University, and a postgraduate research student at the University of the West of Scotland.  He is a trustee for Early Education and the Fatherhood Institute. Shaddai also co-convenes the SERA EY Network and is an independent writer and speaker through Critical Early Years


  • Enrich the environment inside and out with materials, resources, natural objects, images, music, dance (via image, film) for children to inspire their imagination.
  • Make materials accessible so that children are able to imagine and develop their enquiries and ideas while they are still fresh in their minds.
  • Provide children with opportunities to develop their enquiries using materials and tools over extended periods of time. 


  • Tell stories based on children’s experiences and the people and places they know well as well as stories that stimulate the imagination.
  • Create spaces for children to respond to stories and their representing their ideas of what they hear, imagine and enjoy through a variety of art forms and materials.
  • Offer children a wide variety of materials and resources, both inside and outside that stimulate their imagination to build, to become, to represent and experiment with their imaginative play and thinking.


  • Offer a variety of stimulating resources that can be used in different ways both inside and outside e.g. fabric, boxes, sound makers, water, string bags and planks.
  • Create time and space for children to develop their own creations, e.g. photographs, sounds, movement, constructions, stories, collages.


  • Create a rich environment that enables babies and children to use all their senses.
  • Provide babies and children with a range of. experiences to feed their imaginative potential, e.g. stories, images, music, natural and urban experiences, social encounters (mealtimes, shopping, visitors).


  • Support children to gain confidence in their own way of representing and sharing ideas.
  • Be aware of the link between children’s imaginative play and how they develop a narrative structure. 
  • Recognise and promote children’s agency in expressing their unique and subjective viewpoint through the arts.
  • Support children in communicating through their bodies by responding to, and sometimes joining in with their expressive movement linked to their imaginative ideas.
  • Introduce descriptive language to support children within the context of their own imaginative experiences.
  • Celebrate children’s imaginative ideas and creations by sharing them, e.g. impromptu performances, learning journeys with families, display documentation, digital portfolios.


  • Ensure children have opportunities to experience the world outside the setting, e.g. through walks, visits, visitors, links with children’s homes.
  • Support children’s development of imaginary worlds by encouraging new experiences, inventiveness, empathy and new possibilities.
  • Share a diverse range of text, image-based and oral stories to stimulate imaginative responses.
  • Co-create stories with children based on their ideas, experiences and the people and places they know well or imaginary ones.


  • Creates representations of both imaginary and real-life ideas, events, people and objects
  • Initiates new combinations of movements and gestures in order to express and respond to feelings, ideas and experiences
  • Chooses particular movements, instruments/sounds, colours and materials for their own imaginative purposes
  • Uses combinations of art forms, e.g. moving and singing, making and dramatic play, drawing and talking, constructing and mapping
  • Responds imaginatively to art works and objects, e.g. this music sounds likes dinosaurs, that sculpture is squishy like this [child physically demonstrates], that peg looks like a mouth
  • Introduces a storyline or narrative into their play
  • Plays cooperatively as part of a group to create, develop and act out an imaginary idea or narrative


  • Uses movement and sounds to express experiences, expertise, ideas and feelings
  • Experiments and creates movement in response to music, stories and ideas
  • Sings to self and makes up simple songs
  • Creates sounds, movements, drawings to accompany stories
  • Notices what other children and adults do, mirroring what is observed, adding variations and then doing it spontaneously
  • Engages in imaginative play based on own ideas or first-hand or peer experiences.
  • Uses available resources to create props or creates imaginary ones to support play
  • Plays alongside other children who are engaged in the same theme


  • Uses everyday materials to explore, understand and represent his world – his ideas, interests and fascinations
  • Begins to make believe by pretending using sounds, movements, words, objects Beginning to describe sounds and music imaginatively, e.g. scary music
  • Creates rhythmic sounds and movements


  • Expresses self through physical actions and sound
  • Pretends that one object represents another, especially when objects have characteristics in common
  • Creates sound effects and movements, e.g. creates the sound of a car, animals


  • Offer opportunities to encounter and revisit key materials, e.g. drawing media, paper, paint, cardboard and clay in order to continue to develop expertise as tools for expression and communication.
  • Provide a range of joining materials (e.g. stapler, masking tape, glue, string, thread, split pins, treasury tags, card strips) to support children working in both 2D and 3D.
  • Supply open-ended props and materials that can easily be transformed in play.


  • Offer resources for mixing colours, joining things together and combining materials, supporting where appropriate.
  • Create a place where work in progress can be kept safely.
  • Share with children other artists’ work that connects with their ideas, interests and experiences.
  • Introduce children to a wide range of music, movement, painting and sculpture.
  • Provide a range of musical instruments that are used in different ways, for children to bang, pluck, blow, strum.
  • Offer children opportunities to use their skills and explore concepts and ideas through their representations.


  • Plan a varied and appropriate series of live performances for all young children, e.g. musicians, dancers, storytellers.
  • Draw on a wide range of art works from a variety of cultural backgrounds to extend children’s experiences and to reflect their cultural heritages, e.g. architecture, ceramics, theatre.
  • Continue to provide opportunities to encounter and revisit key materials, resources and tools through which children can further explore their properties including form, colour, texture and composition.
  • Invite children to look at and touch unusual or interesting materials, artefacts and resources in their everyday environment, chosen for their design, beauty, pattern and ability to inspire exploration.


  • Offer a variety of objects that will make different sounds, such as wood, pans and plastic bottles filled with different things.
  • Create opportunities to encounter and revisit key materials, resources and tools where children can further explore their properties including form, colour, texture, composition. 
  • Create space and time for movement and dance both indoors and outdoors.


  • Create a rich and well-ordered environment that enables babies and children to use all their senses.
  • Choose and select with intention the materials and tools available to children.
  • Create the time and space that will ensure that children can engage in depth with a diverse range of materials.


  • Draw attention to children’s choice and use of: materials, tools and techniques, experimentation with colour, design, texture, form and function.
  • Use individual, small group, and large group discussion to regularly engage children in explaining work in progress.
  • Recognise the importance of drawing in providing a bridge between imaginary play and writing, and that all are key forms of communication and tools for thinking.


  • Support children’s talk by sharing terms used by artists, potters, musicians, dancers, e.g. as children show interest in exploring colour mixing, support them in using terms such as tint, shade, hue.
  • When children have a strong intention in mind, support them in thinking about what they want to create, the processes that may be involved and the materials and resources they might need.
  • Encourage children to notice changes in properties of media as they are transformed, e.g. through becoming wet, dry, flaky or fixed. Talk about what is happening, helping them to think about cause and effect.
  • Observe, analyse and document the processes involved in a child’s creative and expressive processes, to support greater understanding, inform planning and share with families, carers, and other professionals.
  • Encourage children to notice changes in movement and sound, e.g. louder, quieter, smaller, bigger. Talk about what is happening, helping them to think about cause and effect.
  • Introduce new skills and techniques based on your observations and knowledge of children’s interests and skills.


  • Help children to listen to music and watch dance when opportunities arise, encouraging them to focus on how sound and movement develop from feelings and ideas.
  • Recognise that children can become fascinated by a pattern of actions or interactions with tools and materials, gaining confidence over extended periods of time.
  • Encourage and support the inventive ways in which children use space, combine and transform both 3D and 2D materials.
  • Be sensitive in how you support a child who is using line, colour, tone and form. It is not necessary for them to have the verbal language to explain, for example, drawing. The drawing itself is one of their multi-modal languages.


  • Listen to and enjoy with children a variety of sounds, and music from diverse cultures.
  • Sensitively introduce children to language to describe sounds and rhythm, e.g. loud and soft, fast and slow.
  • Understand that young children’s creative and expressive processes are part of their development of thinking and communicating as well as being important in their own right.
  • Become familiar with the properties and characteristics of materials and tools.
  • Observe, analyse and document the processes involved in a child’s creative and expressive processes, to support greater understanding, inform planning and share with families, carers, and other professionals.


  • Attend to how babies and children are using their whole body in sensing, exploring and experimenting with space, texture, sounds, rhythms, materials, and tools.
  • Welcome the ways in which babies and children arrange, combine, transform, group, and sequence materials that both natural and manmade.


  • Begins to build a collection of songs and dances
  • Makes music in a range of ways, e.g. plays with sounds creatively, plays along to the beat of the song they are singing or music they are listening to
  • Uses their increasing knowledge and understanding of tools and materials to explore their interests and enquiries and develop their thinking
  • Develops their own ideas through experimentation with diverse materials, e.g. light, projected image, loose parts, watercolours, powder paint, to express and communicate their discoveries and understanding.
  • Expresses and communicates working theories, feelings and understandings using a range of art forms, e.g. movement, dance, drama, music and the visual arts


  • Explores and learns how sounds and movements can be changed
  • Continues to explore moving in a range of ways, e.g. mirroring, creating own movement patterns
  • Enjoys joining in with moving, dancing and ring games
  • Sings familiar songs, e.g. pop songs, songs from TV programmes, rhymes, songs from home
  • Taps out simple repeated rhythms
  • Develops an understanding of how to create and use sounds intentionally
  • Continues to explore colour and how colours can be changed
  • Develops an understanding of using lines to enclose a space, and begins to use drawing to represent actions and objects based on imagination, observation and experience
  • Uses various construction materials, e.g. joining pieces, stacking vertically and horizontally, balancing, making enclosures and creating spaces
  • Uses tools for a purpose


  • Joins in singing songs
  • Creates sounds by rubbing, shaking, tapping, striking or blowing
  • Shows an interest in the way sound makers and instruments sound and experiments with ways of playing them, e.g. loud/quiet, fast/slow
  • Experiments with ways to enclose a space, create shapes and represent actions, sounds and objects
  • Enjoys and responds to playing with colour in a variety of ways, for example combining colours  
  • Uses 3D and 2D structures to explore materials and/or to express ideas


  • Continues to explore and experiment with an increasing range of media and movement through   multi-sensory exploration and expression
  • Moves while singing/vocalising, whilst listening to sounds and music, while playing with sound makers/instruments 
  • Mirrors and improvises actions they have observed, e.g. clapping or waving
  • Sings/vocalises whilst listening to music or playing with instruments/sound makers
  • Notices and becomes interested in the transformative effect of their action on materials and resources


  • Provide a range of materials and objects to play with that work in different ways for different purposes, for example, egg whisk, torch, other household implements, pulleys, construction kits.
  • Provide a range of programmable toys for children to play with, as well as equipment involving ICT, such as computers, touchscreen devices and internet-connected toys.


  • When out in the locality, ask children to help to press the button at the pelican crossing, or speak into an intercom to tell somebody you have come back.
  • When in the community and on trips to places such as the park, encourage children to take photographs and use mobile apps of things that interest them, ready to revisit later.
  • Provide a range of materials that enable children to explore cause and effect.


  • Provide safe equipment to play with, such as torches and walkie-talkies.
  • Let children use machines like the photocopier to copy their own pictures.
  • Provide a range of materials for children to “stain” and have a go at washing, rinsing and drying outside in the sunshine.
  • Provide a range of pipes, funnels, containers, water wheels and water for children to play with.


  • Encourage children to speculate on the reasons why things happen or how things work.
  • In conversation highlight technology in aspects of nature, e.g. encouraging models of birds showing purposes and functions of wing feathers, body feathers, beaks, feet reflecting differences of different kinds of birds.
  • Support children to coordinate actions to use technology, for example, call a telephone number or create a video recording.
  • Teach and encourage children to click on different icons to cause things to happen in a computer program.
  • Talk to children about their actions, and support children to understand different purposes of different technologies.
  • Retrieve content and use to facilitate discussions, allowing children to recall trips/ past events to enable them to connect to their wider community


  • Support and extend the skills children develop as they become familiar with simple equipment, such as twisting or turning a knob.
  • Draw young children’s attention to pieces of digital apparatus they see or that they use with adult supervision.
  • Talk to children about their uses of technologies at home and in other environments to begin to understand what they already know about and can do with different technologies.
  • Ask open-ended questions and have conversations about children’s interest in technological toys to enable children to learn about different technologies.
  • Support children to be curious in grappling with cause and effect, e.g. learning that pulling a string may make a puppet arm lift.


  • Support children in exploring the control technology of toys, e.g. toy electronic keyboard.
  • Talk about digital and other electric equipment, what it does, what they can do with it and how to use it safely.
  • Talk to children about “low technologies” such as washing and drying, transporting water and using water to make things “work”.


  • Comment on the ways in which young children investigate how to push, pull, lift or press parts of toys and domestic equipment.
  • Talk about the effect of children’s actions, as they investigate what things can do.


  • Completes a simple program on electronic devices
  • Uses ICT hardware to interact with age-appropriate computer software
  • Can create content such as a video recording, stories, and/or draw a picture on screen
  • Develops digital literacy skills by being able to access, understand and interact with a range of technologies
  • Can use the internet with adult supervision to find and retrieve information of interest to them


  • Knows how to operate simple equipment, e.g. turns on CD player, uses a remote control, can navigate touch-capable technology with support
  • Shows an interest in technological toys with knobs or pulleys, real objects such as cameras, and touchscreen devices such as mobile phones and tablets
  • Shows skill in making toys work by pressing parts or lifting flaps to achieve effects such as sound, movements or new images
  • Knows that information can be retrieved from digital devices and the internet
  • Plays with a range of materials to learn cause and effect, for example, makes a string puppet using dowels and string to suspend the puppet


  • Seeks to acquire basic skills in turning on and operating some digital equipment
  • Operates mechanical toys, e.g. turns the knob on a wind-up toy or pulls back on a friction car
  • Plays with water to investigate “low technology” such as washing and cleaning
  • Uses pipes, funnels and other tools to carry/transport water from one place to another


  • Anticipates repeated sounds, sights and actions, e.g. when an adult demonstrates an action toy several times
  • Shows interest in toys with buttons, flaps and simple mechanisms and begins to learn to operate them


  • Give opportunities to record and creatively represent findings by, e.g. drawing, writing, making a model or photographing, through music, dancing or dressing up.
  • Provide stories that help children to make sense of different environments.
  • Provide first-hand experiences to support children in making sense of micro environments, the specific conditions which enable each plant or animal to live and thrive.
  • Provide stimuli and resources for children to create simple maps and plans, paintings, drawings and models of observations of known and imaginary landscapes.
  • Give opportunities to design practical, attractive environments, for example, planting and taking care of flower and vegetable beds or organising equipment outdoors.
  • Make connections with places and spaces locally, such as museums, galleries, open spaces, arts centres, sports centres. Encourage parents to join you on regular outings, which can result in family visits to the same places.


  • Use the local area for exploring both the built and the natural environment. Regularly take small groups of children on local walks, taking the time to observe what involves the children’s interest.
  • Provide opportunities to observe things closely through a variety of means, e.g. magnifiers and photographs, phone apps to listen to and recognise birds.
  • Explore different habitats outdoors, e.g. scent, colour and shape of flowers attracting bees, making a wormery, planning bird feeding on the ground and higher level.
  • Provide play maps and small world equipment for children to create their own environments as well as represent the familiar environment.
  • Teach skills and knowledge in the context of practical activities, e.g. learning about the characteristics of liquids and solids by involving children in melting chocolate or cooking eggs, or observing ice outdoors.
  • Share stories related to pollution, climate change, habitat erosion, etc.


  • Make use of outdoor areas to give opportunities for investigations of the natural world, for example, provide chimes, streamers, windmills and bubbles to investigate the effects of wind.
  • Provide story and information books about places, such as a zoo or the beach, to remind children of visits to real places.


  • Develop the use of the outdoors so that young children can investigate features, e.g. a mound, a path or a wall, and experience weather, large spaces and seasonal change.
  • Provide a collection of sets of items for children to explore how objects can be combined together in heuristic play sessions.


  • Provide lift-the-flap books to show something hidden from view.
  • Play hide-and-seek outside.
  • Provide a variety of interesting things for babies to see when they are looking around them, looking up at the ceiling or peering into a corner.
  • Display and talk about photographs of babies’ favourite places.
  • Take babies on regular outings to a range of local environments.


  • Provide a range of everyday and natural objects to explore such as in treasure baskets for sitting babies.
  • Provide additional interest – make small changes in the predictable environment.
  • Provide spaces that give young babies different views of their surroundings, such as a soft play area, under a tree, on a lap, looking at bushes and flowers in a garden or park.
  • Ensure that babies and toddlers experience the natural world around them: the wind, the sun, the moon, the movement of the leaves in the trees and different sounds such as birdsong and insect sounds.


  • Help children to notice and discuss patterns around them, e.g. tree bark, flower petal or leaf shapes, grates, covers, or bricks.
  • Examine change over time, for example, growing plants, and change that may be reversed, e.g. melting ice.
  • Use appropriate words, e.g. town, village, path, house, flat, cinema, skyscraper, hydrant, cirrus, cumulonimbus,  temple  and synagogue, to help children make distinctions in their observations. 
  • Help children to find out about the environment by talking to people, examining photographs and simple maps and visiting local places.
  • Encourage children to express opinions on natural and built environments and give opportunities for them to hear different points of view on the quality of the environment.
  • Encourage the use of words that help children to express opinions, e.g. busy, quiet and pollution.
  • Use correct terms so that, e.g. children will enjoy naming a chrysalis if the practitioner uses its correct name.
  • Pose carefully framed open-ended questions and prompts, such as How can we…?What would happen if…? I wonder…


  • Use parents’ knowledge  to extend children’s experiences of the world
  • Support children with sensory impairment by providing supplementary experience and information to enhance their learning about the world around them.
  • Arouse awareness of features of the environment in the setting and immediate local area, e.g. make visits to shops or a park.
  • Use conversation with children to extend their vocabulary to help them talk about their observations and to ask questions.
  • Ensure adults know and use the widest vocabulary that they can, e.g. using the correct name for a plant or geographical feature.


  • Talk with children about their responses to sights, sounds and smells in the environment indoors, in playgrounds, with nature in gardens and parks and discover what they like about playing outdoors.
  • Encourage young children to explore puddles, trees and surfaces such as grass, concrete or pebbles.
  • Introduce principles of recycling, planting and care for our resources.


  • Play hiding and finding games inside and outdoors.
  • Plan varied arrangements of equipment and materials that can be used with babies in a variety of ways to maintain interest and provide challenges.
  • Draw attention to things in different areas that stimulate interest, such as a patterned surface.


  • Encourage young babies’ movements through your interactions, e.g. touching their fingers and toes and showing delight at their kicking and waving.

 See also Characteristics of Effective Learning – Playing and Exploring, and Physical Development


  • Looks closely at similarities, differences, patterns and change in nature
  • Knows about similarities and differences in relation to places, objects, materials and living things
  • Talks about the features of their own immediate environment and how environments might vary from one another
  • Makes observations of animals and plants and explains why some things occur, and talks about changes


  • Comments and asks questions about aspects of their familiar world such as the place where they live or the natural world
  • Talks about why things happen and how things work
  • Developing an understanding of growth, decay and changes over time
  • Shows care and concern for living things and the environment
  • Begin to understand the effect their behaviour can have on the environment


  • Notices detailed features of objects in their environment
  • Can talk about some of the things they have observed such as plants, animals, natural and found objects
  • Enjoys playing with small world reconstructions, building on first-hand experiences, e.g. visiting farms, garages, train tracks, walking by river or lake


  • Is curious and interested to explore new and familiar experiences in nature: grass, mud, puddles, plants, animal life 
  • Explores objects by linking together different approaches: shaking, hitting, looking, feeling, tasting, mouthing, pulling, turning and poking
  • Remembers where objects belong
  • Matches parts of objects that fit together, e.g. puts lid on teapot


  • Closely observes what animals, people and vehicles do
  • Watches toy being hidden and tries to find it, watches intently where a spider has scuttled away under leaves
  • Looks for dropped objects
  • Becomes absorbed in combining objects, e.g. banging two objects or placing objects into containers
  • Knows things are used in different ways, e.g. a ball for rolling or throwing, a toy car for pushing


  • Moves eyes, then head, to follow moving objects
  • Reacts with abrupt change when a face or object suddenly disappears from view
  • Looks around with interest when in a room, garden, balcony or park, visually scanning the environment for novel, interesting objects and events
  • Smiles with pleasure at recognisable playthings
  • Repeats actions that have an effect, e.g. kicking or hitting a mobile or shaking a rattle


  • Plan extra time for helping children in transition, such as when they move from one setting to another or between different groups in the same setting.
  • Provide activities and opportunities for children to share experiences and knowledge from different parts of their lives with each other.
  • Provide ways of preserving memories of special events, e.g. making a book, collecting photographs, sound or video recording, drawing and writing.
  • Invite children and families with experiences of living in other countries to bring in photographs and objects from their home cultures including those from family members living in different areas of the UK and abroad.
  • Ensure the use of up-to-date, appropriate photographs of parts of the world that are commonly stereotyped and misrepresented.
  • Help children to learn positive attitudes and challenge negative attitudes and stereotypes, e.g. using puppets, Persona Dolls, stories and books showing black heroes or disabled kings or queens or families with same sex parents, having a visit from a male midwife or female fire fighter.
  • Visit different parts of the local community, including areas where some children may be very knowledgeable, e.g. Chinese supermarket, local church, elders lunch club, Greek café.
  • Provide role-play areas with a variety of resources reflecting diversity.
  • Make a display with the children, showing all the people who make up the community of the setting.
  • Share stories that reflect the diversity of children’s experiences.
  • Invite people from a range of cultural backgrounds to talk about aspects of their lives or the things they do in their work, such as a volunteer who helps people become familiar with the local area.


  • Share photographs of children’s families, friends, pets or favourite people, both indoors and out.
  • Support children’s understanding of difference and of empathy by using props such as puppets and dolls to tell stories about diverse experiences, ensuring that negative stereotyping is avoided.
  • Ensure children have resources so that they can imitate everyday actions and events from their lives and that represent their culture.


  • Collect stories for, and make books about, children in the group, showing things they like to do and things that are important to them, in languages that are relevant to them wherever possible.
  • Provide books and resources which represent children’s diverse backgrounds and which avoid negative stereotypes, ensuring different cultures are represented but especially the backgrounds of the children in the room.
  • Make photographic books about the children in the setting and encourage parents to contribute to these.
  • Provide positive images of all children including those with diverse physical characteristics, including disabilities.
  • Support good ecological habits in daily life by providing first-hand experiences, e.g. waste disposal by putting papers in recycling bins, helping planting flowers and seeds, provisioning bird tables, leaf piles for hedgehogs and woodlice.


  • Encourage children to share their feelings and talk about why they respond to experiences in particular ways.
  • Explain carefully why some children may need extra help or support for some things, or why some children feel upset by a particular thing.
  • Help children and parents to see the ways in which their cultures and beliefs are similar, sharing and discussing practices, resources, celebrations and experiences.
  • Strengthen the positive impressions children have of their own cultures and faiths, and those of others in their community, by sharing and celebrating a range of practices and special events.


  • Encourage children to talk about their own home and community life, and to find out about other children’s experiences. Be aware that some children’s home lives may be complicated or disrupted, and talking about them may be difficult.
  • Ensure that children learning English as an additional language have opportunities to express themselves in their home language some of the time.
  • Encourage children to develop positive relationships with community members who visit the setting, such as fire fighters, refuse collectors, delivery personnel, care home resident, artists.
  • Share stories about people from the past who have an influence on the present


  • Talk to children about their friends, their families, and why they are important.
  • Be sensitive to the possibility of children who may have lost special people or pets, either through death, separation, displacement or fostering/adoption.


  • Help children to learn each other’s names, e.g. through songs and rhymes, and use them when addressing children.
  • Be positive about differences between people and support children’s acceptance of difference. Be aware that negative attitudes towards difference are learned from examples the children witness.
  • Ensure that each child is recognised as a valuable contributor to the group.
  • Celebrate and value cultural, religious and community events and experiences.


  • Enjoys joining in with family customs and routines
  • Talks about past and present events in their own life and in the lives of family members
  • Knows that other children do not always enjoy the same things, and is sensitive to this
  • Knows about similarities and differences between themselves and others, and among families, communities, cultures and traditions


  • Shows interest in the lives of people who are familiar to them
  • Enjoys joining in with family customs and routines
  • Remembers and talks about significant events in their own experience
  • Recognises and describes special times or events for family or friends
  • Shows interest in different occupations and ways of life indoors and outdoors
  • Knows some of the things that make them unique, and can talk about some of the similarities and differences in relation to friends or family


  • Has a sense of own immediate family and relations and pets
  • In pretend play, imitates everyday actions and events from own family and cultural background, e.g. making and drinking tea, going to the barbers, being a cat, dog or bird
  • Beginning to have their own friends
  • Learns that they have similarities and differences that connect them to, and distinguish them from, others


  • Is curious about people and shows interest in stories about people, animals or objects that they are familiar with or which fascinate them
  • Is interested in photographs of themselves and other familiar people and objects
  • Enjoys stories about people and nature (birds, bees, snails, cats, dogs, etc) and is interested in photographs of themselves with these.


  • Starts to realise they influence people, e.g. as they laugh and smile so do the people they are with
  • Develops a sense of belonging to their family and their key carer
  • Recognises key people in their own lives



  • Involve children in voting, e.g. for books to read at story time, using linking cubes with children’s names on.
  • Discuss examples and display large numbers including hundreds, thousands and a million.


  • Jump with children along a number track, counting each jump or counting on.
  • Sing counting songs and count together forwards and backwards, sometimes starting from different numbers and in different step sizes. Discuss numbers coming before, after and between and stress patterns.
  • Plan opportunities to order mixed-up numerals.
  • When counting groups as part of routines, e.g. self-registration with ten-frames, dinner chart etc,. record the final total as a label for children to see.
  • Subitise with children, talking about how they see numbers of things made up in a variety of arrangements (e.g. recognising odd and even numbers).
  • Pose everyday estimation problems and establish mental estimation benchmarks, e.g. more or less than 10.
  • Set up an estimation station where everyone records guesses; later count and order the guesses.
  • Build counting and ways of representing numbers into everyday routines.
  • Provide numeral cards for children to order on a washing line.
  • Play subitising games which involve quickly revealing and hiding numbers of objects, perhaps showing numeral cards and fingers.
  • Drop marbles into a tin and ask the children to listen (without looking) to count how many there are.
  • Provide opportunities for children to match a number of objects to the numeral, including zero, and display number lines to 100 at child height.
  • Provide dice, board and card games, sometimes involving older children, families and members of the local community.
  • Provide resources to make “staircase” patterns which show that the next counting number includes the previous number plus one.
  • Display children’s mathematical representations, including explanations of the children’s meaning making.

Spatial Awareness

  • Play barrier games (where players have an identical set of objects which are hidden from each other; one player makes an arrangement of objects and gives instructions to the other to try to make the same arrangement).
  • Plan opportunities for children to describe and recall familiar routes.
  • Engage families in taking photos of familiar things from different viewpoints


  • Provide resources for shape play including unit blocks, pattern blocks, mosaic tiles and jigsaw puzzles with different levels of challenge.
  • Teach strategies for solving shape and jigsaw puzzles, describing shape properties and modelling the mathematical vocabulary such as straight, corner, edges.
  • Play games focussing on the properties of shapes, such as hiding and partially revealing a shape, asking children to say what different shapes it could be or not, and why.


  • Provide opportunities for printing patterns using a variety of objects.
  • Using photos, challenge children to copy and continue patterns.
  • Invite children to create a pattern with the same structure using different objects (e.g. instead of a red/blue/blue pattern, create a sheep/cow/cow pattern).


  • Have areas where children can explore the properties of objects, compare lengths, weigh and measure.
  • Provide objects in a range of contexts varying in length, capacity or weight, including tall thin, short fat, large light and small heavy things.
  • Provide pictorial sequences for instructions.
  • Model using measuring tools including height charts, rulers, tape-measures, scales and timers.
  • Sing songs about the days of the week and months of the year, referring to a calendar. Countdown to events.


Comparison/ Counting

  • Provide a numeral rich environment, e.g. in role-play areas, mud-kitchen recipes, numbers on trikes and toilet doors.
  • Provide numerals that children can pick up and use within all aspects of their play.
  • Provide resources indoors and outside for children to explore and talk about higher numbers. 
  • Model using objects to illustrate counting songs, rhymes and number stories, sometimes using pictures and numerals, to enable children to use those resources independently.
  • Play with either dot or numeral dice. Discuss that six on the dice is worth more than four.
  • Provide a variety of mathematical picture books and share them as part of “warm and cuddly” maths times.
  • Explore different arrangements of the same number, e.g. partitioning five in different ways; hiding one group and “guessing” the hidden number.


  • Model counting items rhythmically, including objects into a container, claps or drumbeats.
  • Support children to choose how to arrange collections of two, three and four objects in different ways.
  • Provide spaces to display children’s ongoing mathematical thinking, e.g. their own ways of representing their thinking, and scribing children’s words.

Spatial Awareness

  • Provide spaces to display children’s ongoing mathematical thinking, e.g. their own ways of representing their thinking and scribing children’s words.
  • Provide opportunities for children to explore position themselves inside, behind, on top and so on.
  • Provide picture books to stimulate discussion about position and direction.
  • Create trails and treasure hunts with the children.
  • Organise the indoor and outdoor environment with outlines for objects or specific places for children to tidy up items by fitting them into the designated space.


  • Provide differently shaped resources to handle, carry, move and explore.
  • Provide large and small blocks and boxes for construction both indoors and outdoors.


  • Provide a range of items for free exploration of patterning indoors and outdoors including natural materials, pattern blocks, loose parts, mats, trays and strips.
  • Encourage children to join in with body patterns or repeating sections of songs.
  • Pause to encourage prediction when enjoying stories and rhymes with repeating elements, sometimes using props.
  • Emphasise the repeating pattern when turn taking.
  • Provide patterned resources including those representing a range of cultures, such as clothing, fabrics or wrapping paper.


  • Provide problem-solving opportunities indoors and outdoors for comparing length, weight and capacity, e.g. Which is the best bottle so we’ll have enough drink for everyone at the picnic?
  • Ask children to predict What happens next? using visual timetables, books and stories.
  • Provide items that can be ordered by size, such as plates and clothes in role play.


Comparison/ Counting

  • Provide buckets and bags for children to create collections of objects which they can count.
  • Provide mark-making materials indoors and outdoors for children to represent their own ideas in play.

Cardinality (How many?)

  • Provide opportunities for children to explore cardinality in the environment using self-correcting resources, e.g. jigsaw with two ducks and the number two, or displays showing the numeral and the number of items.
  • Sing counting songs and rhymes which help to develop children’s understanding of number.
  • Say the counting sequence going to higher numbers, in a variety of contexts, indoors and out, and sometimes counting backwards.

Spatial Awareness

  • Design outdoor spaces where children can learn through a variety of spatial experiences (going under, over, around, on top, through) and hear spatial language in context.
  • Encourage children to freely communicate their mathematical thinking through gesture, talk and graphical signs.
  • Plan stimulating indoor and outdoor spaces where children make choices about where to go and create their own routes. Provide materials to create trails.
  • Provide resources for transporting. 


  • Provide a range of inset and jigsaw puzzles of increasing complexity for children to choose.
  • Provide a variety of construction materials including some with identical pieces so that children freely explore same and different.


  • Provide a range of natural and everyday materials, as well as blocks and shapes, with which to make patterns.
  • Plan opportunities for children to experience pattern such as percussion, music and action games that involve repeated sounds or actions.


  • Provide similar items of contrasting sizes so that children have many opportunities to encounter the language of size.
  • Provide resources with clearly different weights to support direct comparison, and something to carry them in.
  • Provide equipment with varied capacities and shapes in the sand, water, mud kitchen and role play areas.



  • Play hiding games so children notice that something has ‘gone’.
  • Provide varied sets of objects for playful opportunities for children to independently explore ‘lots’, ‘more’, ‘not many’ and ‘not enough’.


  • Count while engaging in everyday tasks and while moving around.
  • Sing songs with counting strings.

Spatial Awareness

  • Designate specific places or spaces for items to be kept and fitted into for tidying.
  • Respect children’s urge to explore spaces, to get inside and move between.
  • Build towers up for the child to knock down.
  • Provide shape sorters and packaging where children can hide, enclose or post items through holes.


  • Provide a range of inset board and puzzles with large pieces.
  • Provide a range of construction materials for independent play.
  • Organise storage by shape, with photos or silhouettes to show where things are kept,


  • Plan to share stories and songs that contain repeated elements which help children to anticipate what might come next.


  • Provide a range of objects, including big, heavy and awkward ones that can be transported, both indoors and outdoors.
  • Provide different sizes and shapes of bags, boxes and containers  so that children can experiment with filling, experiencing weight and size.
  • Plan to share images and books which show the order of daily routines.



  • Plan to sing number rhymes with actions.Involve families in sharing number rhymes from home cultures.

Spatial Awareness

  • Play games that involve curling and stretching, popping up and bobbing down.
  • Provide boxes, cloths and bags for children to store, hide and transport items.
  • Provide nested boxes, cups and toys of different sizes that fit inside each other.
  • Share books that provide opportunities to use spatial language and describe movement.


  • Provide blocks and boxes to stack, build and solve problems with.
  • Provide a range of inset puzzles and support children as they explore matching shapes with spaces.


  • Sing familiar songs with repeated actions, jig to and tap out simple beats, encouraging children to join in.
  • Provide items for children to make repetitive sounds.


  • Provide big and little versions of objects for children to play with and compare.
  • Share picture books showing objects of contrasting sizes.



  • Model comparing numbers in problems about fair shares.


  • Play games such as hide and seek that involve counting, forwards and backwards.
  • Talk with children about the strategies they have used to solve a problem. Spot opportunities to playfully pose composition problems for children to explore.


  • Discuss the order of numbers in context, e.g. finding a page number.
  • Enjoy subitising games and sustained shared thinking about number, indoors and outdoors.
  • Encourage cardinal counting by saying how many there are after counting (…6, 7, 8.  There are 8 balls).
  • In everyday activities, ask children to count out a number of things from a group (e.g. Could you get seven cups for snacktime?)
  • Encourage children to make predictions and visualise the outcome in stories, rhymes and songs if one (or two) is added or taken away.
  • Talk to children about the marks and signs they use to represent and communicate their thinking. As appropriate, model and discuss informal and standard ways (e.g. using arrows, plus and minus signs).
  • Begin to model calculations in mathematical stories and number rhymes and in real contexts, using a range of ways of representing (e.g. five-frames).  Use both informal and standard ways to record these, including tallies and symbols. Discuss children’s own graphical strategies to solve problems, using some vocabulary of addition and subtraction.

Spatial Awareness

  • Encourage the use of relative terms (in front of, behind, before and after, in a line, next to and between).
  • Encourage children to explore what can be seen from different viewpoints.
  • Encourage children to describe position and give directions in play and in everyday routines.
  • Encourage children to create scaled-down models such as in small world play.
  • When children are fitting shapes into an outline or making a model from a 2D picture, help them to select more spatially challenging activities.
  • Encourage children to make maps of routes they have walked or travelled in some way.


  • Encourage children to use the names of shapes and their properties (e.g. straight, curved, edges) and prompt them to say what shapes remind them of.
  • Discuss different examples of the same shape (e.g. equilateral and right-angled triangles) in a variety of orientations.
  • Take opportunities to discuss the shapes that children paint, draw and collage and shapes noticed in their local environment using regular shapes and shapes with no name.
  • When acting out their own stories encourage children to make the shapes involved on their own or with others.
  • When constructing, sensitively discuss which shapes make other shapes (e.g. triangles making rectangles and hexagons with pattern blocks or mosaic tiles).
  • Challenge children to make more complex constructions such as towers of arches, a window or a staircase.


  • Encourage children to notice and appreciate a range of patterns involving repetition and symmetry in the environment, including traditional patterns from a range of cultures.
  • Model using symbols to represent a pattern in other ways (e.g. using a spot/cross/dash pattern of symbols and doing a twirl/jump/glide in response).
  • Make deliberate mistakes when creating patterns alongside children and playfully challenge them to fix the problem.
  • Make border patterns where the repeating pattern continues around an object or frame.


  • When comparing the length, weight and capacity of things in play and everyday activities, encourage children to predict and give reasons.
  • Discuss accuracy, for instance matching ends or starting points, balancing exactly or “fullness”.
  • Support timed challenges by timing runs, trails, obstacle courses, etc. and teach children how to use the stopwatch.
  • Discuss the order and sequence of events in routines and role play using the language of time (first, then, after, before, next, sooner, later).
  • Draw children’s attention to visual timetables and clock times, focusing on the hour hand.



  • Encourage children to share items between two people or toys.


  • Capitalise on children’s fascination with counting  by joining in when they count in games.
  • Enjoy counting forwards and back (sometimes to much higher numbers). Use different voices, e.g. high or growly.
  • Use opportunities within daily routines to support children’s developing sense of number.
  • Model and encourage counting and representing numbers within role play, e.g. making a telephone call using a list of numbers.
  • Value children’s own mathematical representations within their pretend play.


  • When counting with children, playfully make deliberate mistakes for fun, expecting children to correct them.
  • Model writing numerals, e.g. on badges, birthday cards and banners.
  • When counting objects with children emphasise the cardinal principle: 1, 2, 3, there are three cups.
  • Invite children to count out a number of things from a larger group, e.g. Can you get five crackers?
  • Encourage children to use their fingers to show an amount  e.g. when asking another child to share resources, to show on their fingers how many they need.
  • Emphasise the one more, one less pattern in rhymes and traditional tales, asking children to predict the next number.
  • Model wondering and talking about how you might solve a number problem.
  • Value and support children to use their own graphics when problem solving.

Spatial Awareness

  • When children are exploring, use the language of position and direction in context (in, on, inside, under, over, progressing to between, beside, next to  through, along, including relative terms which depend on where you are, e.g. behind, in front of, forwards, backwards) using equivalent terms for these in home languages through liaison with families where possible.
  • On walks, in pictures or while playing, point out how things or people that are far away look smaller.
  • Support children in their problem solving when they are creating rail tracks and road layouts. 
  • In block play, sensitively support and challenge experienced builders to make bridges and enclosures.
  • Encourage children to persevere with jigsaws, perhaps demonstrating “hovering” jigsaw pieces to check if they will fit.


  • Help children to choose shapes for a purpose, e.g. a triangular block for a roof and the wedge-shaped block for a ramp.
  • Offer an appropriate or inappropriate shape for what you think the child’s purpose might be to investigate their thinking.
  • As children experience shapes, use informal language (e.g. slanty, pointy, twisty, wiggly, bumpy), common shape names (e.g. cylinder, cone, circle, square) and “nearly” shapes (e.g. This is almost a square but it’s got curvy corners). Find out and use equivalent terms for shapes in home languages.
  • Discuss how shapes can be partitioned in everyday contexts, e.g. cutting food in different ways.
  • Value children’s constructions and solutions to problems they have set themselves and talk about how the shapes have combined to make new shapes.


  • Whilst playing alongside children, model simple repeating patterns of two or three items and encourage children to create and continue patterns.
  • Demonstrate arranging objects in spatial patterns when building, collaging or playing with loose parts.
  • Draw children’s attention to patterns around them including from a range of cultures.
  • When making patterns, help children to solve problems.


  • During play, model comparing lengths and distances.
  • Look out for meaningful opportunities for children to compare by length, weight, capacity and time using comparative language (longer/shorter, heavier/lighter, holds more/holds less, longer time/shorter time).
  • Encourage children to participate in seesaw and balance scale play.
  • Encourage children to respond to and use words such as before, after, soon or later when talking about routines, recent events and events in a story or rhyme.


Comparison/ Counting

  • Include the number sequence in everyday contexts and songs so children experience the order of the numbers (ordinality)

Cardinality (How many?)

  • Encourage children to explore the collections they make, comparing amounts and counting some of the items, emphasising the last number, e.g. 1,2,3. There are 3 leaves.
  • Use opportunities to model and encourage counting on fingers.
  • When singing number rhymes with props, draw attention to contrasting differences and changes in numbers, checking together How many now?
  • Point out the number of things whenever possible, e.g. rather than just chairs, say four chairs.
  • Encourage children to use marks to represent their mathematical ideas in role play.
  • Help children to give or get two or three items, e.g. during snack time help children to take two pieces of fruit.

Spatial Awareness

  • Encourage children to predict what they will see next on a familiar route.
  • Take everyday opportunities to use words for position and direction accompanied by gesture (e.g. in, on, inside, under, over) using equivalent terms for these in home languages through liaison with families where possible.
  • Enjoy games involving jumping, running and hiding and make very simple obstacle courses, e.g. going up and down.
  • Model your thinking when arranging things, using some position words.
  • Help children to create simple roads and rail tracks and talk about position.
  • Value children’s explorations of spaces and viewpoints and their interest in how things look different.


  • Chat about the shape of the pieces and the holes when fitting pieces into inset puzzles.
  • Model comparing two objects to see if they have the same shape in purposeful contexts.
  • Suggest choosing a particular shaped item for a purpose.
  • Model your thinking when building.


  • Talk with children about the patterns you notice around you.
  • Comment on and help children to recognise the patterns they make in their mark making, loose parts and construction.
  • Draw children’s attention to the patterns in their routines by asking what comes next.


  • Use everyday opportunities to describe everyday items and contexts using informal language of size (giant, teeny, big, little, huge, small), length (long, tall, short), weight (heavy, light) and capacity (full, empty).
  • Observe children’s problem-solving when ordering things by size, e.g. stacking cups, sensitively supporting by offering one if they are really struggling.
  • Look out for opportunities to compare things purposefully such as finding out whether a teddy will fit in a bed.
  • When children talk about their experiences at home and in the setting, use some language of time (before, later, soon, next, after, morning, afternoon, evening, night-time). 
  • In everyday activities, make a commentary about the sequence of events.
  • When sharing stories and books, draw attention to routines and time sequences within them.



  • Talk with young children about lots, more, not many and not enough as they play.
  • Draw attention to contrasting differences and changes in amounts e.g. adding more bricks to a tower or eating things up.


  • Model counting things in everyday situations and routines.
  • Take opportunities to say number words in order with children as they play, e.g. 1,2,3 go!


  • Use number words in meaningful contexts, e.g. Here is your other mitten. Now we have two.

Spatial Awareness

  • Model thinking during tidy up routines to promote logic and reasoning about where things fit in or are kept.
  • Support children’s interest in body-sized spaces and provide commentary on the child going inside,  under, over, between and squeezing through,.
  • Look for opportunities to use spatial language during play activities.


  • Model thinking about the properties of shapes when selecting them to fit into spaces, e.g. Oh look, we need a round one.
  • When playing alongside children who are building, provide commentary about the shapes you are using.


  • Highlight different times of the day and talk about what comes next within the pattern of the day.
  • Leave a space for children to do the next action or word in familiar songs and stories with repeating elements.
  • Comment on what is the same and what is over and over again in patterns found in the environment.


  • Use the language of size and weight as children are involved in everyday play and routines.
  • Use the language of capacity as children explore water or sand to encourage them to think about when something is full, empty or holds more.
  • Emphasise the sequence within familiar activities or routines.



  • Take opportunities during play to sing number rhymes..
  • During personal care routines make a point of using numbers.
  • Play “peek-a-boo” hiding games with toys and people.

Spatial Awareness

  • Use spatial words during everyday play and routines.or one-word comments you get children in and out of a highchair.
  • Take opportunities to play hide and reveal games with objects in boxes and under cups.
  • Support babies’ physical experience of positions and direction, e.g. describing up and down.


  • When playing with malleable materials draw attention to shapes as they are created and changed.


  • Talk about patterns in the environment e.g. spots and stripes on clothing or bumps in the pavement.
  • Spot opportunities to play “back and forth” and repetitive “again” games.


  • During play and everyday contexts, comment on the sizes and weights of objects using a range of language such as big, huge, enormous, long, tall, heavy.
  • Talk about what is going to happen and what has happened during the day using first, next and then.



  • Uses number names and symbols when comparing numbers, showing interest in large numbers
  • Estimates of numbers of things, showing understanding of relative size


  • Enjoys reciting numbers from 0 to 10 (and beyond) and back from 10 to 0
  • Increasingly confident at putting numerals in order 0 to 10 (ordinality)


  • Engages in subitising numbers to four and maybe five
  • Counts out up to 10 objects from a larger group.
  • Matches the numeral with a group of items to show how many there are (up to 10)


  • Shows awareness that numbers are made up (composed) of smaller numbers, exploring partitioning in different ways with a wide range of objects
  • Begins to conceptually subitise larger numbers by subitising smaller groups within the number, e.g. sees six raisins on a plate as three and three
  • In practical activities, adds one and subtracts one with numbers to 10
  • Begins to explore and work out mathematical problems, using signs and strategies of their own choice, including (when appropriate) standard numerals, tallies and  “+” or “-“

Spatial Awareness

  • Uses spatial language, including following and giving directions, using relative terms and describing what they see from different viewpoints
  • Investigates turning and flipping objects in order to make shapes fit and create models; predicting and visualising how they will look (spatial reasoning)
  • May enjoy making simple maps of familiar and imaginative environments, with landmarks


  • Uses informal language and analogies, (e.g. heart-shaped and hand-shaped leaves), as well as mathematical terms to describe shapes
  • Enjoys composing and decomposing shapes, learning which shapes combine to make other shapes
  • Uses own ideas to make models of increasing complexity, selecting blocks needed, solving problems and visualising what they will build


  • Spots patterns in the environment, beginning to identify the pattern “rule”
  • Chooses familiar objects to create and recreate repeating patterns beyond AB patterns and begins to identify the unit of repeat


  • Enjoys tackling problems involving prediction and discussion of comparisons of length, weight or capacity, paying attention to fairness and accuracy
  • Becomes familiar with measuring tools in everyday experiences and play
  • Is increasingly able to order and sequence events using everyday language related to time
  • Beginning to experience measuring time with timers and calendars



  • Compares two small groups of up to five objects, saying when there are the same number of objects in each group, e.g. You’ve got two, I’ve got two. Same!


  • May enjoy counting verbally as far as they can go
  • Points or touches (tags) each item, saying one number for each item, using the stable order of 1,2,3,4,5.
  • Uses some number names and number language within play, and may show fascination with large numbers
  • Begin to recognise numerals 0 to 10


  • Subitises one, two and three objects (without counting)
  • Counts up to five items, recognising that the last number said represents the total counted so far (cardinal principle)
  • Links numerals with amounts up to 5 and maybe beyond
  • Explores using a range of their own marks and signs to which they ascribe mathematical meanings


  • Through play and exploration, beginning to learn that numbers are made up (composed) of smaller numbers
  • Beginning to use understanding of number to solve practical problems in play and meaningful activities
  • Beginning to recognise that each counting number is one more than the one before
  • Separates a group of three or four objects in different ways, beginning to recognise that the total is still the same

Spatial Awareness

  • Responds to and uses language of position and direction
  • Predicts, moves and rotates objects to fit the space or create the shape they would like


  • Chooses items based on their shape which are appropriate for the child’s purpose
  • Responds to both informal language and common shape names
  • Shows awareness of shape similarities and differences between objects
  • Enjoys partitioning and combining shapes to make new shapes with 2D and 3D shapes
  • Attempts to create arches and enclosures when building, using trial and improvement to select blocks


  • Creates their own spatial patterns showing some organisation or regularity
  • Explores and adds to simple linear patterns of two or three repeating items, e.g. stick, leaf (AB) or stick, leaf, stone (ABC)
  • Joins in with simple patterns in sounds, objects, games and stories dance and movement, predicting what comes next


  • In meaningful contexts, finds the longer or shorter, heavier or lighter and more/less full of two items
  • Recalls a sequence of events in everyday life and stories



  • Beginning to compare and recognise changes in numbers of things, using words like more, lots or same


  • Begins to say numbers in order, some of which are in the right order (ordinality)

Cardinality (How many?)

  • In everyday situations, takes or gives two or three objects from a group
  • Beginning to notice numerals (number symbols)
  • Beginning to count on their fingers.

Spatial Awareness

  • Moves their bodies and toys around objects and explores fitting into spaces
  • Begins to remember their way around familiar environments
  • Responds to some spatial and positional language
  • Explores how things look from different viewpoints including things that are near or far away


  • Chooses puzzle pieces and tries to fit them in
  • Recognises that two objects have the same shape
  • Makes simple constructions


  • Joins in and anticipates repeated sound and action patterns
  • Is interested in  what happens next using the pattern of everyday routines


  • Explores differences in size, length, weight and capacity
  • Beginning to understand some talk about immediate past and future
  • Beginning to anticipate times of the day such as mealtimes or home time



  • Responds to words like lots or more


  • Says some counting words
  • May engage in counting-like behaviour, making sounds and pointing or saying some numbers in sequence


  • May use number words like one or two and sometimes responds accurately when asked to give one or two things

Spatial Awareness

  • Enjoys filling and emptying containers
  • Investigates fitting themselves inside and moving through spaces


  • Pushes objects through different shaped holes, and attempts to fit shapes into spaces on inset boards or puzzles
  • Beginning to select a shape for a specific space
  • Enjoys using blocks to create their own simple structures and arrangements


  • Becoming familiar with patterns in daily routines
  • Joins in with and predicts what comes next in a familiar story or rhyme
  • Beginning to arrange items in their own patterns, e.g. lining up toys


  • Shows an interest in size and weight
  • Explores capacity by selecting, filling and emptying containers e.g. fitting toys in a pram
  • Beginning to understand that things might happen now or at another time, in routines



  • May be aware of number names through their enjoyment of action rhymes and songs that relate to numbers
  • Looks for things which have moved out of sight

Spatial Awareness

  • Explores space around them and engages with position and direction, such as pointing to where they would like to go


  • Stacks objects using flat surfaces
  • Responds to changes of shape
  • Attempts, sometimes successfully, to match shapes with spaces on inset puzzles


  • Joins in with repeated actions in songs and stories
  • Initiates and continues repeated actions


  • Shows an interest in objects of contrasting sizes in meaningful contexts
  • Gets to know and enjoys daily routine
  • Shows an interest in emptying containers


  • Provide word banks, notebooks, clipboards, post-its and other writing resources for both indoor and outdoor play.
  • Ensure resources enable children to draw on their out-of-school practices and personal interests, such as children’s popular culture or sports teams.
  • Include oral stories and explore ways for both adults and children to develop oral storytelling skills.
  • Provide a range of opportunities to write for different purposes about things that interest children.
  • Resource role-play areas with listening and writing equipment, and ensure that role-play areas encourage writing of signs with a real purpose, e.g. a pet shop.
  • Plan enjoyable activities and games that help children create rhyming strings of real and imaginary words, e.g. Maddie, daddy, baddie, laddie.
  • Support children to understand that the letter shapes they write (graphemes) link to units of sound (phonemes).
  • Provide regular playful multisensory systematic phonics activities that help children to represent phonemes in their writing.
  • When reading stories, talk with children about the author and illustrator, to help children identify with these roles. For example, ask children why they think the author wrote the story, if the author knew the people in the story, or why the illustrator chose to draw a particular moment in the story. Ask children if they would like to be an author and/or illustrator.


  • Write down things children say to support their developing understanding that what they say can be written down, and then read and understood by someone else. Encourage parents to do this as well.
  • Set up environments of offices, dens in the garden, library, shop, home corner with greetings cards, etc., so that children engage in literacy events in which they spontaneously participate.
  • Provide a range of accessible materials and tools for writing as part of everyday play activity, including role play, both indoors and outdoors.
  • Write poems and short stories together with the children, writing down ideas they suggest.
  • Scribe children’s stories and re-read and enact their stories in small group activities.
  • Involve children when you make lists or write notes and messages.
  • Think out loud and talk through what you are doing when writing on typing on screen.
  • Break down your flow of speech into individual words, exemplifying the correspondence between the spoken and written word.
  • Provide activities during which children can experiment with writing, for example, leaving a message.
  • Encourage children to use their phonic knowledge when writing, and model this in your own writing.


  • Draw attention to marks, signs and symbols in the environment and talk about what they represent. Ensure this involves recognition of English, other languages and scripts.
  • Provide materials which reflect cultural diversity, so children see symbols and marks with which they are familiar, and learn that there are many different script systems e.g. Arabic, Chinese, Greek and Braille.
  • Try to have a notepad to hand (e.g. A5 size) in which you can scribe children’s stories and special words and share these stories and words with children.
  • Ensure children see you writing for a purpose, e.g. a shopping list, message for parents, labels in children’s play areas or reminders for ourselves.