Module 4: Promoting Learning and Development

Module 4: Promoting Learning and Development

The Learning and Development Requirements

This section defines what providers must do, working in partnership with parents and/or carers, to promote the learning and development of all children in their care, and to ensure they are ready for school. The learning and development requirements are informed by the best available evidence on how children learn and reflect the broad range of skills, knowledge and attitudes children need as foundations for good future progress. Early years providers must guide the development of children’s capabilities with a view to ensuring that children in their care complete the EYFS ready to benefit fully from the opportunities ahead of them.

The EYFS learning and development requirements comprise:

  • The seven areas of learning and development and educational programmes;
  • The early learning goals, which summarise the knowledge, skills and understanding that all young children should have gained by the end of the Reception year; and
  • The assessment requirements (when and how practitioners must assess children’s achievements, and when and how they should discuss children’s progress with parents and/or carers).

Wrap around and holiday providers

Wrap around and holiday providers should be guided by, but do not necessarily need to meet, all the learning and development requirements. Practitioners should discuss with parents and/or carers (and other practitioners and providers as appropriate) the support they intend to offer, seeking to complement learning in settings in which children spend more time.

The areas of learning and development

There are seven areas of learning and development that must shape educational programmes in early years settings. All areas of learning and development are important and inter-connected. Three areas are particularly crucial for igniting children’s curiosity and enthusiasm for learning, and for building their capacity to learn, form relationships and thrive. These three areas, the prime areas, are:

  • Communication and language;
  • Physical development; and
  • Personal, social and emotional development.

Providers must also support children in four specific areas, through which the three prime areas are strengthened and applied. The specific areas are:

  • Literacy;
  • Mathematics;
  • Understanding the world; and
  • Expressive arts and design.

Educational programmes must involve activities and experiences for children, as follows.

  • Communication and languagedevelopment involves giving children opportunities to experience a rich language environment; to develop their confidence and skills in expressing themselves, and to speak and listen in a range of situations.
  • Physical developmentinvolves providing opportunities for young children to be active and interactive; and to develop their co-ordination, control, and movement. Children must also be helped to understand the importance of physical activity and to make healthy choices in relation to food.
  • Personal, social and emotional developmentinvolves helping children to develop a positive sense of themselves, and others; to form positive relationships and develop respect for others; to develop social skills and learn how to manage their feelings; to understand appropriate behaviour in groups, and to have confidence in their own abilities.
  • Literacydevelopment involves encouraging children to link sounds and letters and to begin to read and write. Children must be given access to a wide range of reading materials (books, poems, and other written materials) to ignite their interest.
  • Mathematicsinvolves providing children with opportunities to develop and improve their skills in counting, understanding and using numbers, calculating simple addition and subtraction problems; and to describe shapes, spaces, and measures.
  • Understanding the worldinvolves guiding children to make sense of their physical world and their community through opportunities to explore, observe and find out about people, places, technology and the environment.
  • Expressive arts and designinvolve enabling children to explore and play with a wide range of media and materials, as well as providing opportunities and encouragement for sharing their thoughts, ideas and feelings through a variety of activities in art, music, movement, dance, role-play, and design and technology.

Practitioners must consider the individual needs, interests, and stage of development of each child in their care and must use this information to plan a challenging and enjoyable experience for each child in all of the areas of learning and development. Practitioners working with the youngest children are expected to focus strongly on the three prime areas, which are the basis for successful learning in the other four specific areas. The three prime areas reflect the key skills and capacities all children need to develop and learn effectively and become ready for school. It is expected that the balance will shift towards a more equal focus on all areas of learning as children grow in confidence and ability within the three prime areas. But throughout the early years, if a child’s progress in any prime area gives cause for concern, practitioners must discuss this with the child’s parents and/or carers and agree how to support the child. Practitioners must consider whether a child may have a special educational need or disability which requires specialist support. They should link with, and help families to access, relevant services from other agencies as appropriate.

For children whose home language is not English, providers must take reasonable steps to provide opportunities for children to develop and use their home language in play and learning, supporting their language development at home. Providers must also ensure that children have sufficient opportunities to learn and reach a good standard in the English language during the EYFS, ensuring children are ready to benefit from the opportunities available to them when they begin Year 1. When assessing communication, language and literacy skills, practitioners must assess children’s skills in English. If a child does not have a strong grasp of English language, practitioners must explore the child’s skills in the home language with parents and/or carers, to establish whether there is cause for concern about language delay.

Each area of learning and development must be implemented through planned, purposeful play and through a mix of adult-led and child-initiated activity. Play is essential for children’s development, building their confidence as they learn to explore, to think about problems, and relate to others. Children learn by leading their own play, and by taking part in play which is guided by adults. There is an ongoing judgement to be made by practitioners about the balance between activities led by children, and activities led or guided by adults. Practitioners must respond to each child’s emerging needs and interests, guiding their development through warm, positive interaction. As children grow older, and as their development allows, it is expected that the balance will gradually shift towards more activities led by adults, to help children prepare for more formal learning, ready for Year 1.

In planning and guiding children’s activities, practitioners must reflect on the different ways that children learn and reflect these in their practice. Three characteristics of effective teaching and learning 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; and
  • Creating and thinking critically– children have and develop their own ideas, make links between ideas, and develop strategies for doing things.

Each child must be assigned a key person (safeguarding and welfare requirement. Providers must inform parents and/or carers of the name of the key person, and explain their role when a child starts attending a setting. The key person must help ensure that every child’s learning and care is tailored to meet their individual needs. The key person must seek to engage and support parents and/or carers in guiding their child’s development at home. They should also help families engage with more specialist support if appropriate.

A quality learning experience for children requires a quality workforce. A well-qualified, skilled staff strongly increases the potential of any individual setting to deliver the best possible outcomes for children. Providers should regularly consider the training and development needs of all staff members to ensure they offer a quality learning experience for children that continually improves.

The Early Learning Goals

The Prime Areas

Communication and language

  • Listening and attention: children listen attentively in a range of situations. They listen to stories, accurately anticipating key events and respond to what they hear with relevant comments, questions or actions. They give their attention to what others say and respond appropriately, while engaged in another activity.
  • Understanding: children follow instructions involving several ideas or actions. They answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions about their experiences and in response to stories or events.
  • Speaking:children express themselves effectively, showing awareness of listeners’ needs. They use past, present and future forms accurately when talking about events that have happened or are to happen in the future. They develop their own narratives and explanations by connecting ideas or events.

Physical development 

  • Moving and handling: children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements. They move confidently in a range of ways, safely negotiating space. They handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing.
  • Health and self-care: children know the importance of good health of physical exercise, and a healthy diet, and talk about ways to keep healthy and safe. They manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs successfully, including dressing and going to the toilet independently.

Personal, social and emotional development

  • Self-confidence and self-awareness: children are confident to try new activities and say why they like some activities more than others. They are confident to speak in a familiar group, will talk about their ideas, and will choose the resources they need for their chosen activities. They say when they do or don’t need help.
  • Managing feelings and behaviour: children talk about how they and others show feelings, talk about their own and others’ behaviour, and its consequences, and know that some behaviour is unacceptable. They work as part of a group or class and understand and follow the rules. They adjust their behaviour to different situations and make changes in routine in their stride.
  • Making relationships: children play co-operatively, taking turns with others. They take account of one another’s ideas about how to organise their activity. They show sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings and form positive relationships with adults and other children.

The specific areas


  • Reading:children read and understand simple sentences. They use phonic knowledge to decode regular words and read them aloud accurately. They also read some common irregular words. They demonstrate understanding when talking with others about what they have read.
  • Writing:children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds. They also write some irregular common words. They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others. Some words are spelt correctly, and others are phonetically plausible.


  • Numbers:children count reliably with numbers from 1 to 20, place them in order and say which number is one more or one less than a given number. Using quantities and objects, they add and subtract two single-digit numbers and count on or back to find the answer. They solve problems, including doubling, halving and sharing.
  • Shape, space and measures:children use everyday language to talk about size, weight, capacity, position, distance, time and money to compare quantities and objects and to solve problems. They recognise, create and describe patterns. They explore the characteristics of everyday objects and shapes and use mathematical language to describe them.

Understanding the world

  • People and communities:children talk about past and present events in their own lives and in the lives of family members. They know that other children don’t always enjoy the same things and are sensitive to this. They know about similarities and differences between themselves and others, and among families, communities and traditions.
  • The world:children know about similarities and differences in relation to places, objects, materials and living things. They talk about the features of their own immediate environment and how environments might vary from one another. They make observations of animals and plants and explain why some things occur and talk about changes.
  • Technology:children recognise that a range of technology is used in places such as homes and schools. They select and use technology for particular purposes.

Expressive arts and design

  • Exploring and using media and materials: children sing songs, make music and dance, and experiment with ways of changing them. They safely use and explore a variety of materials, tools and techniques, experimenting with colour, design, texture, form and function.

Being imaginative: children use what they have learnt about media and materials in original ways, thinking about uses and purposes. They represent their own ideas, thoughts and feelings through design and technology, art, music, dance, role-play and stories.


The Characteristics of Effective Learning

At the very beginning of the review that led to the revised EYFS in 2012 the author,  l, tells us: ‘A child’s future choices, attainment, wellbeing, happiness and resilience are profoundly affected by the quality of guidance, love and care they receive during their first years’. To provide this quality we need to start by understanding as much as we can about how children learn and develop. In fact, in the EYFS 2012, this has even been made a statutory requirement!

In planning and guiding children’s activities practitioners must reflect on the different ways that children learn and reflect these in their practice.

The EYFS has always highlighted the importance of how as well as what children learn. In the 2008 EYFS, this was most obvious in three of the commitments under the theme of Learning and Development: Play and Exploration, Active Learning and Creativity and Critical Thinking.

Playing and exploring

  • Finding out and exploring
  • Playing with what they know
  • Being willing to have a go

Active learning

  • Being involved and concentrating
  • Keeping on trying
  • Enjoying achieving what they set out to do

Creating and thinking critically

  • Having their own ideas
  • Making links
  • Choosing ways to do things and finding new ways

Playing and exploring

Play and exploration are key ways that children (and adults) learn. As Vygotsky, the famous Russian psychologist whose work has been so important to our understanding of child development stated: in play the child operates at their highest level ‘beyond his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play, it is as though he were a head taller than himself’. This is why it is so powerful. Because it is so important to learning, the revised Statutory Framework states that:

Each area of learning and development must be implemented through planned and purposeful play and a mix of adult-led and child-initiated activity.

Finding out and exploring

Exploratory play is important to all of us. It is how babies begin to understand their surroundings and the relationships between themselves and others, using all their senses and every part of the body. Babies and toddlers as young scientists, testing out and often repeating the same actions time and again to establish an idea about the object in question and what their own actions can do. Their explorations continue as they grow and develop.

Playing with what they know

From the beginning, as they play and explore, babies and young children build a repertoire of knowledge, skills, and understanding, using memory, and they are also able to imagine possibilities. This makes it possible for them to play with what they know.

Being willing to ‘have a go’

Play is the ideal context for trying things out, taking risks, making mistakes and challenging ourselves in other words, being willing to have a go. There are no activity children are better prepared for than fantasy play. Nothing is more dependable and risk-free, and the dangers are only pretended’.

Active learning

The second characteristic of learning is not about being physically active, which of course is important in children’s learning and development, but refers to being mentally active and alert

Children’s are becoming deeply involved and concentrating, being motivated to persist (keep on trying) and deriving satisfaction from achieving what they have chosen to do. Those close to the child parents and practitioners can foster this inner drive to learn and achieve, supporting a can-do approach and building confidence, or we can all too easily discourage it.

In the Tickell Review, active learning was described as arising from the ‘intrinsic motivation to achieve mastery to experience competence, understanding and autonomy’.

Being involved and concentrating

In order to concentrate fully on something, we need to be motivated. Concentration is closely linked to the concept of involvement. When children are deeply involved in what they are doing, it is likely that deep-level learning is taking place. And, ‘if deep-level learning is taking place, a person is operating at the limits of their “zone of proximal development”. When a child is deeply involved she/he cannot easily be distracted. The importance of play and exploration cannot be underestimated as it is when children make their own choices, follow their natural curiosity and own train of thought that deep involvement is most likely to happen.

Keeping on trying

Keeping on trying, as it is called, is all about persistence, being motivated to master a new skill or understand a new idea, even though this may require considerable effort. 

For those with a fixed mindset there is a desire to get things right from the start so as not to feel a failure, wanting to stay in the safety zone of what they know they can achieve, not taking on any new challenge: ‘As soon as children become able to evaluate themselves, some of them are afraid of challenges. They become afraid of not being smart’. The opposite is true for those with the growth mindset, who love a challenge and will, therefore, keep on trying, find a way around obstacles and figure out the problem.

Adults can all too easily limit children’s motivation and drive to take on new challenges. How we give children praise is really important, praising a child for ‘being clever’ and for their abilities is more likely to result in developing the fixed mindset view of themselves, not wanting to persist when difficulties appear. But specific praise highlighting the processes the child is using as they attempt to do something, or keep on trying, will feed the growth mindset.

When we receive encouragement for our efforts and our ideas are valued, our feelings acknowledged and our discoveries recognised, we come to see the world as a safe place, and ourselves as competent and capable agents within it.

Enjoying achieving what they set out to do

Following on from persistence is the satisfaction gained from achieving one’s own intentions ‘rather than relying on the approval of others’. The emphasis here is on the children achieving their own goals, whatever those might be: to be successful and enjoy the personal pleasure of success, the goal needs to be the child. This will mean the child is fully signed up to it and the motivation is intrinsic, coming from within. If the motivation is extrinsic, arising from a perceived external reward, then once the reward has been achieved there is little motivation to continue. We need to take care of presenting children with rewards. This is important when it comes to goals we want children to achieve. Tapping into the child’s curiosity and interests is likely to help them make the goal their own, resulting in better longer-term outcomes.

Creating and thinking critically

The guidance materials for the 2008 EYFS provided a useful description of this learning characteristic:

When children have opportunities to play with ideas in different situations and with a variety of resources, they discover connections and come to new and better understandings and ways of doing things. Adult support in this process enhances their ability to think critically and ask questions.

Creating and thinking critically are fundamental processes in making sense of experiences and developing thought. Creativity in this sense is not about being talented in the arts, but a core aspect of the thinking process, involving imagination and helping us ‘to think flexibly and come up with original ideas’. Thinking critically helps us to organise our thoughts, figure things out, solve problems and come up with new strategies. It helps us reflect on ideas and on our own thinking, and from this learn how to learn.

Having their own ideas

In order to be able to solve problems in their daily experiences, children, like adults, need to generate their own ideas and put these to good use. Play and exploration are fundamental to this, something we as parents or practitioners close to the child should be encouraging children to do so that they can develop their own ideas: ‘Being inventive allows children to find new problems as they seek to challenge and to explore ways of solving these’.

Enabling children to think critically and creatively means encouraging them to play and investigate, providing a rich environment with interesting things to discover, explore and wonder about and, crucially, time to do so. Some of the most important skills children need for the future are the metacognitive skills, which involve them in reflecting on their learning. ‘Awareness of oneself as a thinker and learner is a key aspect of success in learning’.

Making links

As babies and young children make sense of their experiences, they are making connections between what they already know and new experiences. We can see the baby or toddler making these connections through their play and explorations, and later as children begin to communicate verbally, they are able to express their thoughts and ideas to themselves (as in the observation of Louis, above), as well as to others.

Communication is an important aspect of the thinking process and the more open-ended the discussions we have with young children the more we can help them talk about the connections they are making and as a result understand their own thinking better.

Choosing ways to do things

This aspect of the Characteristics of Learning involves the child in making choices as to how to go about something and is not about following instructions. It involves ‘making choices and decisions about how to approach a task, planning and monitoring what to do, and being able to change strategies’. It is when children are involved in their own self-chosen activities that they are more likely to want to find the right strategy to achieve their goal.

Effective Practice

The Characteristics of Effective Learning are generic: they are about how every child learns. But, to support children’s learning and development effectively, we need to pay attention to the uniqueness of every child. In this section, we look very briefly at how settings and practitioners can best support children’s learning and development by paying attention to these Characteristics of Effective Learning.

    • Talking with parents:supporting children’s learning and development starts with finding out about them from those who know them best, their parents, and working in close partnership with them.
    • Ensuring inclusionmeans being aware of the different ways that children learn and ensuring that planning sup-ports each unique child.
    • Tuning in and following children’s interestsis essential if practitioners are to meet the learning and development needs of every child. This means observing and listening first so that you can tailor your input to what the child is focusing on.
    • Building confidence and a can-do attitude:being positive, providing emotional support, encouraging children to have a go.
    • Encouraging the children to make their own choicesas well as decisions on how they may want to do things.
    • Taking care of how you praiseis important in helping children to develop a growth mindset. Talk with them about the strategies they are using as they attempt new challenges and solve problems. Give praise for trying, not for ‘being clever’.
    • Providing a stimulating environment, inside and outside, not only responds to children’s interests but also provokes new ones.
    • Motivate and challenge children’s thinking, with opportunities for them to explore, investigate and solve problems, and plenty to fire the imagination, with and without adult support. A child who is not given the opportunity to play, explore and investigate is far less likely to be a resilient, creative learner willing to have a go, persist or think critically.
    • Allow time for children to think and reflect.

Remember that play and exploration are fundamental to learning and thinking.