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Learning and development within the early years foundation stage

You must promote the learning and development of all children in your care working in partnership with parents/carers. You must guide children’s learning giving them the essential skills for the future. You should consider the individual interests and development of each child and use this information to offer rich experiences to meet their needs.

There are 7 key areas of learning within the early years foundation stage (EYFS), which are:

Prime areas:

  • communication and language
  • personal, social and emotional development
  • physical development

These 3 areas lay the foundations for children’s success.

Specific areas:

  • literacy
  • mathematics
  • understanding the world
  • expressive arts and design

These 4 areas build on the prime areas and provide opportunity to strengthen learning, including the essential skills and knowledge needed to prepare them for their future.

All 7 areas are important and inter-connected and help to shape the curriculum you provide. Play is essential for children’s development enabling them to explore, experiment, build relationships and think creatively.

The educational programmes (7 areas of learning) set out in the early years foundation stage (EYFS) provides the framework for your curriculum that you must follow.

It is down to you to design the curriculum your children need and will be unique to your setting. Decide what you want children to learn, the activities you want to do with them and how your setting can support their learning. You should identify the skills and knowledge children bring with them when they start at your setting to be able to build on this.

This is referred to as ‘cultural capital’. It is the essential knowledge children need to be educated citizens. You should plan your curriculum to enhance the experiences and opportunities available to all children.

To plan an effective curriculum, it is useful to understand and use the 3 ‘I’s referred to by Ofsted.

  • Intent: This is your curriculum design, coverage and appropriateness. What do you want the children to know or be able to do?
  • Implementation: This is your curriculum delivery and teaching strategies. How will you support learning and use children’s interests?
  • Impact: This is about children knowing more and having the capability to do more. Are children gaining the knowledge and skills they need for future learning?

You can access further information to Get help to improve your curriculum planning (

The ways in which a child engages with other people and their environment underpin learning and development across all areas and support the child to be motivated to learn.

The 3 characteristics of effective teaching and learning are:

CharacteristicWhat the characteristic covers
Playing and exploring
  • children investigate and experience things
  • children ‘have a go’
Active learning
  • children concentrate
  • children keep on trying if they encounter difficulties
  • children enjoy achievements
Creating and thinking critically
  • children have and develop their own ideas
  • children make links between ideas
  • children develop strategies for doing things

The characteristics describe behaviours children use in order to learn and what you need to enable to teach successfully. Your practice should be adapted to meet children’s individual learning styles.

Our 'Talking about the characteristics of effective learning' support tool is available by request - please email [email protected].

The following non-statutory documents provide guidance and examples of how to support the characteristics of effective teaching and learning:

The Early Learning Goals (ELGs) are the level of development children should be expected to have achieved by the end of the EYFS. You should not use these as a curriculum.

In early years your focus should remain on the educational programmes you offer to children to give breadth and depth of your curriculum. The ELGs are there to support teachers to assess children’s capabilities in readiness for year one.

Last updated 21 May 2024