Critical Thinking In The Early Years Foundation Stage

The revised EYFS gives an opportunity for leaders, managers and practitioners to reflect on current systems, routines and everyday practice. Over the next few weeks we will be preparing for the countdown by posting prompts for reflection to help you think about your groundwork for September when the revised EYFS Framework needs to be implemented. This week we consider the characteristics of effective learning, working with parents, the key person and existing resources.

The characteristics of effective learning

The ways in which the child engages with other people and their environment – playing and exploring, active learning, and creating and thinking critically, underpin learning and development across all areas and support the child to remain an effective and motivated learner. We know that:

  • Children’s play reflects their wide ranging and varied interests and preoccupations. In their play, children learn at their highest level. Play with peers is important for children’s development
  • Children learn best through physical and mental challenges. Active learning involves other people, objects, ideas and events that engage and involve children for sustained periods
  • 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

Find out more about creativity and critical thinking, active learning and play and exploration from the Early Years Foundation Stage (2008) Principles into Practice Cards 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3.

Remember, there will be resources to support you:

  • Remodelled ‘Development Matters’ material
  • A checklist highlighting the changes between the 2008 Framework and the revised 2012 version

Working with parents

When parents and practitioners work together in early years settings, the results have a positive impact on children’s development and learning. The revised EYFS works to strengthen partnerships between professionals and parents. If your current work with families is underpinned by the themes, principles and commitments in the EYFS (2008), then you have made a great start.

It is worth reflecting on these points:

  • How do you open up opportunities for informal talk with parents?
  • How do you know parents understand the setting’s policies on important areas such as learning and teaching, inclusion and behaviour? Have they been involved in drawing them up?
  • Do parents contribute to children’s profiles?
  • Do they regularly review their children’s progress with you?
  • Do you really listen to and value what parents say?
  • Do you provide workshops and other sessions?
  • Do you run family learning courses or other opportunities for parents to access learning and continue to attend collegeor elsewhere if appropriate
  • Does the documentation provided for parents in your setting explicitly recognise and value the hard job in which they are engaged and their role in children’s learning and development

You can find out more about aspects of working with families here:

Information for Parents

Understanding how your child will develop and learn

Supporting your baby’s development

Toddlers growing and learning:

Find out more about Parents as Partners from the Early Years Foundation Stage (2008)

Remember, there will be resources to support you:

The key person

Although you will have a key person system in place already, it is still worth reflecting on its effectiveness and how well this works for children and families.

A key person has special responsibilities for working with a small number of children, giving them the reassurance to feel safe and cared for and building relationships with their parents. The key person has a special role in supporting attachment.

  • A key person helps the baby or child to become familiar with the setting and to feel confident and safe within it.
  • A key person develops a genuine bond with children and offers a settled, close relationship.
  • When children feel happy and secure in this way they are confident to explore and to try out new things.
  • Even when children are older and can hold special people in mind for longer there is still a need for them to have a key person to depend on in the setting, such as their teacher or a teaching assistant.

It is worth reflecting on these challenges and dilemmas:

  • Reassuring others that children will not become too dependent on a key person or find it difficult to adjust to being a member of a group.
  • Meeting children’s needs for a key person while being concerned for staff who may feel over-attached to a child.
  • Reassuring parents who may be concerned that children may be more attached to staff than to them.
  • Supporting children’s transitions within and beyond a setting, particularly as children reach four or five years of age

Find out more about Parents as Partners from the Early Years Foundation Stage (2008)

Revisit existing resources to support best practice

There is no central government funding to support implementation, but remember, many helpful tried and tested resources are still available on the Foundation Years website, including:

Learning, Playing and Interacting

Mark Making Matters – young children making meaning in all areas of learning and development

Finding and Exploring Young Children’s Fascinations: strengthening the quality of gifted and talented provision in the early years

Building Futures, Believing in Children: A focus on provision for black children in the EYFS

Confident, Capable and Creative: supporting boys’ achievements

Expressive Arts and Design is one of the six areas of learning in the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum. This includes: Exploring and using media and materials and Being imaginative. Whilst planning activities, this would include role play, drawing, painting, mark-making, exploring texture. Also; exploring genres of music, sharing songs and learning how to respond to a range of music with movement. The children are always being encouraged to use a variety of tools safely and creatively throughout EA&D activities.

A variety of government documents and research highlights the importance of creativity and critical thinking in all areas of a child´s learning. As well as being a subject in its own right, it is seen as essential across all areas of learning.

The EYFS ensures that creativity and critical thinking are developed through play-based learning across the curriculum. It also stresses the importance of children learning in an environment that encourages exploration and active learning experiences. The EYFS states that play offers significant benefits for children’s cognitive, emotional, social and physical development and is central to creativity. (Craft, 2010)

The psychologist Donald Winnicott suggests that creativity belongs to the feeling of ´being alive´. At Dallington we believe that children need opportunities to take risks and make mistakes, in order to learn and feel safe to be creative. Providing a stimulating and safe environment is essential for children to be able to express themselves creatively and take risks.

´Messy play´ is a very valuable part of children´s creative learning. Having opportunities to play in sand, water, playdough, clay, mud kitchens etc provides children with sensory experiences and it is a time to be inquisitive. ´Messy play´ provides opportunities for children to explore texture, develop fine motor skills, develop eye-hand coordination and gain understanding of their own body space. It provides fantastic opportunities for speech and language development, aids concentration and problem solving skills. When children are engaged in a creative activity, it is the process, more than an end result, which is invaluable to their creative learning.

Ways in which we encourage creativity at Dallington:

  • Encourage children to be curious about and interested in, objects and ideas.
  • Provide high quality child led learning time to encourage children to initiate their own play activities.
  • Encourage children to explore and develop imaginative ideas.
  • Encourage children to explore feelings and experiences through imaginative role play.
  • Encourage children to use objects to represent something else.
  • Provide opportunities for the children to be active and use their senses.

“All people are capable of creative achievement in some area of activity, provided that the conditions are right and they have acquired the relevant knowledge and skills.”

Caroline Sharp NFER, 2004.


Louise Cheschire

Nursery Teacher and Art Specialist


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *