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01 February 2022

What are we doing in EYFS?

Rachael Coultart profile image
Written by

Rachael Coultart | Computing Subject Lead

I recently posted a tweet about an unplugged programming activity that I had undertaken in our Nursery which elicited the response:

“Great stuff. Just wondering how this ‘fits’ into the day. Is it a focused task? A carousel activity that everyone does? What is being assessed? Sorry for all the questions.”

As much as I love Twitter, trying to respond within the 280 character limit of a tweet didn’t produce a great answer and when I resorted to using acronyms it didn’t make my answer any more comprehensive. So I thought I’d have a go at using this blog space on the new CAS website to elaborate some more, and perhaps elicit some ideas and discussion from the CAS community.

Early Years settings operate in many different ways across the country, but fundamentally I believe they’re staffed by educators who have a sound understanding of early childhood development and a passion for providing an environment in which our youngest learners can build relationships and thrive. 

When I first started teaching in the Early Years, after spending the majority of my first 15 years in Year 2 where I became a bit of an ‘assessment queen’, I really struggled to understand how to plan my teaching sessions, how to ‘do’ assessment, how to address individual needs and generally how to organise the day effectively. None of my previous experience and pedagogical knowledge seemed to be of any use, particularly when faced with a four year old who said ‘no’ when I asked them if they’d like to come and play a number game with me! (Note to self at that point: the language you use is very important!)

So I totally understand where the questions in the above tweet are coming from, but that doesn’t make them any easier to answer. The majority of my second 15 years in teaching have been in the Early Years and, working alongside some amazing practitioners, I have honed my teaching skills to be able to bring out the best in the 3 to 5 year olds in our school. Perhaps most important of all, I have redefined my understanding of what good teaching looks like with very young learners - and it rarely looks like a neatly boxed lesson plan with a clear learning objective, identified success criteria, carefully crafted differentiation and highlighted key vocabulary!  I think I’ve had too many lessons go ‘off piste’ due to excited four year olds, their questions and their ideas, to be tied to a lesson plan or a particular assessment focus.

Instead, I’ve made sure my subject knowledge is strong across the curriculum, I read constantly about early childhood development, I seek out others’ opinions, I talk endlessly about the children in our class with my job share and I spend many hours on the floor playing with, observing and getting to know them. This enables me to set up activities and provide resources that will stimulate and challenge them in an environment where they feel safe and valued.  When this happens the Characteristics of Effective Learning (as reference here in Birth to 5 Matters and sometimes referred to as CoEL) can be nurtured and become evident in many different ways, which is far more important to me than every child having to do a particular task or be assessed in what they have done.

These characteristic of effective learning provide the foundations for lifelong learning and I’ve been excited to see how many Computing related activities I’ve explored in the Early Years (like the one shared on Twitter where a child was giving a toy penguin some colour coded directions to get to its home) can foster the resilience, the willingness to have a go, the motivation, the perseverance and the creative and critical thinking that is so important for their future. Does this answer the questions in the tweet? Well, perhaps in part, but maybe you can share your thoughts about planning and assessment in EYFS so we can all further our understanding of what it is we are actually doing in the Early Years and how we are doing it.


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Rachael Coultart
14/04/2022 10:59

Hi Dominique,
great to hear from you nd you’re right about using technology to support the dvelopment of those all important Characteristics of Effective Learning. You might find this resource useful too and I have written an article recently on my thoughts around the ‘removal’ of Computing which I’ll signpost you to when it’s published!
All the best,

Dominique Jenkins
08/03/2022 11:47

We have had this discussion in school recently as well as I am Computing Subject Lead as well as EYFS/KS1 Lead. As Computing has been removed explicitly from the new EYFS curriculum it is harder to incorporate it but I think this blog mentions the crucial Characteristics of Effective Learning which I have pushed in school too.

Rachael Coultart
03/02/2022 19:08

Thanks, Emma. I remember being inspired by this article some time ago and there is so much more that could be said about the characteristics of effective learning - perhaps it’s a shame they are considered an EYFS ‘thing’ as really they could/should go way beyond this.

emma goto
02/02/2022 12:57

Great blog post Rachel. Miles and I wrote about the characteristics of effective learning in relation to computational thinking and play for Switched On a few years ago. Miles republished our article on his blog here - Laying the foundations for computing in the early years – An open mind
I think these two sources complement each other very well.

Donna Rawling
01/02/2022 19:36

This more than answers so many questions. Thanks Rachael. Your work is always Inspirational and inspired