Monday, 30 May 2016

Planning for play and learning

Here at Knutsford Childminding we believe that providing a child with fun and playful learning experiences is far more important than completing lengthy paperwork – and our Ofsted inspector agreed with this ethos during our recent inspection, awarding us both an outstanding grade (April 2016). Our inspector didn’t want to see hundreds of observations or complicated planning – she wanted to see how we were supporting each child to make the best possible progress towards school readiness.

We are 2 childminders who work together. During our outstanding inspection (April 2016), our Ofsted inspector focussed on –

Routines and how well we support the individual child. We explained that we ask parents for lots of information before a child starts in our care and update the child’s ‘All about Me’ document regularly as they grow and change.

Starting points – the focus of the ‘teaching, learning and assessment’ part of our Ofsted inspection was on how well each child is making progress from their starting points so we showed our inspector how we ask parents to provide us with really good starting points - and we do our own baseline assessment during a child’s first few weeks in our care.

We use Early Years Outcomes when we are doing all our tracking of children’s progress because we know that it is Ofsted’s tracker of choice and we noticed that our inspector looked to see we had a copy for each child in their file.

We also provide parents with the parents guide to Early Years Outcomes from Foundation Years called ‘What to expect, when?’ – we email a new version when a child is moving through the ages and stages as well.

Observations and how they link to the child’s individual planning – we are watching and listening to every child all day every day and we don’t feel the need to write down everything we see and hear! We use our play plan to note a few key observations through the month and our ‘next steps’ / individual planning sheets link to our play plans (more information to follow).

Group planning and how it teaches children about the world in which they live including local and global festivals and celebrations. We inform parents what group planning we are doing with the children in our newsletters and always include ideas for activities families might like to follow-up at home. We are very flexible with our group planning and adapt our learning environment, outings, resources etc to accommodate children’s interests and changing needs.

We share our group planning ideas with gold members here – they can be easily adapted for the individual child.

Tracking and how it shows children are making progress – we update each child’s tracking every term (December, April and August). Parents can see their child’s tracker at any time – it’s in their Learning Journey file – and we provide parents with a short summary every term so they know how their child is getting on.


Our play plan

Note - this play plan has been written by me – Sarah Neville. I share it freely with other practitioners to support their CPD – everyone works differently and I expect it to be changed / adapted but I do not want to find it on eBay!

Every week / month we complete a play plan for each child. We add parents comments about their child’s home learning as well. The first page of the play plan talks about –

- The main ‘next steps’ we are currently working on with parents and the child – linked to previous observations, the Early Years Outcomes guidance and the document ‘What to expect, when? A parents guide’. We email parents every term with a scan of their child’s next steps sheet which contains things we are doing here and ideas for activities families might want to try at home.

Note – the statutory requirements of the EYFS tell us that we must focus on the prime areas of learning (communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development) until they are established – that’s why we record them on a child’s play plan – to help us focus on the most important skills they need for starting school.

- The things the child has enjoyed doing during the week – toys or books they have read, games they have chosen to play, things they have explored and learned etc. We cannot possibly tell parents everything each child has done during the day – that would mean writing instead of playing! We aim to give parents an overview and there is more information in the child’s daily diary (up to the age of 2 / 3) – and parents can always ask us if their child says something at home that doesn’t make sense!

- How we have supported the child’s learning – including activities and experiences we have planned especially for each child. This doesn’t record everything we have done with every child over the week of course – that would be impossible – it just focuses on one or 2 activities each child has especially enjoyed.

- The child’s wellbeing and involvement in activities generally through the month. It is a requirement of the EYFS (our statutory framework) to note if a child’s wellbeing changes so we find it useful to make a quick note every month.



Baby aged 1 year – 12 months
I have enjoyed – standing to walk (PD); joining in at song time waving my arms around and laughing (C & L / PSED); pointing and shouting to get the attention of other children (PSED).
Supporting learning – we have put photos of little one and parents on the wall and in a little photo album (focus on PSED – promoting a sense of belonging).

Child aged 3 years 2 months – 38 months
I have enjoyed – making train tracks with friends (PD / PSED); role playing with small world toys (PSED / A & D); reading favourite books from home (C & L).
Supporting learning – minibeast week – we have been exploring minibeasts in the garden and at the park – amazing artwork attached! (focus on UW and maths - patterns).

The second page of our play plan includes -

- A few short observations linked to Early Years Outcomes – we chat about observations and ask each other – are they meaningful? What do they tell us about the child? Are they showing the child making progress?

- A note about any learning characteristics we have spotted during the observation. Learning characteristics note how a child learns – you will find more information in this blog.

- A note about the child’s wellbeing and involvement during the activity we have observed.


Before we write an observation we ask ourselves – is it meaningful? Does it tell us something about the child’s learning or development? Is it worth writing down and sharing with parents? Observations come from all over the place – inside the house, in the garden, on outings, at home and in other settings the child attends.


Baby aged 1 year – 12 months
Observation – we were playing with balls and baby rolled a ball to me and I rolled it back again. Baby was very excited, clapping her hands and squealing. We carried on the game for quite a long time!
Main EYFS links – PSED (taking turns); physical (handling); C & L (communicating through noises and actions).
Learning characteristics – playing and exploring (engaging in activities); active learning (sticking with an activity).
Engagement and wellbeing – high.

Child aged 3 years 2 months – 38 months
Observation - we went to the park with our magnifying glasses, the camera and some binoculars to look for minibeasts. The child found lots of woodlice under a log, spotted butterflies with beautiful patterns on their backs and watched a bee dipping from flower to flower collecting nectar. On our return the child wanted to make a butterfly - we used paints and chalk.
Main EYFS links – maths (patterns & symmetry), physical (handling), understanding the world (the world).
Learning characteristics – playing and exploring (engaging in activities); active learning (fascinated by learning); creating and thinking critically (making links in learning).
Engagement and wellbeing – high.


Other ways we document each child’s learning

I have talked about the next steps sheet we write every term. We are constantly thinking about what each child might enjoy learning next both here and at home. We aim to keep it simple and – that word again – meaningful. We use a combination of different types of individual / next steps planning including each child’s daily routines, their current interests and learning styles, next steps linked to observations and parent comments – our planning is always flexible and totally child-centred.


We often add a page with a few photos and notes about what each child was doing / saying – the photos are usually chosen by the child. The number of photos we include in each Learning Journey file varies depending on what we have been doing during the month. Parents can also see photos in our group activity albums which we aim to update regularly.

Every term we write a short summary of each child’s progress (see tracking), highlighting the things they have achieved or done and their current age / stage linked to Early Years Outcomes. It is important we monitor each child’s progress regularly so we can let parents know when they are making progress and, of course, spot any concerns quickly. We talk to parents about their child’s summary assessment and share their child’s tracking.

It is a statutory requirement of the EYFS to write a 2 year progress check for every child between the ages of 2 and 3, regardless of whether they are full or part time in the provision. We write our progress checks for children at Knutsford Childminding at 26 months.


Throughout the year we think about how each child’s learning characteristics are evolving and reflect on ways to support them through our planning. We will share these observations of learning characteristics with parents and ask about what characteristics children are using currently at home. The more we know about each child’s play and learning at home the better!

We use ECAT (Every Child a Talker) to support children’s communication and language – ECAT is a nationally recognised way of tracking to ensure children are making good progress.

You can find more information about ECAT on the Foundation Years website here.

For school starters, we have a year of activity ideas which we send parents monthly by email through the year leading to September. Our planning helps us to work closely with parents and any other settings children attend, focussing on different areas of learning each month. We aim to ensure each child is well prepared for the next big adventure in their life – starting school!

When a child leaves our care we write a short transition report and give it to parents, asking them to pass it on to their next setting. As you can see in the example above, we use the same templates for our termly summary reports, 2 year progress check and transition report so we can clearly see the progress each child is making throughout their time with us.

Supporting colleagues

I write and sell a range of e-books for early years providers who want to know how we do things here at Knutsford Childminding! The e-books are well priced – my aim is to ensure they are accessible to everyone. Some of my e-books which are relevant here include 'Learning journeys' (e-book 28), 'EYFS observations' (e-book 14), 'Characteristics of effective learning' (e-book 59), 'Summary reports' (e-book 64) 'Next steps planning' (e-book 65)... and mini e-books including 'Children's starting points (mini 59), 'Children's learning styles' (mini 74) and '2 year progress checks' (mini 78).

I also write a range of Information Guides which are free for gold members on the website.

Further Provision Planning guides focus on the 7 areas of learning and how they can be used to enhance teaching.

Please contact me through my website, on the Childminding Forum or Independent Childminders Facebook group if you have any questions.

Early years providers - you will find further information for all early years professionals including childminders on my Independent Childminders website here.

Parents - you will find advice for parents about various aspects of the EYFS and how it is used on this blog.

I provide a training and consultancy service locally on all aspects of the EYFS and early years - you can find information about the courses I deliver here.

Thank you. Sarah.