Learning and Playing in the Nursery

In the Nursery, we follow the curriculum set out in the government document the Early Years Foundation Stage, which covers all areas of children’s learning and development. At first we concentrate on the ‘prime areas’, Communication and Language, Personal Social and Emotional Development, and Physical Development. These provide a basis for all the other areas of learning, the ‘specific areas’, Literacy, Maths, Understanding the World and Expressive Arts and Design (for more information on the EYFS framework click here.) As well as what the children learn, we also focus very much on how the children learn, the ‘Characteristics of Effective Learning’. So we encourage good attitudes to learning, like curiosity, willingness to ‘have a go’, determination, persistence, and concentration, in everything we do.


Much of our learning is through play. This is the most meaningful and effective way for young children to learn. We organise the environment and activities carefully, indoors and outside, to promote learning, so while it may look as though the children are ‘just playing’, actually they are learning all the time. Here are some examples of how we learn through play in the Nursery.

Children can learn many things through one activity. Block Play When playing with blocks, for example, children learn about size, shape and problem solving as they work out how to fit shapes together. They develop physical skills by picking up, moving and positioning the blocks.

They explore ideas and use their imaginations to create, for example, castles, and develop stories around their constructions. They learn to work together and play collaboratively. Their language develops as they discuss ideas with each other and talk about what they are doing.

Making Potions
This is an example of science (Understanding the World) in nursery – making potions! Children are mixing a variety of substances, including bicarbonate of soda, sugar, food colour and lots more. They are learning observational skills, looking carefully at their mixture as it changes colour, bubbles and fizzes. They are making predictions about what will happen, and developing their language by talking about what they see and what they are doing. They are also developing fine motor skills by using equipment like pipettes.

Through exploring playdough, children are developing their physical skills, using their fingers to squash and squeeze the dough, strengthening the muscles in their fingers, to help with writing and pencil control.

play dough

making birds nests More science! These children have been learning about birds, nests and eggs by building their own nest outside. They used sticks, leaves, straw, mud and feathers, just like real birds! Lots of other learning went on too, like language development, through discussing ideas about what they would use and where they could find it.

The classrooms and outdoor space are organized so that children can access most resources by themselves, and they can extend their own learning independently.

This picture shows how, after making the big nest, some children making birds nests independently made more nests for birds, and hung them in a tree. They checked every day to see if a bird had come to live in them!

We follow children’s interests and provide ‘hands on’ first hand experiences to engage the children. Our resources are ‘open ended’, and can be used flexibly so that the children are not restricted and can follow their interests and ideas creatively.

Adults observe the children closely, and join in (‘intervene’) sensitively with their play, to extend their language and thinking, and help develop their skills. This is an important part of ‘teaching’ in nursery. We encourage the children to keep going even when what they are doing is difficult, and to be creative and follow their own ideas. Our aim is that the children leave nursery as happy, confident, independent learners.