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EYFS in the Moment Planning – Child Initiated Play & Learning

You may have heard the term in the moment planning in your early years setting or seen it mentioned online. You may even have started trying to implement teachable moments and in the moment planning already. Although a relatively simple idea, some find child led play and learning challenging in practice, so we’ve created a short and simple guide to ‘in the moment planning for eyfs’...

What is ‘In the Moment Planning’?

It’s a relatively easy to understand concept that involves allowing child initiated, real time, learning through play based on capturing the interest of a child at the current time. There is no (or very little), forward planning or focus activities.

Young children have a natural desire to learn, explore and question. Settings and Practitioners offer core provisions and an environment that enables this activity in order to capture the moment of engagement for each child. Careful observation by Practitioners is key to utilising the in the moment planning approach – opportunities to seize the moment when a child shows a level of interest and curiosity that can be drawn out and then enhanced and built upon need to be recognised - these are normally called ‘teachable moments’. Written ‘planning’ is then done retrospectively in the form of observations, records of the interactions and notes on outcomes.

This fits in very nicely with the Early Years Framework:

“1.6. Practitioners must consider the individual needs, interests, and stage of development of each child in their care, and must use this information to plan a challenging and enjoyable experience for each child in all of the areas of learning and development.”

Teachable Moments During Child Led Play

Teachable moments are about recognising that children often learn in an unconscious way during casual or less formal interactions. It can be difficult to provide for, recognise and take advantage of individual ‘teachable moments’ when it comes to in the moment planning as you are looking for opportunities to allow learning to take place through child initiated play. However, here are some tips to help you with the process:

  • Provide opportunities and environments that stimulate curiosity (each child will have different things that stimulate them – while one might enjoy painting, another might like dressing up)
  • Observe and listen closely so you can follow the child’s lead
  • Pick up on the thing/place/person/idea that has sparked the child’s interest
  • Use open ended questions that ask for a description, rather than a yes/no or other single word answer – these usually start with what/how/why rather that do/is/can - (‘What do you like about that?’ rather than ‘Do you like that?’)
  • Praise and reinforce positive learning experiences

A good example of this child led play approach might be that there are areas in the setting for a number of different activities and/or many items of interest around the setting. Children are given the opportunity to choose of their own accord with what or where they will play instead of being told or focussed by the practitioner on what they should do. When the practitioner engages with the child they go to the child to enquire about the activity, rather than calling the child to them. The practitioner is then curious and enthusiastic about what the child is doing, which leads to a moment where child led learning can take place.

For example, if a child is playing with a ball, and they are asked what they like about it they might reply ‘it’s round’. This can be capitalised on to engage the child in curiosity and conversation about other shapes.

Planning for and Recording ‘In the Moment Planning’

Finally, one of the biggest anxieties practitioners have about in the moment planning is about what and how to plan, and how to reflect what the children are doing and learning in a formalised way. It doesn’t help that the phrase used includes the word ‘planning’ as in actual fact, there is very little structured planning done – you cannot plan for a particular format to the play or learning if you are truly to allow it to be child led.

You will not need weekly or daily plans written beforehand to lead the session. Planning effort is needed, but this is to prepare an engaging environment with materials that will excite and interest the children – not to spend time writing down what you plan to do with the children and detailing focus activities.

Instead of thinking ‘planning’, think ‘enhancing’.

  • Create a sheet or booklet for each child and record what they’ve done retrospectively each session. Record both practitioner/child interactions and child/child interactions
  • Remember that photographs (within guidelines) can be a useful addition to these progress records
  • Use some time for reflecting with the children what they have done/learned/found interesting during that session and feed this into your records
  • Highlight areas of progress within the observation records
  • List EYFS learning outcomes for each child and tick off/make notes about any progress on a weekly basis, referring back to your original observation records

Although fairly new concepts, in the moment planning and child initiated play can be a fun and relaxed way for children to learn and progress in an Early Years setting. Most settings that use this approach find that both the children and the practitioners are more enthusiastic, more engaged, more relaxed, and forge better relationships.

As a practitioner, the observation necessary to recognise teachable moments within child led play and use them to their full potential will get easier and better with practise – it’s a skill that will need to be honed through doing. Self-reflection on each session, as well as on your records of the children’s observations and progress will help you to become more skilled - recognising opportunities to enhance the environment to feed into teachable moments, and understanding where other moments initiated by the children might have been engaged with or progressed further.

Related Resources:

My Learning Journey - My Learning Journey in Custom Ring Binder is an efficient and attractive way to record and organise observations and other child development evidence. It’s easy to add additional pages to make a fantastic, detailed and durable record.

Progress Path Development Tracker - A user-friendly and informative development tracker poster based on the Early Years Outcomes: track a child's progress along the Progress Path at a glance – a really useful prompt when looking for teachable moments and aligning progress goals with child initiated play.

Senses Activity Pack – Perfect for encouraging discussion about each of the senses, this bright, colourful and child friendly activity pack is a great way to enhance learning.


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