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Planning and Provision in an Outstanding Early Years Setting

November 20th 2020| Hannah Johnson

Planning and Provision in an Outstanding Early Years Setting

Planning is a massive part of any teacher’s job. It takes time and a lot of brain power. It is very personal to each teacher and can be done in many different ways. Some schools have specific planning policies and templates, others allow teachers to plan more informally. It is there as a guide for teaching and learning. Always refer to the Statutory Early Years Framework if you need any specific guidance.

Early Years planning is a lot more complex than it may appear. Learning through play may look simple on the surface. However, a lot of planning goes into it. Planning links closely with the provision. Every object, every book, every label should be placed and used purposefully. Early Years teachers need to be able to explain the purpose of everything in the provision.

So, where do you start?

As I have said in my previous blog (Let’s Talk Intent, Implementation and Impact in Early Years), you always start with your children. Get to know your children very well. Great teachers are constantly making observations and assessments on their children. They know what they can do consistently and their next steps in learning. You can then begin to plan what to teach and how to teach it.

After assessing your children, you will know exactly what they need to learn next on an individual, group and whole class basis. The specifics will go into your short term planning (weekly plan) which feeds from your medium term planning (half termly plan).

So, what topics or themes should be taught?

I like to think of this as ‘What do the children need to learn?’. They will need to be taught:

  • core knowledge and skills, like being able to read and write and about the number system
  • life skills, like self-care and how to cross the road safely
  • important information, like how plants grow and why leaves fall off trees in Autumn

There needs to be a purpose or reason for choosing the topics or themes you choose to teach. It is advisable to think about the school context – What experiences will the children have at home which they can learn from? Where do they go on holiday? Or what do they do with their families?

It is also important to consider how what you are teaching in Early Years supports the learning in Key Stage 1. I have taught in all year groups from nursery to Year 4, so I have had the opportunity in my career to understand what needs to be taught before and next for these year groups. It is best practise to get to know the follow-on curriculum so you know how to support what children will need to learn next.

There are always those predictable interests that we know children will enjoy learning about, like pirates and minibeasts. So, use this knowledge when choosing your topics.

Long Term Planning

Once you have decided on your topics or themes think when in the year is best to teach them. From many years of experience, I always teach any kind of minibeast topic in Summer 1, as there seem to be so many more minibeasts around at this time of year. Consider which cultural celebrations you’d like to cover and when they occur in the school year.

Here are some of the topics I have taught in Early Years:

What to include:

  • the theme title
  • any key texts or rhymes
  • key inquiry questions
  • enrichment ideas
  • learning outcomes

Medium Term Planning

I have found that the best medium term plans go into good detail on what exactly you intend the children to learn and how you will teach this. Some schools choose to do topics for the whole half term. I have always run topics for no more than three weeks in order to keep the engagement and learning levels high.

It is important to remember that you will never capture the interest of every child in your class with a theme and that it is important to still follow their interests while they are learning in the provision. They are children and they will not always do what you expect in the construction area or when learning outside. I always loved the spontaneity of Early Years teaching and learning! I often found myself going totally off plan because the children were totally fascinated by something and the educational gains were massive!

What to include:

Short Term Planning

Feeding from your medium term plan, your short term planning should focus on what you want to teach and learn during the week. It links with your weekly timetable. It should ensure that there is a balance between areas and that children are given enough time to explore and learn. It should refer to specific children that you want to target and how you are going to teach their specific next steps.

What to include:

  • Daily Phonics – if you use a scheme then use their phonics planning. You could write down what sounds you are focussing on to target them in the provision.
  • Daily Quality Story Time – at least 2 sessions a day
  • Writing including handwriting
  • Daily Maths
  • Topic
  • P.E
  • Enhancements to the provision

I like to think of Early Years provision as a cake.

The sponge is the continuous provision – the resources that are always out for the children to use. This is like the long term plan for your learning environment.

The icing is the enhanced provision – how you build on the continuous provision to introduce key learning themes or topics. This links into ideas set out in your medium term and short term planning.

The cherry on the top is the adult(s) – how the adult facilitates and has impact upon the learning.

Your ‘sponge’ should be well organised and labelled so that children know exactly where resources are if they need to find something. It also sets a high expectation for your classroom which will help give structure to the learning. Use opportunities for maths, writing and reading throughout. Display books in areas that the children can read. Label containers with numerals so children have to count the correct numbers of objects into them. Have paper and pencils readily available to encourage mark marking and writing. This is the same for both indoor and outdoor provision. Your learning environment is the third teacher so treat it with care and respect.

Your ‘icing’ takes time to set up. I would always forward plan so that I could set up my provision for the following week on a Friday after the children had gone home. Anyone could walk into my classroom and instantly see what the learning theme was. There were links to the topic in most areas. I would never force something to link if I couldn’t think of anything. The engagement levels and level of challenge was obviously high, as children were always busy learning (doing REAL learning).

The ‘cherry’ on the top of the cake are the adults. Imagine your provision with all the children and enhancements/challenges set up but no adult to facilitate and move the learning on? Yes, the children would still be learning, but the levels of learning would drop significantly without the sensitive and timely intervention of the adult. Learning how to ‘play’ with children is an art form. It doesn’t come naturally to some practitioners. I would require a whole other blog to discuss this further! The important thing to remember is that your adults are key to making the magic of learning happen!

As I mentioned earlier, I have taught in and supported so many Early Years provisions and have been rated by HMI as an outstanding teacher, so I fully believe and trust in what I say. I hope this whistle stop tour of planning and provision has been useful to you. If you have any questions, please get in touch with us.


View all posts by: Hannah Johnson
Categories: Classroom Environment
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