| | |

Unlocking the Potential of EYFS Children: Encouraging Exploration

Did you know that 90% of a child’s brain development happens before the age of 5? This striking fact highlights the importance of the early years foundation stage (EYFS) in shaping young minds. It’s time to revolutionise your approach to EYFS teaching, with evidence-based strategies that maximise your young explorers potential.

  1. The power of play-based learning
  2. How to foster a growth mindset in young children
  3. The importance of nurturing social and emotional development
  4. Strategies for effective language and communication skills
  5. 30+ EYFS Teaching Ideas

Imagine a classroom where EYFS children are fully engaged, eager to learn, and explore the learning opportunities you have created. Is that your classroom?

Children need space to explore their surroundings and to come up with their own ideas EYFS Quote

EYFS The Whole Child: Promoting Healthy Development

Child development is a continuous process shaped by multiple influences from a young age. Educators play an important role in creating an environment that nurtures all aspects of children’s development – physical, social, emotional, and cognitive. The following are some key areas to focus on and practical teaching strategies to support each child’s unique learning journey.

Physical health: Ensure children get enough nutritious food, rest, indoor and outdoor play, and sensory experiences. Integrate movement and fine motor activities into everyday routines. For example, provide construction toys, play dough, and art materials. Outdoor time should include balance beams, climbing structures, and wheeled toys, see below for more ideas.

Emotional wellbeing: Build secure attachments through responsive caregiving and consistency. Establish routines and clear boundaries to create a sense of safety and predictability. Help children identify and regulate their feelings. During circle time, read stories about emotions and model using “feeling words”. When children are upset, offer hugs, provide sensory toys for comfort, and allow time to recharge.

Self-regulation: Act as a “co-regulator” by supporting children as they learn to regulate themselves. Observe, then provide the right amount of guidance. As children mature, pull back more to let them problem-solve independently. During tasks, give step-by-step instructions and wait time for responses. If disruptive behaviour occurs, name the child’s feeling then guide them to make a better choice.

Social development: Arrange the classroom to encourage collaboration and communication. Provide opportunities for pretend play, group projects, and games that require sharing and cooperation. Prompt conversation by asking open-ended questions, restating what children say, and expanding on their comments. Celebrate each child’s unique strengths, background, and interests.

Cognitive growth: Exposure to a variety of experiences builds neural connections that form the foundation for learning. Provide open-ended toys, art supplies, books and opportunities for pretend play. During outdoor time, encourage discovery play in the natural environment. Ask questions that require reasoning, problem-solving and higher-order thinking. Recognise that all children learn at their own pace.

Nurturing Young Learners: Teaching Through Play

It is difficult to predict the challenges children will face in adulthood, so in early years we must focus on fostering positive learning behaviours and dispositions. Supporting children’s Characteristics of Effective Learning – through play – lays the foundations for lifelong learning.

Each child is an active learner who reaches out to interact with the world from birth. The Characteristics describe how children learn: Playing and Exploring, Active Learning, Thinking Creatively and Critically.

Emotional wellbeing is essential. Children need secure attachments and emotionally responsive care. Providing nurturing environments with hugs, comfort objects and time to recharge helps children feel safe.

Play offers ideal opportunities to develop effective learning. Children follow their own curiosity, make discoveries and master new skills. In exploratory play using their bodies and senses, children understand themselves and gain agency. Imaginative play helps regulate thinking and behaviour.

In play, children show Active Learning traits as they concentrate with intrinsic motivation. Adults can foster persistence and resilience by reframing challenges as opportunities to learn and try again.

Children think creatively and critically in play. They generate ideas, imagine possibilities, combine concepts and make meaning from experience. Adults can support this higher-order thinking.

Helping EYFS Children to Think Critically

Children in the EYFS learn to think critically through play in several ways:

  • Problem solving – When playing, children naturally encounter problems that require a solution. They have to figure out how to build a block tower that doesn’t fall, negotiate rules in pretend play, or fix a broken toy. This teaches them to analyze problems, generate possible solutions, and test them out.
  • Cause and effect – Through experimenting and manipulating objects in play, children learn about cause and effect relationships. They discover that some actions produce certain results while others don’t. This helps them understand how things work and think logically about relationships between ideas.
  • Trial and error – Children often have to try multiple attempts or strategies before finding a solution in play. This trial and error teaches persistence and the ability to revise their thinking based on what does or doesn’t work. It shows them that thinking flexibly is important for solving problems.
  • Creative expression – In pretend play, arts and crafts, and creative construction, children have to come up with their own ideas and ways of combining and using materials. This creative expression nurtures imaginative and divergent thinking skills that are important for critical thinking.
  • Self-regulation – As children’s play becomes more collaborative, they have to negotiate, compromise, and regulate their own behavior to get along with others. This social aspect of play teaches skills like focus, impulse control and flexibility that support critical thinking.
  • Reflecting on ideas – When adults engage children in reflecting on their play experiences by asking questions, recounting what happened and considering alternatives, it helps children develop the ability to think metacognitively. This metalearning nurtures critical thinking dispositions.

Through these different facets of play, children practice essential skills for critical thinking like reasoning logically, analysing problems, generating new ideas and regulating their thinking – all in a low-stakes, intrinsically motivating context. Play provides an ideal means for nurturing the foundation of critical thinking skills in young children.

Encouraging Self Directed Play

There are many ways to encourage children to come up with their own play ideas. Here are a few tips:

  • Provide them with a variety of open-ended materials. Open-ended materials are materials that can be used in many different ways. For example, blocks can be used to build towers, houses, or even cities. Play dough can be used to make sculptures, animals, or even food. Dress-up clothes can be used to pretend to be different characters.
  • Give them space to explore. Children need space to explore their surroundings and to come up with their own ideas. Don’t be afraid to let them get messy or make a mess.
  • Encourage them to ask questions. When children ask questions, it shows that they are curious and interested in the world around them. Answer their questions in a way that encourages them to continue exploring.
  • Be patient. It takes time for children to develop their own play ideas. Don’t expect them to come up with something amazing every time they play. Just let them explore and have fun. It takes time for children to develop their curiosity. Don’t expect them to ask questions all the time. Just keep providing them with opportunities to explore and learn, and they will eventually start asking more questions.
  • Celebrate their creativity. When children come up with their own play ideas, celebrate their creativity. Tell them how much you love their ideas and that you’re proud of them. This will encourage them to continue being creative.
Young Girl at Kindergarten playing with roadtape.

Encouraging a Child to be Curious

There are many ways to encourage children to ask questions and be curious. Here are a few tips:

  • Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer. They encourage children to think for themselves and come up with their own answers. For example, instead of asking “What is the capital of France?”, you could ask “What do you know about France?” or “What are some interesting things about France?”
  • Be interested in what children have to say. When children ask questions, listen to them attentively and show that you are interested in what they have to say. This will encourage them to keep asking questions.
  • Encourage children to explore. Provide children with opportunities to explore their surroundings and to learn new things. This could include taking them to the park, the library, or the museum. It could also include giving them access to books, toys, and other materials that encourage exploration.
  • Celebrate children’s curiosity. When children show curiosity, praise them for it. Tell them how much you love their questions and that you’re proud of them for being curious. This will encourage them to continue being curious.

Why May an EYFS Child Not Want to Explore?

There are a number of potential causes for a child’s lack of interest in exploring or asking questions. Here are a few:

  • Developmental delay. Children who are developmentally delayed may not be interested in exploring or asking questions because they are not yet at the developmental stage where they are able to do so.
  • Communication Barriers. EYFS Children with SEN or communication barriers may have difficulty exploring or asking questions because they have trouble understanding or processing information.
  • Social anxiety. Children with social anxiety may be afraid to explore or ask questions because they are worried about being judged or ridiculed. Develop a no silly questions ethos.
  • Other mental health issues. There are a number of other mental health issues that can cause children to be uninterested in exploring or asking questions. If you are concerned that your child may have a mental health issue, talk to your pediatrician.
Unlocking the Potential of EYFS Children: Encouraging Exploration. Young girl popping bubbles

What can I do to help my child explore and ask questions?

There are a number of things you can do to help an EYFS age child explore and ask questions.

  • Provide them with opportunities to explore. Let your child explore their surroundings, both indoors and outdoors. Take them to new places, let them play with new toys, and give them opportunities to experiment with different materials.
  • Ask them open-ended questions. When you talk to your child, ask them open-ended questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer. This will encourage them to think for themselves and come up with their own answers.
  • Show their input has value. As above when your child asks you a question, listen to them attentively and show that you are interested in what they have to say. This will show them their ideas have value
  • Celebrate their curiosity. When your child shows curiosity, praise them for it. Tell them how much you love their questions and that you’re proud of them for being curious. This will encourage them to continue being curious.
  • Be patient. It takes time for children to develop their curiosity. Don’t expect them to ask questions all the time. Just keep providing them with opportunities to explore and learn, and they will eventually start asking more questions.

30+ EYFS Teaching ideas for Encouraging Exploration:

  1. Role play: Set up a cafe, shop or hospital corner with real objects and a cash register. EYFS Children develop communication, problem-solving, self-regulation and social skills.
  2. Sensory Play: Fill trays with different materials – rice, beans, play dough, water – for children to explore using their senses. Develops cognitive and fine motor skills.
  3. Loose Parts: Provide planks, crates, fabric, ropes, boxes etc. Children create, innovate and think creatively as they build, destroy and rebuild their creations.
  4. Storytelling: Ask children to continue a story you started. They actively generate plot lines, characters and endings using imagination and higher-order thinking.
  5. Group Projects: Plan a celebration, collage or herb garden together. Children cooperate, negotiate roles, compromise and regulate themselves to achieve a common goal.
  6. Coloured Rice Sorting – Provide children with various bowls of rice in different colours for them to sort, count and arrange. Develops colour recognition, sorting skills and fine motor control in an engaging manner.
  7. Tape Resist Painting – Children tear strips of tape and place them on paper before painting over the paper. Removing the tape reveals lines and patterns that boost creativity.
  8. Chalk obstacle courses – Draw obstacle courses outside using chalk for children to navigate. Improves gross motor coordination, balance and spatial skills while being fun and refreshing outdoors.
  9. Musical scarves – Give children scarves and music to dance and move to. Moving the scarves in different ways fosters creativity, rhythm awareness and self-confidence through free movement.
  10. Flashlight shadow puppet show – Children use flashlights to create shadow puppets on a wall and tell stories. Combines visual art, verbal storytelling and imagination in an unusual way.
  11. Musical Instrument Zoo – Display a variety of musical instruments for children to explore and experiment with. Promotes musical creativity, auditory perception and discovery learning in an open-ended manner.
  12. Plant a seed – Children plant their own seeds and care for them as they grow. Provides a meaningful look at the life cycle, nurturing abilities and an appreciation for nature through hands-on experiences.
  13. Here are some more unique and creative teaching ideas for young children:
  14. Fortune Telling – Create prop fortune telling stations with scarves, beads and decorations. Children take turns telling each other’s fortunes, fostering narrative thinking, vocabulary and social imagination.
  15. Seed Art – Glue different types of seeds onto paper to create patterns and designs. Develops fine motor control, color recognition and an appreciation for nature.
  16. Bubble Wrap Printing – Children roll paint onto bubble wrap and press it onto paper to create pattern prints. Improves hand-eye coordination, creativity and pattern awareness in an unusual way.
  17. Tin Can Telephones – Help children make tin can and string “phones” to communicate with each other. Teaches basic physics concepts while being engaging and social.
  18. Balloon Juggling – Provide balloons for children to practice juggling and balance. Boosts confidence, spatial awareness, rhythm and persistence in a playful manner.
  19. Sock Puppets – Children make their own sock puppets and perform puppet shows. Encourages creativity, verbal storytelling skills and fosters collaboration.
  20. Marble Maze – Construct a marble or ball maze course using boxes, tubes and ramps. Helps EYFS children develop spatial sense, perseverance and problem-solving abilities in an open-ended manner.
  21. Clothespin Code – Children attach clothespins with different “codes” to a line and then decipher each other’s codes. Teaches about simple patterns, symbols and sequencing in an imaginative way.
  22. Lego Obstacle Course – Build an obstacle course using Lego bricks for marbles, cars or small toys to navigate. Develops creativity, spatial skills and hand-eye coordination through open-ended play.
  23. Watercolour Hand Tracing – Children trace each other’s hands with watercolours to create “hand prints.” Fosters appreciation of shapes, uniqueness and individuality in an engaging sensory experience.
  24. Here are some unique teaching ideas involving dramatic play for young children:
  25. Superhero Headquarters – Set up an area with capes, masks and props for children to act out secret missions and rescue scenarios as superheroes. Encourages collaboration, verbal storytelling and imagination.
  26. Vet Clinic – Provide toy animals, doctor equipment, and vet clothing for children to set up their own vet clinic and examine/treat the animals. Develops caring abilities, Fine motor skills and role play.
  27. Cafe – Create a make-believe cafe with toy food, utensils, cups and money for children to role play as customers, chefs and servers. Improves social and verbal skills through collaborative dramatic play.
  28. Pet Shop – Set out toy animals for children to imagine owning and caring for as they sell and interact with imaginary customers at their own pet store. Stimulates nurturing instincts, verbal reasoning and math skills.
  29. Construction Site – Provide toy tools, hard hats, vehicles and building materials for children to role play as builders and constructors on an imaginary job site. Develops fine motor coordination, spatial awareness and collaborative skills.
  30. Performing Arts Stage – Create a “stage” area with props, costumes and instruments for children to act out, sing and dance their own shows. Cultivates self-confidence, creativity and verbal/performance abilities.
  31. Travel Agency – Children pretend to plan and book trips with imaginary customers at their own travel agency. Encourages collaborative storytelling, vocabulary development and good manners through social dramatic play.
30+ EYFS Teaching ideas for Encouraging Exploration

The key is to think beyond typical activities by incorporating elements like imaginative props, movement, open-ended exploration, dramatic play and real-life connections. The more senses involved in meaningful ways, the more engaging and memorable the activities will be for young children!

When planned well, play based learning powerfully nurtures effective learners. Rich play experiences build children’s self-regulation, thinking skills, determination and resilience – characteristics that will serve them for life.


To ensure the credibility of this article, we have researched and cited evidence and expert opinions:

  1. Whitebread, D. (2012). The importance of play. Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education. Access Free Here.
  2. Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset – Updated Edition: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential. New York: Random House. Buy Here
  3. Denham, S. A., & Brown, C. (2010). “Play nice with others”: Social–emotional learning and academic success. Early Education and Development, 21(5), 652-680.
  4. Dickinson, D. K., & Tabors, P. O. (2001). Beginning literacy with language. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

We hope these evidence-informed pedagogical approaches that will serve to elevate your EYFS teaching practice.

Similar Posts