Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will notice that your child is almost always curious and interested in everything going on around them. This natural curiosity helps children to learn from every experience that they have, whether they are riding on a bus, jumping on the bed or playing in the park. You might think that there isn’t much to learn from these things, yet it is just these sorts of experiences that help your child to find out what things are, how they work and what they do. In the revised Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum, many of these everyday explorations come under ‘Understanding the World.’
As a parent, you could think about Understanding the World as the area of learning that might one day help your child to be a scientist or an engineer. Why? The reason is that it involves all the things that your child enjoys doing such as looking at things closely to find out about them, or pressing, pulling and pushing them to find out what they do – the things scientists and engineers often do as part of their work!
Within the EYFS, Understanding the World covers three main areas: people and communities, the world, and technology. Together, these areas help children to make sense of all the things that they see and the things that happen (or have happened) in their own family or community and where they live. Children’s understanding of these areas of their lives develops by:
- being with people within their family and community and finding out about their lives
- discovering what different places are like, and
- finding out about and using technology.
When you support your child’s learning, remember:
- Understanding the world is about real people, real places and things that really happen or happened.
- Children learn best through first-hand experiences by playing, exploring, trying things out, listening, talking and thinking about their experiences.
- Children need time to ‘digest’ information, so don’t expect them to notice or learn at the same rate as an adult does!
People and Communities
In their early years, children can learn about:
- who they are and what they can do (in the present as a three, four or five-year-old, and in the past as a baby or toddler)
- who is in their family (such as mum, dad, partners, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents)
- which people they know well (other family members and friends) or by sight (such as the people at the corner shop or the school crossing patrol warden)
- what, how and why their family celebrates birthdays, festivals, anniversaries or other events.
How to Help Your Child Learn
- Share photographs of your child as a baby and as they are now, pointing out the similarities and differences.
- Look at family photographs together to help your child appreciate what makes your family special to you.
- Play all sorts of games that help your child recognise their name, for example, sing: ‘Hidey boo, I see you, (add child’s name)’.
- Sing songs to teach your child the names of different parts of the body, such as, ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ and ‘One finger, one thumb keep moving’.
- Talk to your child about their appearance and similarities and differences. What makes them special? What family members do they resemble? How are they different from other children they know?
- Talk about your family name and the other people in your family who share it.
- Tell stories about what different members of the family do, or did – ‘Grandad used to go away to sea because he was a sailor’; ‘When your big sister was a little girl she liked to go to football matches.’
- Explain that some people have different traditions but tend to celebrate special events in a similar way – for example, when celebrating, people often wear special clothes, eat special food, exchange presents, play special music and take photographs.
- When out shopping or on walks, draw children’s attention to different people and places, such as shopkeepers, the local school or fire station.
- Before going out you could play a game about who you might see along the way. For example, ‘This person wears a bright yellow tabard and helps us to cross the road – I wonder who it could be?’
- In their early years, children can learn about:
- where their family lives (now and previously)
- what their home is like (flat, house; rural, non-rural; busy or remote area)
- what is in their local area (streets, traffic, trees, plants, shops, parks)
- what other places are like that they have visited (a shopping centre, a beach, the countryside)
- what is happening in the local area (road works, new buildings, a flood)
- what things are called (animals, plants, trees, ponds)
- why some things happen (ice melting, why we feel hot in warm weather).
How to Help Your Child
- As a starting point for exploring your home, play hide and seek inside. As you hunt for your child, describe aloud where you are looking as you move from room to room.
- Play a hide and find game with household items such as a nail brush, a spoon, a cup and a towel – when you find them, talk about what items are used for and what they are made from.
- Collect items from around the house that are soft, or hard, fluffy or rough – take turns to feel items and describe them.
- Go for lots of walks or rides in a buggy to explore your local area and introduce games along the way. Games such as ‘Let’s look out for skyscrapers’ or ‘Let’s find all the trees with conkers’ help children to get involved in discussions about what things are and what they are like.
- Take photographs of your child to remind them of days out, with a bucket and spade from the beach or with a rucksack you took on a walk, for example. Sharing these later will help them recall some of what they did and saw on their outing.
- While on walks or out shopping, draw your child’s attention to what is happening in the area.
- Take a couple of containers with you when you go to the park to collect any natural items that interest your child, such as sticks, stones, conkers, fir cones and leaves or worms, spiders or other creepy crawlies. When you get home look at them carefully through a magnifier or photograph them and talk about what they are like and how to keep them or dispose of them.
- Play games like ‘I Spy’ to draw your child’s attention to the aspects of the natural world, such as leaves, birds and insects.
- Peppa Pig’s Nature Trail (Ladybird Books) or We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury (Walker Books), both of which show different kinds of terrain.
- Investigate how some things can change in texture and substance, such as how ice melts or melted chocolate can solidify. This is best explored at the time of the event, for example, when giving your child an ice cream on a hot day, talk in simple terms about your child’s need for fluids and how the heats affects the ice cream.
Young children can learn:
- which objects occur naturally, which are made by people and which work because of the technology inside them
- that some objects contain micro-processors and are used for various purposes such as saving information, heating food or making music.
How to Help Your Child
- Sort out some of your child’s toys with them by using different categories, such as noisy items and quiet items or wooden and plastic things.
- As your child becomes used to categorising items, add some that are electronic such as a book that recites a rhyme when a button is activated. Explain to your child that the book works because it has a microchip inside it.
- Talk to your child about other items in your home that rely on a micro-processor, such as a washing machine, microwave
- or mobile phone.
- Point out things outside the home that rely on technology to make them work such as a pedestrian crossing, a car or a drinks machine.
- Ask your child’s key person to tell you what technology is used in the setting so that you can talk to your child about it.
by Sian Nisbett Founder, Owner and Driving Force behind Dizzy Ducks Day Nurseries