Some great EYFS practice – Underneath The Arches…

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I have been 'dropping in' on The Arches Primary in Chester every now and then for a little while now.  They have  a great EYFS team who have been working hard to make even stronger links between their planning, environment and the needs of their current cohort.

They have a strong commitment to ensuring that they get high level attainment but not at the expense of child initiated learning, a play based curriculum and some FUN!

They have even knocked a hole in their wall so that they can have a permanent link to Year One and vice versa. Imagine that!

Thought it was worth sharing some of what I saw on my last visit. I was really impressed with what they were achieving and I ended up staying and playing too long (always a good sign)!

Ceri and her girls have assessed all of their children by their mark making capabilities. Once this job was done they made a statement of current attainment for each group and then identified 'next steps'.

When you know what your next steps are going to be then you have to make sure you have lots of opportunities indoors and out for children to access them. This has meant some changes to the teaching and learning space.


This alcove used to be home to storage cupboards but these have moved to the other side of the room and now we have a floor space big enough to allow children who are shoulder and/or elbow pivoting plenty of space to consolidate and then move on.

Another common challenge that we tackled in this space was the idea of 'Continuous Provision' being just that and not just a holding activity. If I am an able girl and I walk into this area as part of CP what is going to persuade me not to get some paper and felt tips out AGAIN, and actually do something that will challenge me and also engage me at the same time.

Ceri and the team came up with these as a starter…


They are 'themed' boxes that have been dressed to match the interests of the children that their contents is targeting. Your assessment tells you what specific groups of children need in their next steps development. You then create mark making boxes that contain resources that will impact on those next steps. You find out what your children are into and dress the box/resource accordingly. Then when they go into CP they are more likely to take something from the themed box than they are just get the paper and felt tips out.

So this box is princess themed for the children who have been identified as more able mark makers (on this occasion all girls). The box contains thin pencils, small books, writing paper with lines etc…

Compare that to this box for children at a more emergent stage of development (in this case the identified group are all boys)

This box is full if things to develop this stage of mark making development – fat pencils, felt tips, highlighters, scissors, wide lined and blank paper etc…

If I am a boy from this development group and I walk into the mark making area, am I likely to want to see what is in the Ben 10 box? Am I likely to open the princess box?  Am I therefore more likely to be engaged in an activity that is actually continuing the provision for my learning…

Although Ceri's display has always been attractive, on previous visits we had talked a lot about personalising key displays to get maximum engagement and have maximum impact on attainment. She has now done that in a number of ways…


This is a personalised alphabet line that uses the children's faces if their name starts with an initial sound from the alphabet. If you get to a sound and you have no child in your class who's name starts with that sound then ask THEM what they would like to use (hence Peppa Pig).

(Sorry, couldn't show the children's faces on this one as I didn't have permission for those particular children's images to be used)


This is their personalised number line (at child height). The idea is that you target the children who need to develop their interest/skills NOT the ones who already know it. The children who know don't miss out – you just target them elsewhere in a way that will challenge them.

The team are using children's images a lot more in their displays and also adding context with speech  from both children and staff.

Any hint of a computer generated, downloaded from a website display has gone to be replaced by children in the setting demonstrating key skills. This one is next to the water tray.


If I am honest the background is still a little bit too 'busy' for my personal preference! (Sorry Ceri, but it was all beginning to sound a bit too good -and I am incredibly fussy as you know!)

One of the things that I was really impressed by on my visit was that it was clear from the planning and resourcing which areas of the children's development were being focused on and there were a myriad of opportunities to access them on many levels. Lots of open ended resources that meant differentiation was easy and effective.

When is a number line not just a number line?


When you can change the numbers quickly depending on who is standing in front of you and when it can also be a colour line, shape line, phonic line, name line….

Why would I want to be bothered ordering numbers as par of my outdoor play when  I could dig in the sandpit or cause havoc on a tricycle? Because I can shoot at whatever is hanging there with a Ben 10 Nerf gun!

Beats a tick sheet assessment any day!

During one of the 'focused' times in the morning session, Karen the HLTA takes the 'nurture' group outside for their 'environmental sounds' work. Collectively they have the attention span of a gnat (although it is improving – slowly). So after about 3 minutes they have had enough!

These children have also been identified as needing to progress from their shoulder pivoting and be encouraged to use their elbow and wrist more. Knowing this is a key area for development. Karen moves on to a mark making activity. The way in which this activity was 'sold' and delivered made it great fun. No one said that they didn't want to do it – the opposite in fact.They were excited! This is all the more remarkable when I saw that they were going to sit down with a pencil and a piece of paper.


The activity was simple but very effective. The skill was in the delivery which made it very engaging. Although the children have large pieces of paper they are not large enough to allow a full shoulder rotation. Also sitting in a chair restricts the body's ability to get that big shoulder movement.

The children had to follow Karen. First slowly making large circles around the edge of the paper. This movement consolidates the shoulder pivot and also encourages the use of the elbow. When Karen gave the signal they had to go fast – really fast.

At this stage you would expect to see the circles get smaller – middle of the page. The lines would be thicker and the pressure on the pencil is greater.

Children who have a well developed elbow pivot are able to make fast circular motions (like stirring a pan with a spoon). Children with a developing elbow pivot cannot go round so go backwards and forwards like an exaggerated zig-zag.

This is an example of the sort of evidence you could use to inform you about attainment and help to target next steps.

In this one you can clearly see the larger 'slow' circles around the outside and then the backwards and forwards movement in the middle.  Just a bit more practise needed.

So, children are being identified in key areas of development and are having focused activities planned around this need, delivered in a variety of areas of the environment through a play based approach. But what about spontaneity, child led learning, children's interests?

Well there is no longer a 'topic' approach in Reception so there is plenty of opportunity to teach the identified skills through areas of children's interests.

On the day I visited a face painting studio sprang up from nowhere, closely followed by a second one in the block play area. This created tonnes of opportunity for mark making, turn taking, discussion, organisation, colour mixing, creativity…the list goes on.

I was a tiger! They took ages to 'imaginary paint' me and their language and KUW was brilliant.

The beauty of the lack of a topic is that the next day you are not restricted by the need to teach houses and homes, you can identify the play that results in high level engagement and just drop your objectives into that.

Ceri would be the first to tell you that she is on a journey and by no means thinks she is the finished article or has got it all right. But, on the day I was there I could clearly see evidence of rigorous assessment which was reflected in the planning objectives and the enhancements in the environment.

Focused teaching was delivered through a play based activity, dressed in the interests of the children and well differentiated.

High level engagement  and a personalised environment meant that judging attainment was easy. Best of all for me though was that even with me prowling around and scribbling things in my Spiderman notebook, The staff looked  and sounded like they were having a great time and as a result of that – so did the children.

Well done to Ceri, Karen, Chelsea and Michaela. Thank you for inviting me

I had a great time!


6 Comments on “Some great EYFS practice – Underneath The Arches…”

  1. hi Alister , just wondering what you thought about my fairy jar Sara Radley said that you had taken one , I love the way they stimulate imagination in children just wondering if you could give me some feedback kind regards Kaz x

  2. Hi Alistair,
    I came across your site a few months ago after being directed here from an EYFS forum, so you can’t imagine how excited I was when i saw you were our guset speaker at uni yesterday (I nearly had a little wee, only joking). Most people thought I was mad. I just wanted to say what a great speaker you are, truely inspirational and hilarious too. A definite breath of fresh air. I know I can speak for a lot of people when I say it was great!

  3. That activity for developing the elbow pivot is very useful and sounds like the children would enjoy it. I have always wondered about good focussed activities for developing this, as well as moving from elbow to wrist pivoting. Do you have further ideas for this area? It would be really useful because I really struggle with knowing how to develop this. I know things like playdough/construction etc are good in continuous provision, but interesting adult led activities with a tight focus like this one are something I find difficult to think up. I can think of a lot of children that would really benefit from quick five minute daily activities in this area.

  4. Hi Cat
    I know that TTS catalogue sell rolls of paper, but I always have picked mine up by looking in Yellow Pages for local printing firms (label printing as opposed to Prontoprint!)They always have lots of end of rolls which they usually give away free.
    You can also use lining paper from a DIY shop but the hole in the middle is very small and you have to wind it on to the pole by hand which is a bit time consuming.

  5. Hi Alistair
    Can you suggest where to get the rolls of paper from and how much we should be looking to pay? I can see some on e-bay, but I am not sure what length I should be looking for and if they are good value.

  6. Hi Alistair, stumbled on your blog when I should have been doing some research for my BA in Education, what a breath of fresh air, two hours later thought I should comment on what a fantastic blog you have created, will be back as time allows. Now off to order your books as a result of liking what I have read, take care and thanks for the inspiration, Doreen

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