Assessment & Learning

Our Curriculum: How the children learn and how we assess

At Willow Nursery School, we deliver the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework as set out by the Department for Education. It sets out:

  • The legal welfare requirements that everyone registered to look after children must follow to keep your child safe and promote their welfare.
  • The 7 areas of learning and development which guide our engagement with your child’s play and activities as they learn new skills and knowledge.
  • Assessments that will tell you about your child’s progress through the EYFS.
  • Expected levels that your child should reach at age 5, usually the end of the reception year; these expectations are called the “Early Learning Goals (ELGs)”.

The EYFS Framework explains how and what your child will be learning to support their healthy development. Your child will be learning skills, acquiring new knowledge and demonstrating their understanding through 7 areas of learning and development.

For children under 3 years of age the focus is mostly on the 3 prime areas. These are:

  • Communication and language;
  • Physical development; and
  • Personal, social and emotional development.

These prime areas are those most essential for your child’s healthy development and future learning.

As children grow, the prime areas will help them to develop skills in 4 specific areas. These are:

  • Literacy;
  • Mathematics;
  • Understanding the world; and
  • Expressive arts and design.

These 7 areas are used to plan your child’s learning and activities. This is a little bit like a curriculum in primary and secondary schools, but it’s suitable for very young children, and it’s designed to be really flexible so that we can follow your child’s unique needs and interests, which is when children learn and develop best. Each strand is further separated out into more specific areas.

For the first few weeks, our main focus is Personal, Social and Emotional Development. Children need to feel happy, secure and settled in nursery for future learning to take place and it is paramount to us that the children feel this way.

Children in the early years learn by playing and exploring, being active, and through creative and critical thinking which takes place both indoors and out. So, when you come into nursery, you may think your children are just ‘playing’. Our skilled and experienced practitioners set the rooms out thoughtfully and sensitively to encourage the very best learning opportunities to happen. A large part of the teaching is when the adults then very sensitively intervene in the children’s play to extend their language, concentration, understanding, enjoyment and knowledge.

This is done by introducing new vocabulary, adding in new resources or challenges, asking questions and making suggestions. Staff get to know the children extremely well and seek to utilise the children’s interests wherever possible. They also use their in-depth knowledge of each child to learn when to step in, when to challenge to stretch the children on further and when to offer support. Research shows that children learn best when engaged in well thought out activities that stem from their interests. So, for example, children that enjoy role-play being builders will be given lots of clipboards and pencils to experiment with mark making, large blocks to extend their co-ordination and physical development, with language being developed all the time, and personal, social and emotional development, through the encouragement of collaborative play.

Most of the time at nursery is spent learning through play with the adults alongside the children exploring the activities. The children have a set group time every day in their keyworker groups of 20 children. This is an opportunity to develop concentration, extend language, develop listening skills and learn to be part of a group.

At Willow, we have a programme of group time activities that offer them different experiences throughout the year. These include:

  • structured music sessions using the ‘Da Capo’ music programme
  • sharing and learning about books by using ‘big books’
  • a twelve week programme learning about stories using the oxford reading tree characters Biff, Chip and Kipper
  • a ten week programme learning about maths through appropriate stories
  • a ten week dance programme
  • sessions involving ‘Lola the Leopard’ who helps develop listening skills
  • Thinking skills sessions using a picture as a focus
  • A twenty two week programme teaching the children phonics in a fun way.

In addition to this, children are offered weekly sessions which promote early literacy skills through activities set out in the DFES Letters and Sounds Document.

Children are offered a ten week ‘basic skills’ group in the term that they turn four. These sessions are 20-25 minutes long and children work in groups of 6-8 with a member of staff in a quiet room. The children have a ‘mini lesson’ which focuses of either maths or literacy and helps build upon their previous knowledge and skills.

In terms of understanding how well your children are learning, we:

  • observe and assess informally all the time. Keyworkers write observations on children two weekly and next steps are noted and shared with children
  • assess the children on entry, and then assess them daily. These assessments are recorded termly. For children that are in main nursery for a year, this means that we assess their learning four times in year, using the Early Years Foundation Stage, Development Matters as a guide. This is recorded in their record of progress.
  • A year book is put together during your child’s time at Willow and this includes observations, photos and work completed by your child in the different areas of the curriculum. These yearbooks are for you to keep when your child leaves Willow Nursery School.
  • We share your child’s record of progress and yearbook at each consultation. Parent’s consultations are offered with your child’s keyworker every term. When your child leaves us, we share their assessment summary with their receiving school. However, if at any time you have concerns about your child’s progress please do talk to your child’s keyworker, we are always happy to help and there are many things we can do together to ensure your child is making the best possible progress.

For children with additional needs we offer 1:1 and small group development opportunities to help children develop in specific areas as identified by parents and staff.

We produce a weekly newsletter that should keep you updated on what your child is learning about and how you can help your child to learn at home.

The next page shows the seven areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum and the strands that each area covers. :


Early Years Foundation Stage Framework

Prime areas

Communication & Language:

  • Listening & Attention
  • Understanding
  • Speaking

Physical Development

  • Moving & handling
  • Health & Self-Care

Personal, Social and Emotional Development

  • Self-confidence and self-awareness
  • Managing feelings and behaviours
  • Making relationships

Specific Areas


  • Reading
  • Writing


  • Numbers
  • Space, shape and measures

Understanding the World

  • People and communities
  • The world
  • Technology

Expressive Arts & Design

  • Exploring and using media and materials
  • Being imaginative