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Introduction to science in the EYFS

For subject leaders who have limited experience of early years settings, it can be difficult to establish how to reflect the work being done in the early years in the science curriculum overview of their school. To support subject leaders with this task, the following information aims to explain how science fits in the early years.

Statutory Framework

There are four guiding principles, set out in the  Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage, that should shape practice in early years settings. These are:

  • every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured

  • children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships

  • children learn and develop well in enabling environments with teaching and support from adults, who respond to their individual interests and needs and help them to build their learning over time. Children benefit from a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and/or carers.

  • importance of learning and development. Children develop and learn at different rates. (See “the characteristics of effective teaching and learning” at paragraph 1.15). The framework covers the education and care of all children in early years provision, including children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Characteristics of effective teaching and learning in the early years

The Statutory Framework also identifies three characteristics of effective teaching and learning for early years settings.  They are:

  • playing and exploring - children investigate and experience things, and ‘have a go’

  • active learning - children concentrate and keep on trying if they encounter difficulties, and enjoy achievements

  • creating and thinking critically - children have and develop their own ideas, make links between ideas, and develop strategies for doing things.

Areas of learning and development

Finally, it identifies seven areas of learning and development that must shape educational programmes in early years settings. All the areas of learning and development are important and inter-connected. However, three areas are particularly important for building a foundation for igniting children’s curiosity and enthusiasm for learning, forming relationships and thriving. These are the prime areas:

  • communication and language

  • physical development

  • personal, social and emotional development.


However, early years providers must also support children in four specific areas, through which the three prime areas are strengthened and applied. The specific areas are:

  • literacy

  • mathematics

  • understanding the world

  • expressive arts and design.


So where does science fit?

'Understanding the World' is the specific area that includes the science content in the Statutory Framework which is described as follows.

Understanding the World

Understanding the world involves guiding children to make sense of their physical world and their community. The frequency and range of children’s personal experiences increases their knowledge and sense of the world around them – from visiting parks, libraries and museums to meeting important members of society such as police officers, nurses and firefighters. In addition, listening to a broad selection of stories, non-fiction, rhymes and poems will foster their understanding of our culturally, socially, technologically and ecologically diverse world. As well as building important knowledge, this extends their familiarity with words that support understanding across domains. Enriching and widening children’s vocabulary will support later reading comprehension.
Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage, p10, DfE

Does the Statutory Framework specify the knowledge children in the EYFS should learn?

No. The Statutory Framework does not provide that detail, however, DfE has published non-statutory guidance, called Development Matters, that does provide statements that describe how early years settings can meet the requirements of the Statutory Framework. It is these statements from Development Matters that have been used in the PLAN EYFS matrices to show how the content from the Statutory Framework introduces children to the science they will learn and build on in the topics they study in Key Stage 1 and 2. Most of these statements come from the Understanding the World area, but statements that are relevant to science from other areas are also included. PLAN has mapped all the relevant science statements from Development Matters, for the seven areas of learning and development in the Statutory Framework, to the relevant science topics in the National Curriculum in England.


What does Ofsted say about science in the EYFS?

In Ofsted’s Research review of the factors that influence the quality of science education, it states the following about science in the EYFS.

“A high-quality science curriculum not only identifies the important concepts and procedures for pupils to learn, it also plans for how pupils will build knowledge of these over time. This starts in the early years.”

So what does the report say about how science knowledge is built over time in the EYFS? It includes the following.

“Pupils begin their formal science education in the early years foundation stage (EYFS). This involves learning foundational knowledge primarily through the ‘understanding the world: the natural world’ area of learning. This provides a number of rich contexts for pupils to learn a wide range of vocabulary. These words form the beginnings of scientific concepts that will be built on in Year 1 and beyond. Because pupils develop their scientific and non-scientific vocabulary during this time, the EYFS should not just be considered as preparation for learning further science in Year 1.”

The PLAN EYFS matrices provide examples of activities that teachers in early years setting can use to develop the appropriate foundational science knowledge and vocabulary in Nursery and Reception.

“Younger pupils who cannot yet read will learn vocabulary when teachers discuss it and present it to them. This might be through listening to storybooks and non-fiction texts, as well as rhymes and poems. This is made even more effective when key vocabulary and meanings are introduced through explicit teaching approaches alongside shared book reading. For example, teachers may focus on specific words before, during and after reading a storybook.”

The PLAN EYFS matrices also provide examples of texts that support the development of the appropriate foundational science knowledge and vocabulary.



The level of development that children should be expected to have attained by the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is defined by the early learning goals (ELGs). The ELG that relates to the science content in the Statutory Framework is Understanding the World: The Natural World which is set out below.

ELG: The Natural World
Children at the expected level of development will:

  • explore the natural world around them, making observations and drawing pictures of animals and plants

  • know some similarities and differences between the natural world around them and contrasting environments, drawing on their experiences and what has been read in class

  • understand some important processes and changes in the natural world around them, including the seasons and changing states of matter.


However, the Statutory Framework makes it clear that the ELGs should not be used as a curriculum or in any way to limit the wide variety of rich experiences that are crucial to child development, from being read to frequently to playing with friends. Instead, the ELGs should support teachers to make a holistic, best-fit judgement about a child’s development, and their readiness for Year 1.

When forming a judgement about whether an individual child is at the expected level of development, teachers should draw on their knowledge of the child and their own expert professional judgement. This is sufficient evidence to assess a child’s individual level of development in relation to each of the ELGs. Sources of written or photographic evidence are not required, and teachers are not required to record evidence.

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