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Early Years and Foundation Stage

The building blocks of all learning are first observed, recognised, examined and ‘played’ with from an early age. As high-quality teachers we take responsibility for:

‘…igniting children’s curiosity and enthusiasm for learning, forming relationships and thriving.’

(DfE, 2021)

From as young as 2-3 years old many children experience some time spent in an educational setting, alternatively referred to as nursery, pre-school, Early Years or Foundation, which might be hosted within primary schools or in separate learning institutions. Whatever the physical setting, in an educational sense most of these are informal with play-based learning at the heart of their philosophy and ethos.

Vital aspects of geographical skills, knowledge, and experiences, can be found in all of the UK curriculums and frameworks relevant for early years education, and these form the first rung of a vital progression ladder for geography.

The Geographical Association’s Early Years and Primary Committee offers some guidance to support practitioners in identifying these early strands of geography, and making good use of them to build excellence in, and enjoyment of, the subject from the early years.

Download Geography in the Early Years: Guidance for doing wonderful and effective geography with young pupils.



In England, enabling pupils to take on the role of a geographer, exploring, discovering and beginning to make sense of the world around them, is an important consideration when planning for the seven areas of interconnected learning and development that make up the EYFS framework.

The area focusing on ‘Understanding the world’ in particular presents the opportunity for pupils to reflect on the events and routines that they and their peers experience. They should be given the opportunity to formulate questions to investigate the similarities and differences that exist and be encouraged to discuss these with interest and sensitivity.

Pupils should be supported to make sense of the world around them through having multiple opportunities to explore their physical world, local community and beyond. These experiences will be a mixture of ‘first hand’ and ‘imaginary’, but will fundamentally be practical in nature and involve an enriching vocabulary. For example:

First hand and sensory:

  • Visit local places of significance such as the library, park, fire-station or market.
  • Explore the school grounds in different weathers, seasons and times of day.
  • Interact with visitors such as police officers or shop-keepers.


  • Role-play, including the use of small world play, loose parts and manipulatives, as well as mark making.
  • Construction with a range of materials from block and boxes to sand and water.
  • Exploration of what places and people/characters are like through sharing a range of fictional and non-fictional stories.

The 2021-22 academic year saw the adoption of a revised EYFS framework. The seven areas of learning and development remain unchanged but there were a number of changes within the Early Learning Goals (ELG). For example within ‘Understanding the World’ the ELG for technology has been removed, and the three ELGs ‘Past and Present’, ‘People, Culture and Communities’ and ‘The Natural World’ all have a geographical/historical focus. More information can be found on the Foundation Years website.



The Early Years Framework (2008) is supported by the ‘Realising the Ambition: Being Me’ a national practice guide for Early Years which supports children to: explore space physically and emotionally, make sense of information around them, encourage their sense of wonder around the natural world including geographical learning around weather and seasons and extend their curiosity and interest in the immediate world.



The curriculum for Wales is divided into six areas of learning and experience for all pupils aged 3-16, with geography forming an integral part of the humanities area. Within the curriculum there are a number of ‘What Matters Statements’ that cover the content and skills, and Progression Steps that cover assessment. Across all six areas there are four golden threads or ‘purposes’ aiming to make all learners:

  • ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives
  • enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work
  • ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world
  • healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

These, in turn, are underpinned by four core skill sets: Creativity and innovation, Critical thinking and problem-solving, Personal effectiveness, Planning and organising. More information can be found on the Welsh Government website.

The Humanities aspect of the curriculum is divided into five ‘What matters’ statements, each with clear age related expectations:

  • Enquiry, exploration and investigation inspire curiosity about the world, its past, present and future.
  • Events and human experiences are complex, and are perceived, interpreted and represented in different ways.
  • Our natural world is diverse and dynamic, influenced by processes and human actions.
  • Human societies are complex and diverse, and shaped by human actions and beliefs.
  • Informed, self-aware citizens engage with the challenges and opportunities that face humanity, and are able to take considered and ethical action.


Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland the Foundation stage is split in to seven Areas of Learning, across which teachers are encouraged to integrate and make relevant connections for pupils. The overarching aims are to develop pupils as positive thinkers with creativity and imagination; who are curious, physically confident, literate and numerate, and are able to communicate their learning in a variety of ways.

Geography is primarily taught within ‘The World Around Us’ where ‘children should have opportunities to use their senses in order to develop their powers of observation, their ability to sort and classify, explore, predict, experiment, compare, plan, carry out and review their work’ (Northern Ireland Curriculum, CEA 2019).



Geography in the Early Years: Guidance for doing wonderful and effective geography with young pupils.


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