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Planning geographical learning in to the EYFS

Within any good Early Years curriculum pupils are provided with opportunities to develop a range of highly transferable skills values and attributes, including: problem-solving, observation, collaboration, open-mindedness, courage, resilience, curiosity, integrity, and a sense of what is fair and equitable. These combine to allow them to explore, interpret and ‘experience’ the world around them, as well as providing the foundations on which all future learning can be built.

Of the seven areas of learning and development outlined in the English EYFS framework the one that fits best with geography is undoubtedly: ‘Understanding the World’. Children are guided to make sense of their physical world and community through a range of personal experiences. However, it is very difficult to imagine developing knowledge and understanding of the world in isolation without simultaneously and symbiotically developing the other six areas, for example: when a pupil is creating a map in the sandbox of their route to school.

Possible coverage: Area of learning and development
Communicate their route using positional language Communication and language
Discuss their favourite place or places they feel less secure and even how they might mitigate those Personal, social and emotional
Relate to the challenge of walking up a steep hill as well as develop their fine motor skills in the sand Physical
Practise spelling a word out phonetically in the sand Literacy
Talk about the shapes of any landmarks they see along the way Mathematics
Explore verbally -and maybe even go on to junk model- what they’d like to add to the park they pass through to make it more exciting, fun, safe, inclusive etc. Expressive art and design

When providing a context for learning at a practical level there is invariably a spatial dimension, with teachers setting up learning zones such as a ‘mud kitchen’, ‘role-play area’ or ‘Construction Corner’. These zones enable pupils to ‘transport’ themselves at an imaginary level, each one acting as a portal into the spaces, places and times within each pupil’s imagination, allowing them to construct their own individual and collaborative learning story. They may teleport themselves into the middle of a recently shared narrative, for example in to ‘Hansel and Gretel’s kitchen’ or use their knowledge of the world to create an imaginary city, for example the little-known city of ‘New London’.

This inventive and creative playful exploration can be pupil initiated and led or stimulated by adults. The latter might be through carefully planned challenges where the pupils is asked to make the perfect bowl of ‘breadcrumbs’ to lay a trail or, via spontaneous open-ended, person-centred questions, be asked: What sort of buildings do you ‘want’ in your city, and why? Are all of these buildings ‘needed’? Why, or why not?

In Leading Primary Geography Simon Catling outlines seven ‘big ideas’ that are key in developing geographical learning.

  1. Place
    What is it like, what happens there, how it changes, emotion response.
  2. Space
    Location, distribution, patterns and network connections, layout.
  3. Scale
    Local, regional, national, continental, global.
  4. Environment
    Physical and human processes, actions and features, change.
  5. Environmental impact
    Interactions, disparity, connections, social identity, values.
  6. Cultural awareness
    Diversity, disparity, connections, social identity, values.
  7. Interconnections
    Links between features, places, events and people.

(Catling, S., 2019)

Place, Space and Scale should be core considerations when planning how any pupil, regardless of age, gains knowledge and understanding about the world around them. Using the two examples from above – ‘Hansel and Gretel’s kitchen’ and ‘New London’ – teachers might use questions like those in the tables below to extend and assess pupils’ learning.

Hansel and Gretel’s kitchen Place:

  • What is the kitchen like? What can you see, smell, hear?
  • What is happening in the kitchen? What jobs are people doing?
  • How do you feel about being in the kitchen?
Space:

  • How is their kitchen laid out? Are all kitchens the same? Can you create a map of it?
  • What other rooms are in their house? How are these arranged?
  • Where is their house? Are there others nearby?

Scale:

  • Zoom in: what is the cooker like? Does everyone cook this way?
  • Where do Hansel and Gretel’s ingredients come from?

 

‘New London’ city of the future Place:

  • Can you describe what it would be like to walk through the city?
  • What buildings, shops and restaurants will you find?
  • Is it like anywhere else you know?

Space:

  • Where is your city located?
  • If you got on a train in the city where could you go?
  • What is special about the city?
Scale:

  • What is happening in this building?
  • Is anything made here that is sold elsewhere?
  • Why do people come to the city? How far do they come?

Regardless of how the learning is facilitated it is being constructed block by block, using blocks of many different shapes, sizes and types. The blueprint for which is constantly being designed, created, arranged, connected, deconstructed… re-designed, re-created, re-arranged and re-connected.

All of which incorporates and builds on each individual’s prior learning, as adults put the necessary scaffolding – with its associated safety nets – in place, whilst continuously modelling: a positive mental attitude; a collaborative approach; a stream of positive approval and enriching language.

 

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