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.
What is it like, what happens there, how it changes, emotion response.
Location, distribution, patterns and network connections, layout.
Local, regional, national, continental, global.
Physical and human processes, actions and features, change.
- Environmental impact
Interactions, disparity, connections, social identity, values.
- Cultural awareness
Diversity, disparity, connections, social identity, values.
Links between features, places, events and people.
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:
|‘New London’ city of the future||Place:
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.