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to help them become
successful learners, confident individuals,
responsible citizens and effective contributors.

  • Plenty of opportunities for active, self-directed, outdoor play (e.g. running, climbing, jumping, building dens, splashing in puddles).
  • The freedom to explore,experiment and discover things for themselves (e.g. making mixtures and constructions, ‘messy play’, investigating how things work).
  • Lots of contact with the natural world, e.g. spending as much time as possible in green places; growing plants; helping care for animals; visits to the woods, the beach, local wild areas …
  • Sharing exciting and interesting experiences with the adults who care for them – and having conversations about what they’re learning.
  • Adult carers who are authoritative (setting clear boundaries for behaviour) but also warm,understanding and respectful to children.
  • Lots of opportunities to play with other children, learning to take turns and abide by agreed rules through inventing their own games and cooperating on creative projects. Thus learning how to get along with their peers for themselves (e.g. making friends, dealing with fall-outs) without unnecessary adult intervention.
  • Lots of opportunities for creativity, e.g. drawing, painting, making models, playing with puppets, making music, dressing up and creating props for pretend play.
  • Plenty of singing (including action songs, number songs, alphabet song, traditional songs and rhymes) and moving to music. It’s the best way to develop auditory memory, essential for literacy and learning.
  • Lots of stories! Listening to adults reading picture books every day and (until they start reading themselves) the chance to hear favourite stories over and over again.
  • Opportunities to play ‘let’s pretend’ – not using shop-bought stuff or in ready-made role-play areas but their own pretend games, especially outdoors.
  • Opportunities to join in adult-organised activities (playful ones) e.g. games to develop physical or attention skills, ‘circle times’ to develop language and listening, art and craft activities or science investigations that need adult support.
  • Frequent opportunities to see their adult carers reading, writing, counting and calculating, so they know what literacy and numeracy are all about, and why they’re worth learning.
  • Encouragement of their interest in words, rhymes, language play, books and other reading materials.
  • Encouragement of their interest in numbers (e.g. counting stairs, trees… anything) and other mathematical concepts through real-life problem solving (and opportunities to use these concepts in play).
  • If/when they show an interest, support in developing literacy and numeracy skills as appropriate to each child as an individual – i.e. not holding anyone back, but not pushing children to read, write or reckon until they are ready to do so.
  • No formal assessment, academic ‘benchmarks’ or pressure to start formal, classroom-based, ‘sit-down’ schooling until the year they turn seven. Before then, an emphasis on their overall health, well-being and natural potential to learn.
  • Sensitive support for all aspects of their development – physical, emotional, social, cognitive – at the level that’s right for them as individuals.
  • Adult carers who recognise that play is the natural vehicle for developing children’s potential for lifelong learning, as well as promoting long-term physical and mental health. And that – in a world where active, creative play is rapidly disappearing from children’s lives – it’s more important than ever that they have time and space to play in the early, formative years.
  • A happy, carefree childhood with lots of opportunities to develop a wide range of interests and life-skills, so they eventually start school as confident, resilient, self-motivated learners.
  • In short, the sort of childhood the under-sevens enjoy in kindergartens in Finland – the western country with the best record of educational achievement in international surveys, high levels of childhood well-being, and one of the narrowest gaps between rich and poor in the world.


  • i am not a childcare expert (or only with my own!) but there is something about children being allowed to be on their own, not constantly supervised closely, which seems to be misssing. Even with very wee ones, they should not always be aware of adults watching them – although they need to know that adults are there to help if necessary. Adults must not intervene at every point!

  • Kathleen Burroughs says:

    A rich and comprehensive guide for any teacher, school or government to use in developing a healthy and happy educational start to live-long learning. Wonderful!

  • Ali McClure says:

    This is so refreshing: is it not what used to be called ‘childhood’?
    I see so many young people these days who have been hot-housed in their education and as they grow they are struggling with stress, anxiety and so much more. If we follow your plan we will raise rounded children who are emotionally well balanced and connected. They will be well placed to learn and able to be reflective and resilient, for themselves and for the next generation.
    Ali McClure Education and Parenting

  • Not only Finland, I took part in International Play Iceland 2016 with pedagogical educators from across the globe. After a couple of decades in Scotland & Canada I can truly say I have never experienced learning environment like it for freedom, exploration, independence & the relationship children have with nature. It left me wanting more!

  • Loreen Pardoe says:

    Dancing – I know it can fit in to various aspects described in list….but it actually deserves a section on it’s own for all the benefits that come from this. Indeed, in recent seminar on The Attainment Challenge through Play – dance was indeed noted along with play as the key elements in raising cognitive ability alongside physical well-being – and it also links fully into creativity, emotional expression, social development, maths and release of endorphins for well-being. Put together with singing / music and the benefits just keep on soaring. 🙂

  • It’s great to see that music, other arts, and creativity are on your list. We would love to see more of this for under-sevens, and more arts training given to staff so that they feel more capable and confident to include the arts.

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