Understanding the World



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Understanding the World (UW) is one of the four specific areas of learning in the EYFS framework. It involves guiding children to make sense of their physical world and their community through opportunities to explore, observe and find out about people, places, technology, and the environment.

In the EYFS framework, Understanding the World is made up of three aspects:

  • People and communities
  • The world
  • Technology

Prime and specific areas of learning

  • The three prime areas of the EYFS are Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED), Physical Development (PD) AND Communication and Language (CL).
  • The four specific areas are Literacy (L), Mathematics (M), Understanding the World (UW) and Expressive Arts and Design (EAD).
  • The three prime areas should be the focus for practitioners working with the youngest children as these form the basis for successful learning and progress in the four specific areas.
  • As children become older, the emphasis will shift towards a more equal focus on all areas of learningas children’s confidence and abilities increase.


Helping young children to learn about the world

Understanding the World covers most aspects of the area of learning and development which was called ‘Knowledge and Understanding of the World’ in the original EYFS framework.

The world covers aspects of the previous areas of ‘Exploration and investigation’ and ‘Place.’ It helps children know about similarities and differences in the world around them. They learn to make observations of animals and plants, to explain why some things occur and to talk about how and why things change. It includes opportunities for experimentation.

Practitioners should create a stimulating environment which offers a range of activities which will encourage children’s interest and curiosity both indoors and out of doors. They should plan activities based on first-hand experiences that encourage exploration, experimentation, observation, problem solving, prediction, critical thinking, decision making, and discussion.


What quality looks like in practice

In the nursery, practitioners working with children of all age groups place great value on the use of open-ended materials, natural and reclaimed, to encourage children to investigate, developing their curiosity, imagination and creativity. From the earliest age, the children spend long periods of time discovering the potential of open-ended materials – what they are and what they will do – encouraging them to build on their previous experiences of the world and how it works.

Treasure Basket collections are provided which encourage children to handle large quantities of interesting objects made from natural materials. Smaller baskets contain handling collections of everyday items which the children explore and investigate using all their senses.

The collections include kitchen utensils, balls, brushes, shiny things, or different fabrics for the babies to handle independently. The practitioners observe closely the ways in which individual children select and handle the items in the Treasure basket collections – how they select and discard objects, how they explore them using their senses, how they move them about, or how they look closely at how things work.

Children have access to a range of collections of reclaimed and natural resources to explore and think about. These include:

  • A scented collection – sprigs of lavender, lemons or oranges, soaps, scented candles, herbs and empty perfume bottles.
  • A natural collection – shells, large pebbles or polished stones, different sized pine cones, leaves of different shapes and sizes, large seed pods, conkers, driftwood, and pieces of tree bark.
  • A materials collection – plastic cup, rubber ball, metal bowl, small china dish, paper plate, large pebble, driftwood, small offcuts of wood, a cork mat and a glass paperweight.

The practitioners take great care and pride in how they present the resources to the children using beautiful baskets and boxes for the collections.


The practitioners make good use of the potential of collections of everyday objects. By introducing a collection of shiny things for the children to explore, the practitioners begin to interest the children in finding out about reflections. A big shiny platter becomes a focus as the children place other shiny objects upon it, creating fascinating reflections to investigate. The discovery of the reflective effects of the concave and convex sides of a soup spoon by one of the children leads to the whole group developing fascinating ideas and theories about what they can see and why. The practitioners extend the children’s scientific understanding by introducing small concave/ convex mirrors to enable the children to make connections in their learning. The practitioners place sheets of paper within the children’s reach as they explore the shiny objects, encouraging them to record what they can see in the shiny surfaces.

Children gardening in part of the outdoor area which has been laid out with raised flower and vegetable beds. All year round there are simple tools available which the children use effectively as they demonstrate their curiosity about the outdoor environment. One of the most popular tools for exploring the paths and flowerbeds is always a stick!

Practitioners  are very aware of the importance of building on the children’s interests and fascinations. Understanding the world around us is a complex business and staff in the nursery know that many children possess sophisticated thinking skills and creativity which can be fostered by providing the time and space for children to explore in depth those things which fascinate them. Practitioners take time to listen attentively to what the children have to say about their discoveries and they challenge children to reflect on, and explain, their ideas to encourage the development of higher level thinking skills.

The practitioners are also aware that the children, particularly the boys, are interested in investigating the world in ways which include an element of risk. They have adopted a risk/benefit approach to assessing the children’s experiences, to help the children master the skills they need to manage risk and danger for themselves. As ‘Understanding the World’ is the area of learning in which boys often show most interest and have, in the past, excelled best in, the practitioners use this area of learning and development to also underpin the other areas of boys’ learning. They provide activities, experiences and resources which will develop the boys’ (and girls’) science skills and knowledge – mechanisms and how things work, how things and people move, materials and how they behave, the effects of magnetism, light, electricity, sound, and weather.

The nursery has an ‘outdoors in all weathers’ policy which applies to the children. They provide, and take responsibility for, protective clothing to enable children and adults to explore the natural world throughout the year. The positive attitude of the staff towards exploring out of doors fosters a sense of pleasure in the children as they make sense of their physical world. The outdoor area is seen as an environment for curiosity and the children are supported by the provision of a wide range of resources which enable them to further their knowledge about living things and their natural habitats. As part of the nursery’s wildlife-friendly garden, both a log pile and a rotting tree trunk have been set up, providing a habitat – food, shelter and a breeding ground – for a wide range of small invertebrates.

Although the nursery has an outdoor area, the practitioners regularly take the children to the local park where they look closely at the trees and plants throughout the year, helping them to develop an understanding of how things change over time.



Ideas for parents

This area of learning and development covers how children learn about the natural, physical and technological worlds around them.

Helping your child to learn about the world

There are lots of easy ways you can help your child to learn more about the world.

You could use the ideas below as starting points to help you do this.

Under twos

  • From the day they are born, children are actively exploring the world around them; being a good role model for curiosity is the most important thing for parents to do.
  • Give your baby interesting everyday things to play with to encourage her to explore and investigate – try spoons, scarves, balls, brushes or shiny things.
  • Encourage your child to explore the world using all of his senses – have fun guessing what covered up objects are by touching them, listening to them or smelling them.
  • Give your child a small box or bucket of different pebbles, stones, shells, conkers or leaves to explore, to arrange in patterns and to sort and count.
  • Use bath time as the perfect opportunity for your child to explore water – pouring from different containers and filling them again, squeezing water from a squeezy bottle, making bubbles, and sinking and floating with bath toys.
  • When you go for a walk, show your baby or toddler buds and new shoots and show them how to touch them gently, as well as smelling flowers and blossom and listening to the birds.
  • Put a mirror on the ground underneath a tree or plant in your garden and talk to your child about what you can see in the mirror – the leaves, the branches, and the sky.


Two- to three-year-olds

  • Children of this age are very eager to explore the world around them by being curious about what they see, hear, and touch, and by asking questions. It is important that parents encourage this curiosity.
  • When your child discovers things of interest try to explain the science behind her discoveries – for example, look into a soup spoon and notice the different reflections in the concave and convex sides of the spoon.
  • If your child enjoys drawing and mark making, you could provide paper and crayons or a pencil for your child to draw what they have found out.
  • Find some dandelion seed heads and blow the dandelion clocks for your child to watch, catch, and blow by himself.
  • Give your child a small ‘collector’s bag’ to talk with her to carry treasures you find when you go out for a walk.
  • On a sunny day, in winter as well summer, go on a shadow hunt with your child – look at the shapes, sizes and positions of the shadows. Try to catch your shadow.
  • When you are buying presents for your child, think about buying a wooden framed magnifying glass, a large horseshoe magnet or a bug collecting pot.

Four- to five-year-olds

  • By the time your child is four or five he will have developed interests and fascinations which you could support to encourage his learning across all areas of learning and development.
  • Listen carefully to what your child has to say when she discovers something of interest; try challenging her to explain her ideas to you as this will help her to develop her thinking skills.
  • When you choose presents for your child, think about buying things which will develop his or her science skills – choose toys and games which show mechanisms and how things work, how living things and objects move and the effects of magnetism, light, electricity and sound.
  • Try making a wildlife area in your garden or patio area to provide food, shelter, and a breeding ground for birds, snails, spiders, insects, and small invertebrates. Your child can then discover how a variety of things live and behave.
  • After it has rained, investigate puddles near your home – look for reflections and watch how the puddles shrink as the water evaporates. You could also have fun splashing in the puddles!
  • Help your child to plant a variety of seeds – flowers and vegetables – in your garden, hanging basket or window box. You can make growing beds using an old tyre, bucket, watering can, or wheelbarrow.
  • You can grow cress in an indoor planter using half an egg shell. Paint a face on the egg shell, fill it with fine soil or seed compost, and sprinkle cress seeds into the shell. In a few days you will be able to watch the ‘hair’ grow and then enjoy eating the cress.