Understanding the world: Action stations!

In the moment planning brings a spontaneity and excitement to exploring job roles. Jenni Clarke sketches scenrios to demonstrate how learning takes off.

Jenni Clarke

In The Moment Planning (ITMP) is not the easy option but it does have the advantage of teaching children when their interest is sparked and therefore when their learning is optimised. A well thought-out and resourced environment will encourage them to explore and investigate through their interests, giving the adults time to observe teachable moments.

These moments lead to an extension and depth of learning that an adult chosen task does not.

ITMP is flexible and children are able to pursue several different lines of enquiry if they wish. There is no time constriction either which is so important as children need time to become engrossed and start using thinking and problem-solving skills.

For the adult there is no preparation of specific resources or setting up an activity – in fact the more open-ended, loose and natural resources there are available the easier it is to implement ITMP.

Documentation of learning happens through photos, the children's comments, displays created by them to share their learning, or a specific written observation on a chosen child for their learning journey.

The basics of ITMP need to be in place –

  • Practitioners who know when to support and scaffold a child's learning and when not to interfere through recognising a teachable moment while observing, listening and playing with the children
  • An environment where good quality resources are always accessible to the children, well presented, checked and adjusted when necessary
  • Planning consists of observation, recording ensuing interactions and making notes on the outcome – not pre-planning.


A group of four boys was busy putting out fires in the ‘forest’ of the setting using some rope as a hose. One of the boys started jumping around, being a kangaroo instead of a fire fighter. He bounced in front of the hose shouting that his feet were hot. The hose was aimed at his feet and he bounced away and then came back with his arms outstretched shouting to the others that he'd fight the fire from the sky. One of the other boys threw down his hose and said, ‘That's not the job. Helicopters are for rescues.’

Teachable moment

The adult saw this was a moment when the children's knowledge of a firefighter's job could be extended, she could prevent an incident, and stop a child from leaving the game he'd been enjoying.

Playing and exploring

  • Children imitate action and events they have heard about at home
  • They explore ideas while engaging in an open-ended activity of their choice
  • They have fun using objects to represent firefighting equipment and talk about how it works

The practitioner runs across asking if she can help as the flames are getting bigger. She encourages the children to describe the flames, how tall they are, how hot they feel and compare to any fires they have experienced such as a bonfire.

The adult tells a story about how in some countries planes and helicopters are used to dump water on big forest fires. The children want to do this too but where will they get the water from and how do they carry the buckets?

They go inside and watch some videos on fighting large forest fires. More children have joined in and they want to wear all the proper safety gear. The practitioner models the correct vocabulary and scribes a list before they search for and make helmets, masks, gloves and coats.

Other children want to fly the planes and helicopters and they find buckets and rope and pretend to scoop water from a lake to dump on their fire. One child decides to use real water from the hose in the mud kitchen and has to problem solve carrying it with a rope as it is now heavy. An adult observes but does not interfere until he asks for help tying a knot.

The kangaroo is back! This time bouncing in the wet grass and is soon joined by a few more.

One practitioner places a couple of soft toy koalas and birds in the ‘fire’ area while making a comment about the brightly coloured kangaroos and wonders aloud if they are cooling their hot feet. She leaves the children to play and explore the properties of soggy grass and puddles as a teachable moment occurs when a child finds an injured koala and decides it needs a doctor.

What job?

Every session place objects, clothing, and pictures related to a job onto a table with the title – ‘What job?’ Observe, listen and prompt the children's thinking, revealing the ‘job’ at the end of the session.

Active learning

  • Children maintain focus in their play which leads to deepening their understanding
  • They are fascinated with the idea of what a fireman does and are happy to explore other aspects of the job
  • They show care and consideration for other living creatures and the environment

Once they all decide the forest fire is out the practitioner uses open-ended questions to encourage children to think about other parts of a fire-fighters job and some of the children go to the book corner to find stories and factual books on firefighters while others turn a ride-on car into a fire engine, zooming around the outside area rescuing cats from trees and people from floods.

There is so much excitement many other children have joined in the play. Two children are setting up an animal hospital for the injured koala and after the adult modelled the correct vocabulary, they talk about their experiences of taking a cat to the vets in town and what a vet does and how it compares to a doctor.

The adult joins in with their play, helping them to research what a vet does, what a veterinary surgery looks like and helps them create one in the setting.

A waiting room and an examination room are set up with bandages, creams and medicine bottles and the vets get to work.

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children show interest in the lives of people who are familiar to them
  • They make links between the different jobs they are exploring
  • They demonstrate thinking skills while developing an interest in different jobs

One practitioner helps the firefighters set up an office with a telephone, notepad and pens. Using open-ended questions, she encourages them to devise emergencies for the fire crew to deal with. They try out a few different ideas then settle on making cards with each ‘call’ on to hand out to the fire crew. The cards have words and pictures – some hand-drawn and others are cut out and stuck on. The practitioner thinks aloud about what the crew do when they have put out the fire, or rescued someone from a flood. The children decide the card gets a sticker and is put in a box.

Other children start to bring in the injured birds and other soft toys to the vets and the practitioner prints a leaflet from the computer on ‘How to care for your cat’ and leaves it on the table in the vets waiting room. The children read it and want to make more as they have a tortoise and a bird. The practitioner supports their ideas and helps them to create leaflets.

EYFS Learning Goals

The focus has been on Understanding the world, but the activities are cross-curricular and could involve more mark-making tools giving the children the opportunity to demonstrate the Literacy writing goals: ‘Ascribes meanings to marks that they see in different places. Gives meaning to marks they make as they draw, write and paint. Begins to break the flow of speech into words. Writes own name and other things such as labels, captions. Attempts to write short sentences in meaningful contexts.’

Key learning points

  • Teachable moments lead to an extension and depth of learning
  • No time is required in preparing specific resources for a specific task
  • Adults have the time for observation and play

Key words:

  • Fire, firefighter, vet, helicopter, koala, kangaroo

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