6 Ways to Identify
Next Steps in the EYFS
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What do you think about next steps?

Part of being an outstanding practitioner is about understanding when to follow guidelines, and when to use your instincts to develop child-led next steps. And that’s what this article is all about.

Understand the different types of next steps that you can identify in the EYFS, and you’ll have the right tools to plan more effectively.

Keen to learn more? Then we’ve got good news! You can download our free next steps in the EYFS guide. Featuring contributions from leading experts Dr Sue Allingham and Laura England, as well as a full rundown of the child development theories you need to know and more than 25 resources to further your learning.

1. Early Years Outcomes/Development Matters

This is the starting place for many nursery practitioners and managers when they think of next steps in the EYFS. Whether you’re using Development Matters (DM) or the more recent Early Years Outcomes (EYO), these non-statutory guidelines for child development are a natural starting point.

The guidelines were published as an aid to help practitioners understand how children might be progressing towards the Early Learning Goals (ELGs) that they should be meeting at the end of the EYFS as they progress to school.

A word of warning though. These checklists should be just a part of your planning and assessment. They’re a great resource for understanding development, but they don’t paint anywhere near the whole picture of a child’s individual development and progress.

And what does it mean for next steps?

If you can identify a statement during an observation, or a behaviour that lies close to one, you can simply select a statement within that area as the next step for that child. For example, if you have a child who is starting to use single words, the next stage within the EYO would look towards linking two words together.

Bear in mind that children will progress at vastly different rates – for many children, this next step would be a longer-term goal, while others may achieve this next step within a much shorter time-frame.

That’s where it matters that these EYFS frameworks are just a guide. Often they mark sensible future goals, but each child learns and develops in a unique way. The steps may be too big for some, and too small for others.

More importantly, we need to be aware of children guiding their own learning, and the many ways in which they can deviate from these set frameworks.

Where can I learn more?

2. Scaffolding Interests

Just like its namesake, scaffolding is where a practitioner provides levels of support to a child, helping them to further explore an interest, and better understand their new found skills.

Just as scaffolding is taken away once the construction work is complete, eventually the child too should be able to continue independently without the support of a practitioner.

Scaffolding could be in the form of questions. It might be about guiding the child through some adult-led play. It could be about helping children by modelling the language they’re unable to use themselves. Either way, it’s about offering the support to extend their development.

And what does it mean for next steps?

This is where next steps can be more focused on the key person than the child they’re assessing. It’s all part of the same process that helps children to develop and learn through their play, but here your next steps are focused on what the practitioners can do to
scaffold and advance an interest.

The next step could be asking more questions to get the child to come up with an answer independently. Or it might be to encourage them to come up with some solutions to a problem by offering challenging tasks.

Where can I learn more?

3. Extending the Object

When you start to delve into more child-led next steps, rather than next steps led by a practitioner or by an EYFS framework, it tends to be about extending what you’re seeing in your observations.

What do we mean by extending the object specifically? It’s about giving children opportunities to further explore a subject of their interest.

This might be a toy, a random object, or a particular provision you’ve set up. Then, you take the opportunity for them to explore connected subjects, and see if their interest is extended beyond the specific object they started with.

And what does it mean for next steps?

Extending the object with regards to next steps starts with observing the subject of a child’s intrigue. Is it a particular toy? A certain word, sound, or object? When a child’s interests are piqued by something, it’s important to ensure that their interest isn’t stopped by your actions, but encouraged and developed.

You can then plan next steps through your provisions or through adult-led play that extend this. That might be ensuring those objects of interest are more present in the setting, attempting to open up a child’s interest by including similar objects, or by modelling similar words or sounds.

Maybe a child is interested in cars. You could look to extend this interest to other types of vehicle, or to different types of movement.

This is also one great way to involve in-the-moment next steps planning to your process. This is where practitioners simply extend an interest in the moment, as opposed to assessing and planning next steps in the usual, more structured way.

Where can I learn more?

4. Extending the Concept

This is just another way to look at extending the interest. Instead of looking to expand the group of objects they are interested in, you take a child’s intrigue towards something and extend it into a different area of learning.

When a child is curious about something, it’s a great opportunity to grow that curiosity and spread it across these different areas of learning. That way, you’re able to work off the back of this intrigue into a different area knowing that the fascination they have with that concept is likely to keep the child happy and engaged.

And what does it mean for next steps?

It’s all about spending the time in your observations to really understand what the child’s interest is. When you’re observing the child, ask yourself the question “What am I really seeing here?”.

For example, Harry might be particularly engaged with paint. This could mean he is fascinated with the movement involved in painting, it could be that he’s interested in the colours, or more broadly in simply creating representations.

Once you take the time to understand exactly what they are doing, it becomes a lot easier to plan next steps within your provision.

Let’s say you recognise that Harry’s interest is mostly to do with colours. Having cultivated an expressive and physical interest in colours, you could take the interest outside and see how he explores colours in the outside world. Perhaps you could use guiding questions to see how he can communicate his feelings about different colours.

Where can I learn more?

  • Kathy Brodie’s piece on next steps gave us lots of insight for this whole guide. Her example of Nathan’s fascination with light and dark displays this type of next step especially well.
5. Extending the Social Context

One area that can easily be lost with next steps is the social context of what children are doing. Particularly for those children who don’t naturally engage with others, it’s easy to focus on their development within the areas that more clearly focus on what they’re doing alone.

But social development is hugely important in the EYFS, and you can’t afford to exclude the ability to make and develop relationships from their next steps.

And what does it mean for next steps?

Personal, social, and emotional development tends to work best within group work, and there’s no problem with making this a part of an individual child’s next steps.

When a child is particularly secure within an area or showing a really strong interest in a concept or object, it is the perfect time to encourage them to share with the other children in your setting. When they feel comfortable with their own achievements, they’re much more likely to be comfortable sharing them with others.

Consider Harry again. Perhaps he’s now feeling very confident around colours, and you can do some focused work in a larger group, knowing that this is something he’s comfortable with. This is particularly important if you know that Harry is a little shy ordinarily, as he’s more likely to develop socially within the types of play that he’s comfortable with.

Where can I learn more?

6. Developing the Interest vs Developing the Skill

Perhaps a simpler way of looking at the problem of which route to take with next steps is choosing between developing the activity and developing the skill. With one route, you are encouraging the child to extend their interest. To develop on something that intrigues them, or piques their curiosity, and seeing what wonderful way it will take them.

On the other, you are looking at a skill that the child is showing, and trying to associate it with a more advanced skill or sense of understanding they could acquire.

Which route to take? Well, that’s where your knowledge as a practitioner comes in, and where your understanding of each child is essential. It may be that they’re still developing or falling behind in certain key areas, and you want to place a focus on particular skills. Or it may be that you observe a particular interest in something they’re doing, and you know the focus should be on extending that.

Either way, being able to work out how to plan next steps takes more than just a few sheets of paper with some ideas on. It takes a wide range of knowledge, and a wide range of resources for you to be able to fall back on.

And that’s not all. Fill in the form below to receive your free copy of our complete guide to next steps in the EYFS. Featuring expert guidance from Laura England and Dr Sue Allingham, child development theories to help improve your knowledge of next steps, and over 25 resources for further reading. Join thousands of other managers and practitioners and download your copy today!

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