The prime areas of learning and development

The new EYFS framework is statutory from September 2012. Although the quality early years practice which underpins the framework remains as appropriate as it has always been, it is important for practitioners to become familiar with how the areas of learning and development are arranged in the new framework. It will help them to plan how best to support young children’s learning and development and share information and ideas with parents and carers

Seven areas of learning and development replace the previous six areas, grouped into two categories – prime areas and specific areas. The prime areas are important because they lay the foundations for children’s success in all other areas of learning and of life:

  • Personal, Social and Emotional Development
  • Physical Development
  • Communication and Language

The specific areas provide the range of experiences and opportunities for children to broaden their knowledge and skills:

  • Literacy
  • Mathematics
  • Understanding the World
  • Expressive Arts and Design

Why the prime areas are ‘prime’

As emphasised in the original Tickell review of the EYFS, the prime areas are fundamental to children's successful learning in the specific areas. The specific areas cannot be encountered in isolation from communication and language or personal, social, emotional and physical development since children always experience the world through communication and physical and sensory involvement. A strong foundation in the prime areas is essential as evidence shows that, if it is not securely in place by age five, it holds children back in other areas of learning and development.

The new EYFS framework makes it clear that practitioners should observe and respond to each child in their care on an on-going basis. It gives a message to practitioners that there should be a focus on the prime areas for younger children, with gradual building in of support in the specific areas for older children, as they develop. In all instances, the support should be appropriate to an individual child’s level of development and progress.

Practitioners are encouraged to take a flexible approach, responding to each child as an individual learner. There is nothing in the framework that prevents a practitioner from introducing aspects from the specific areas of learning and development for an individual child earlier than they might for other children, if they judge that to be appropriate.

How the prime areas relate to one another

The relationship between the three prime areas of learning and development were set out by Clare Tickell in her review of the EYFS framework in 2011.

Personal, Social and Emotional Development supports:

  • Physical Development – a child who feels secure and safe is confident to expand the boundaries of exploration and is motivated to reach, move and test physical capacities.
  • Communication and Language within relationships that establish turn-taking, joint activity, a desire to communicate and understanding of shared meanings of words.

Physical Development supports:

  • Personal, Social and Emotional Development – increasing physical control provides experience of the self as an active agent in the environment, promoting growth in confidence and awareness of control.
  • Communication and Language – a child who can effectively use the large movements, gestures and fine movements involved in speech is able to convey messages to others.

Communication and Language supports:

  • Personal, Social and Emotional Development – a child who can communicate feelings, needs and ideas develops a strong sense of self and is increasingly able to relate to others in rewarding and appropriate ways.
  • Physical Development through describing actions (which increases conscious control) and through talk about health and the factors which influence it.

Implementing the new EYFS framework

The next few months will be a busy time as practitioners look ahead to how they will implement the new framework. There will be policies to update, working practices to review and revise, staff training sessions to organise and opportunities taken to share information with parents and carers.

To support you in this process, subscribers to Early Years Update can access a 'Practical guides to the new EYFS framework'. The first part of this new resource includes:

  • an introduction to each of the prime areas of learning
  • snapshots describing quality provision for under-twos, two-to-three-year-olds and four-to-five-year-olds
  • reflective questions to help you audit and improve your provision
  • ideas and information to share with parents
  • PowerPoint slides to support staff training.

More resources will be available soon:

  • the specific areas of the EYFS
  • children’s ‘ways of learning’
  • creating enabling environments for children
  • early intervention.

Links to EYPS standards

S1, S2, S4, S5, S24