How things have changed…history in the EYFS

    Published: 09 May 2022

    History! In the EYFS? Although most schools and settings prefer not to refer to history as a discrete subject on the Early Years curriculum, there is always a lot of talk about the past.  When working in schools and settings we often get asked about how to support history leaders in documenting and planning for the teaching of history in the EYFS.  Nestled under the somewhat vast umbrella of understanding the world (UTW), we can find statements of intent linked to history teaching in the EYFS.

    The revised EYFS Statutory Framework 2020 saw a change to some of the Early Learning Goals (ELGs). For example within UTW we see it is more closely aligned with the requirements of the history curriculum in KS1 through the inclusion of a new ELG entitled ‘Past and Present’.  It is important to remember that we must not teach to the goals but bear them in mind.  To support children in meeting the ELG we can use Development Matters (non-statutory curriculum guidance for EYFS, DfE,2020) which provides examples of how to support this:

    Children in reception will be learning to “comment on images of familiar situations in the past”.  Practitioners can support this by:

    • “present[ing] children with pictures, stories, artefacts and accounts from the past, explaining similarities and differences.
    • offer[ing] hands-on experiences that deepen children’s understanding, such as visiting a local area that has historical importance. Include a focus on the lives of both women and men.
    • show[ing] images of familiar situations in the past, such as homes, schools, and transport.
    • look[ing] for opportunities to observe children talking about experiences that are familiar to them and how these may have differed in the past.
    • offer[ing] opportunities for children to begin to organise events using basic chronology, recognising that things happened before they were born.”
    Quotation from body of blog with image of children playing

    Let’s look at the ELG goal - past and present 

    Children at the expected level of development will:

    • talk about the lives of the people around them and their roles in society;
    • know some similarities and differences between things in the past and now, drawing on their experiences and what has been read in class;
    • understand the past through settings, characters and events encountered in books read in class and storytelling;

    How can we support in ensuring that the children are provided with rich and varied experiences in order for them to successfully achieve the ELG?  First and foremost, it’s important to keep in mind when planning for UTW, you must start from the familiar and personal, leading children from what is already known to discovering new things.

    In their short lives children have little understanding of time, to them a week is a very long time (and for some of us)! Therefore, talking about the Victorians is not appropriate, because in their minds that’s ancient history!

    You should start with what is known and understood by the children then extending it from that point by providing them with a range of wider experiences. Think about it like this:

    • the known to the unknown
    • the familiar to the unfamiliar
    • the local to the global
    • the first-hand to the secondary

    How you approach this is entirely up to you but keep those four bullet points in mind. We all are aware of the huge role of play in allowing children to explore the world around them at their own pace and hypothesise about things. This can be supported by careful interactions from us as practitioners to support and scaffold this exploration and learning. By supporting children in making vital connections between the familiar and the new.

    Fundamentally the environment is critical in ensuring children are provided with opportunities to explore and interact with resources. It is fairly easy to plan aspects of UTW through our provision.


    Illustration of character with signs to past and future


    Top tips for embedding historical learning: 

    • gather collections of artefacts for children to explore. These could be quirky, interesting ones that provoke conversations. Charity shops, car boots and places like eBay and Facebook marketplace are a great for picking up items like this
    • make historical development collections of ‘historical’ items over time! I used to have a box of mobile phones from the ‘bricks’ right through to most recent. I also had vinyls (records), tapes, CDs, and video tapes! But the favourites were always the cameras through the ages! Parents were great at contributing to these collections, you’ll be surprised at what families have squirrelled away.
    • the child’s birth through to present day is history to them. Creating photobooks of them as they develop even from their time with you and having them available in your book corner to promote conversations.
    • lots of children enjoy role play with baby dolls. Set up a ‘babies’ activity zone, including opportunities to dress and undress, bathe the babies, take the babies for walks etc. Use these opportunities to talk to children about when they were babies and how they have changed. Link this to the photobook or display of children as babies.
    • use photos of the school or local area in the past. Many schools have a bank of historical photos squirrelled away, which show changes to the building or the uniform. There are many local history groups you can contact who have a wealth of photos of the local area.
    • utilise the local community, are there any “long standing members” of the community that could come in and share with the children stories, photos, or artefacts with the children

    Further reading

    Gov.UK: Development matters

    Gov.UK: Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework

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