How children learn through play in Foundation Stage (3-5)

A blog by Fiona Aartsen, Achievement and Progress Leader of Foundation Stage in Junior School Leidschenveen

At the British School in The Netherlands, we are very proud to offer high-quality care and education for children aged 3 to 5 years.

The Foundation Stage years lay the essential foundations for all future learning.

Our priority is to provide a stimulating, secure and well-resourced learning environment both inside and out, which meets all the individual developmental needs of every child.

The ways in which children engage with others and with their environment underpins learning and development across all areas of the curriculum. This supports them in becoming happy, confident and motivated learners.

British School in The Netherlands Foundation Stage
Happy, confident and motivated learners

Learning and Development in Foundation Stage

Our early years setting follows the curriculum as outlined in the 2017 statutory framework of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). The framework states four guiding principles that shape the practice in the Foundation Stage. These are: 

  • Every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured
  • Through positive relationships, children become strong and independent through positive relationships
  • Children learn and develop in enabling environments, in which their experiences respond to their individual needs and where there is a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and/or carers
  • All children are individuals who develop and learn in different ways and at different rates

(The Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage, DfE March 2017)


British School in The Netherlands early learners
Early Years learning: shaving foam fun

The EYFS framework

The EYFS framework includes seven areas of learning and development that are equally important and inter-connected. Three areas are known as the prime areas and are seen as particularly important for igniting curiosity and enthusiasm for learning, and for building children’s capacity to learn, form relationships and thrive. The prime areas are:

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

The prime areas are strengthened and applied through four specific areas:

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

All seven areas of learning are used to plan children’s learning and activities. All activities are suited to children’s unique needs and interests. Children in Foundation Stage learn by playing and exploring, being active, and through creative and critical thinking which takes place both indoors and outside. At the heart of all teaching and learning in the Foundation Stage is play!

The best learning happens when a child is playing

Francesca Thrower, class teacher on JSL campus

When a child is playing, they are doing more than ‘just playing’. They are finding things out, using what they know, concentrating, trying, enjoying themselves, thinking of ideas, making links and making choices. All of which are listed by the Department for Education as characteristics of effective learning.

Let them play!

Play allows development cognitively, but also socially, physically and emotionally. To get the best from young children, it is vital that we let them play. We need to offer them time and a space to engage in open-ended, unlimited, imaginative play. Play-based learning allows children to construct knowledge themselves, by allowing children to ‘learn through doing’. During play, everything is an experiment and if something does not work as a child has planned, they are safe to try again.

What makes play so powerful is that there is no right or wrong, or dos and don’ts. It gives children the chance to take risks, explore and take ownership of their learning.

I feel proud to be part of a community that cares for each other and one in which children come first.

Fiona Aartsen, Achievement and Progress Leader of Foundation Stage in JSL

British School in The Netherlands foundation stage
Playing in a rich and varied environment

Enabling environments are crucial to play-based learning. Children thrive when they feel secure and are in a rich and varied environment. This enrichment comes in the form of open-ended resources and careful interactions with adults. Learning through play is most effective when children can build on their skills. Besides facilitating play, teachers also facilitate playfulness. This in itself harbours a culture of respect, collaboration, thoughtfulness, resilience, creativity and kindness: all of which are attributes we look for in our youngest learners.

‘Beyond his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself’ (Vygotsky, 1978).

Also read our blog on Forest School at the British School on learning outdoors.

Suggestions for further reading:

Some of the books and blogs I have been reading are:

  • Greg Bottrill the author of ‘Can I Go And Play Now?’, a book which focuses on bringing ‘the magic of children’ back into the Early Years through play. Read more on his blog Can I go and play now.
  • Alistair Bryce-Clegg ‘Best Practice in the Early Years’ a book filled with brilliant ideas and practical approaches for early years practitioners. There is a big focus on child-led learning and creating the best environment for all young learners. Read more on his blog ABCDoes.

Fiona Aartsen
Fiona Aartsen

On the author:

Fiona Aartsen is the Achievement and Progress Leader of Foundation Stage on our Junior School Leidschenveen campus. She has been working at the BSN for almost 25 years and has been an early years practitioner for nearly 35 years. In the BSN she has nearly always worked in Foundation Stage – as a TA (teaching assistant), Senior TA (teaching assistant), teacher, lead teacher and APL.

Fiona is interested in research and studies in Early Childhood, Child Development and Child Psychology. She has completed numerous diplomas and qualifications in these areas in both the UK and North America.

Fiona is committed to giving children the chance to develop a lifelong respect for learning.


International School in the Netherlands early learners
Can I go play now?