Last reviewed 20 October 2021

Rebecca Fisk outlines how early years practitioners can share information from the revised What to expect in the Early Years Foundation Stage: a guide for parents from the Department for Education with parents and carers.


What to expect in the Early Years Foundation Stage: a guide for parents produced by the Department for Education (DfE) explains how early years practitioners can share guidance for parents on the learning and development stages for children in the revised EYFS.

The EYFS begins at birth and ends when a child moves into Year 1, which follows their reception year at school, and the guide is relevant throughout this period. Parents have contributed to writing it along with a steering group of early years practitioners, consultants and academics. The guide can be consulted in full here.

The guide is designed to support parents within the three age bands of developmental learning but stresses that children develop at different rates in different areas of learning and development. These three age bands are birth to three, 3-4 and 4-5 (the reception year in school).

The age bands can make it easier for those working with the funded early years entitlement at three years when many children start to attend childcare provision. However, it is important that practitioners are familiar with the birth to three section and the 4-5 section as children’s development does not necessarily fit into a linear timeframe.

The new guide builds on the 4Children and the DfE’s strategic partnership What to Expect When? (2015) document.

The guide covers several main topics as denoted below.

Seven areas of learning and development

The EYFS comprises seven educational programmes or areas of learning and development. There are the three prime areas of learning which are ‘crucial to ignite children’s curiosity and enthusiasm for learning’: communication and language, personal, social, and emotional development, and physical development (DfE 2021). In addition the four specific areas of learning are where the prime areas are ‘strengthened and applied’ through: literacy, mathematics, understanding the world and expressive arts and design (DfE 2021).

Understanding a child’s development

The guide sets out to help parents to think about their child’s age range in broad terms such as ‘when I am a baby’ or ‘when I am a toddler’ and builds in developmental checkpoints to support parents to have conversations with early years practitioners or other services such as health visitors if they are worried about their child.

How the earliest years influence a lifetime

As the guide says, ‘what happens early, matters for a lifetime’ (DfE 2021). This section focuses on the importance of the parent-infant relationship and how parents can help build positive brain development in the youngest children during a period of rapid brain growth. There are links to research and suggestions for parents to share how vital their loving interactions are in giving their child the best start in life. It is important that early years practitioners do not assume that all parents know how to interact well with their children, as many may not have experienced this themselves. Where children have not had these positive experiences in their earliest years, the quality of relationships with others can help to repair the emotional brain. The guide is keen to share research that shows that over 80% of the baby’s brain is formed by the age of three and that up to 75% of each meal goes to building a baby’s brain. These sorts of figures can help parents to appreciate their impact for life on their child. The guide is keen to stress that research ‘tells us that what happens at home makes the biggest different to you child’s learning and development’. (DfE 2021) There are sections for supporting parents to chat with their child, play with their child and read with their child. Practitioners can praise and encourage parents and talk these pages through sensitively with families.

Partnerships with parents

The guide stresses that whilst parents know a lot about their own child, early years practitioners know a lot about children too. Developing strong trusting relationships between parents and other adults caring for their child is essential to build a partnership which can best support each child’s uniqueness. The importance of sharing information, such as health and developmental information from a child’s reviews with health professionals or a child’s learning information, is key to this partnership. This section of the guide encourages all adults who care for and look after a child to work together to celebrate a child’s development and address any concerns with each other.

The Characteristics of Effective Learning

The three Characteristics of Effective Learning are discussed in the guide which help parents understand how children learn. Children learn through playing and exploring where they experience things and investigate them, responding to new experiences. Children learn through active learning where they develop their concentration as they try things out, get used to routines and show they that are trying to do things for themselves. Children learn through creating and thinking critically where they are learning to develop their own ideas and make links between different ideas, such as through pretend play and solving problems. Children learn to articulate their thinking to others with time and might tell you what they are doing.

Development Matters: Birth to Three, 3-4 years and 4-5 years

The guide has a section on how children develop in different areas of learning, dividing these sections into birth to three, 3-4 and 4-5 years. It shows how parents, and practitioners of course, can help a child with their learning when the child is a baby. It also shows how the learning in each area might progress when a child is ‘a bit older’. This terminology is aimed at supporting parents to see how child development takes place and the steps that children often take at different stages of progression. This section can be used to discuss where a child is, with their parent(s), and demonstrates some of the stages which might come next. The wording is phrased from a child’s point of view, such as, ‘I love listening to songs and rhymes’ or ‘I copy finger movements and other gestures’ in the birth to three literacy section. By phrasing the child’s development from the child’s point of view, it can support adults in understanding what it is that they need to do to support a child to progress and develop cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically. In addition, there are pages which specifically suggest ideas of how an adult can help a child with their learning in each area of learning and development within the Early Years Foundation Stage and at each age band. Examples include ‘talk to me in our home language’ or ‘offer me manageable choices between two things’.


The checkpoints are not designed to be a tick list for children’s development but a helpful guide to ensure that where there are developmental concerns, these can be identified early, and interventions sought. Checkpoints give the types of learning a child may have achieved as they approach their second birthday or third birthday, for example. Linking these checkpoints back to the ideas for supporting children and the types of things a child enjoys at different ages can help children to progress. Where concerns are identified it is important for parents and other professionals to work together to talk about those concerns and ensure children have the right assessments and support that they need.

Where to go to learn more

The guide has links to resources that can support parents to learn more. This is where early years practitioners can play an extremely important role in encouraging parents to talk about their child’s development together and ensure that parents gain in confidence to have positive impacts on a child’s learning. Links to the Government’s Hungry Little Minds campaign are embedded which take parents to short videos and simple fun activities that they can do together with their child corresponding to the child’s age range of development. These are broken into 0-6 months, 6-12 months, 12-24 months, 2-3 years and 3-5 years old. This section also has links to activity ideas such as the 50 things to do before you are five mobile app, which supports families with low cost or no cost activities to support their child’s social, emotional, physical, and early language development. It allows parents to build a memory bank of photos and videos as a collection of their child’s special moments, with step-by-step instructions. The app design has a strong research base through The Centre for Applied Educational Research. Many councils are promoting this app as a way of supporting families to value and recognise their role in home learning with their child. The impact of the launch of the app across different local authorities is being collated with case studies, for example, in Calderdale, East Sussex, Wakefield, Kirklees, Leeds, and Sheffield. Other local authorities which have recently joined are Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, and Oldham.


The What to Expect in the Early Years Foundation Stage’ guide for parents (DfE 2021) is a comprehensive guide spanning birth to five years across all areas of learning and development. Not only does it focus on what a child might love to do but also on what a child needs to have from the adults around it to have the best chance to develop well. Loving relationships, playful interactions and simple inexpensive activities are needed to help children. The guide provides many useful ideas at different stages and has been developed not only by reference to neuroscience but by parents themselves.

Reflective questions for staff meetings

  • How will I support my staff to read and understand the new guide so that they are confident to promote it and discuss it in detail with parents?

  • How can we use this guide to develop out home learning policy and practice?

  • How can we use this guide to reassure parents about their child’s development?

  • How do we use this guide to empower parents to understand their contribution to their child’s learning?

  • How can we use this guide to help parents understand that their child might have a developmental delay which may need additional assessment and intervention to help the child progress?

Further information