Planning Opportunities for Each Stage of Development

Planning Opportunities for Children from Birth to Five Years in Relation to:

  • Cognitive development
  • Speech, language and communication
  • Physical development
  • Social and emotional development

Planning for Cognitive Development

Children need to make sense of the world in which they live and we can help them achieve this. Children learn by what they see and hear around them, and by exploration, experimenting and curiosity during play. We need to provide opportunities that excite children, so they want to explore, take risks, can make choices and decisions. In turn share their thoughts, ideas and what they have discovered with others and get their feedback. Providing activities which stimulate all the senses through creativity in music, dance and art can give them the confidence to have a go and form their own ideas and encouraging a different way of thinking and reflect on the outcome (be it successful or not) and how to move forward.


Stage of development

Planned opportunities to support cognitive development


Birth-12 months






Respond to what they see, hear, touch, smell


Uses hands and mouth to explore


Learn by observing others


Use movement to connect with their immediate environment


Reach out and grasp objects


Pull to stand enables investigation to widen


Learn by cause and effect


Born with all their senses needs to observation what’s of interest. Also look for cues they give out to signal they have had enough, so as not to over stimulate.


High contrast – books and objects, rattles, mirrors, faces

Music, lights and aromas – herbs in muslin bags to smell, catch and squeeze


Basket of things to explore giving choice and interest – soft feathers, silk scarf’s, pom-poms


Gentle contact with touch – ‘round and round the garden’, ‘patter cake’


Talk about what is happening to encourage linking actions and words


Different texture shapes and sizes


Bricks or blocks to build


Piece of plastic on floor – crawl around making marks with paint or sprinkles 


Provide a calm atmosphere with quiet music when necessary so they can rest


1-2 years





Express themselves through physical actions and sound


Explore by repeating patterns of play


Become absorbed on a particular activity until mastered


Introduce full mirrors, soft play cubes for hiding, peeping and crawling through


Experimenting with building blocks of varying sizes 


Paper for colour and making marks


Provide toys with opening, closing, pushing and pulling


2-3 years






Trying to make sense of what they see, hear, smell and feel


Interested in why something happens

Like to make things

Interested in texture and experimenting with colours and making marks on paper


Begin to express themselves through role play, art, music and dance.


Provide a wide range of sensory materials to explore colour texture. 


Talk about their observations and experiences, increasing their understanding and vocabulary e.g. smooth, rough, soft, flat, light 

Make an area where work can be planned and talked about and displayed – showing their ideas and results mean they are valued


Outdoor areas giving access to the natural world - opportunity to investigate e.g. effect of wind with chimes, streamers and bubbles


Experimenting to see what happens then reflect on the outcome – jumping in a puddle 


3-4 years




Explore and experiment using range of senses and movement


Show curiosity and interest in objects and living things


Can now describe what they see


Interested in constructing things which require tools


Cause and effect




Use language to convey their mood


Use local areas for exploring both urban and natural environments. 


Bring experiences and/or examples back using them to recreate colleges, paintings, rubbings etc.


Provide a wide range of tools


Group discussion after listening to music – how did it make feel




Provide time so children can express and describe their experiences


Take photographs after visits to relive what was seen and use for discussion, reflection and promote ideas


4-5 years




Awareness of any changes


Uses all senses appropriately


Look more closely at things and ask questions how it works


Notice and comment on patterns


Identify some features of living things objects and events


Describe what they plan to do or make, using tools 


Construct collages, creating different textures and mixing colours


Construct large and small scale and in 2D


Help children notice patterns around them natural and manmade


Handling something to look closely – wood, seaweed rocks


Opportunities to record findings – growing a plant over time, watching ice melt


Range of materials and objects to see how they work – pulleys, torches, breaks on bike, gate latches. Discus what to expect and what they witnessed


Change media to see what happens cause and effect – wet dry, flaky, fixed 


Write, draw, model, photograph, mixing colours


See how children react to new experience – hear a train may move around, may want to paint it


Encourage children to give more depth and description when speaking 


Joining things together in construction to make 2D and 3D work 


Support their likes and dislikes 



Planning for Speech, Language and Communication Development

We can play a huge part in providing opportunities for continuity and extending learning. Young babies need to feel safe and secure, so finding out what a particular baby likes or settles to when feeling distressed, is essential. As a baby’s skills increase they will start to convey more in words and gestures. 


Stage of development

Planned opportunities to support speech, language and communication development


Birth-12 months


From birth, babies are born ready to communicate so practitioners need to be close enough so they can have face-to-face contact, enabling opportunities to hold a conversation. This is a two-way activity and in the very young ‘mirroring’ expressions or sounds, gives the baby a sense that what they are ‘saying’ is valued and meaningful



Watching, waiting, listening and following their cues can help their speech, language and communication skills – “Are you looking at the toys? Which toy would you like; this blue ball?”


Playing familiar games e.g. “Round and round the garden”


Using key words and familiar stories, songs/lullabies and rhymes – if possible in their home language too 


Getting down to the same level as a child and making eye contact lets the child know they have your sole attention and are being listened to


Enforcing routines using familiar words and phrases – “It’s time for your bath. You like lots of bubbles don’t you?” 


1-2 years




Now building simple sentences


Will be trying to convey meaningful messages

Practitioners need to tune-in and appreciate children’s efforts at what they are trying to say – by being sensitive to their use of words and sentence construction builds confidence – “Are you trying to tell me that you have lost your toy? Shall I try to help you find it?”


Talking about what a child is doing, when they are enjoying an activity, will help to put the correct structure of a sentence in context. Also helps pronunciation and to extend vocabulary – “You have a red car”, “I have a blue car”, and “Rosie has a green car”.


Looking at pictures or symbols in books and stories with similar activities a child enjoys helps support hearing words and their visual representation


2-3 years


Extended vocabulary and interests now allows more complex communication with adults and peers


Practising questioning and negotiating skills

Listening to children’s ideas that interests them


Answering their questions


Children learning English as an additional language will need more visual prompts, objects and gestures to encourage more understanding and conversation


Making displays using pictures and objects of e.g. a festival, can be used to encourage talking about a familiar topic


Repetition using tone and intonation in rhythm and rhyme helps children learn to distinguish differences in sounds and word patterns, whilst having fun e.g. “Head, shoulders, knees and toes”


3-4 years


Use of language and understanding, becoming more complex


Can listening to stories and recount them 


Can listen to others and hold a conversation in an interested subject


Can describe past experiences and elaborate on them, accentuating with gestures 


Beginning to explain events and why things happen


Have fun acting out stories and rhymes



Repetition in songs, and using ones that enable turn taking and gesturing – in different cultures


Help children express their feelings and what they need in words


Set up listening areas for stories


Book bags and games to take home and involve parents


Helping link actions in sentences e.g. “The dog was chasing the cat”; “The bird is flying in the sky” 


Helping them to expand their vocabulary e.g. “The elephant is big” – “Yes it’s enormous” 


Use both verbal and visual prompts when introducing a new activity as this will enforce understanding 


Plan practical demonstrations e.g. preparing food Getting the children to ask questions by using how and why words to explaining to describe what is happening


Using puppets and props to help children tell a story or relay their feelings


Practitioner’s should use the correct grammar themselves as they are role model for the children


4-5 years


Now have confidence in their ability to convey what they want and in what they are interested


Uses speech to communicate and less gesturing


Listens to what others say to them and notes it’s relevance


Use speech from experiences and from books 


Increased concentration means they can focus, extend thoughts and ask questions on a subject


Can plan and negotiate activities with their peers


Enjoy using language in role play situations


Listens to and make up their own music, stories and poems


Children now enjoy conversation, they now know there is a purpose to talking to someone. By turn taking and listening to another’s point of view, ideas, or experience can widen their own view of life


Encouraging social etiquette during conversation e.g. “Please, thank you, excuse me”


Help practice negotiating skills e.g. “Can I?”, “May I?”


Encouraging them to extend their thoughts e.g. make up another an ending to a story, think of different things that rhyme, new words to a familiar song


Give thinking and sharing time


Set up collaborative tasks e.g. making a display or constructing a building, acting parts in role play 


Encourage planning activities themselves e.g. the part each child will play, what is needed, what is the outcome


Provide portable lists of appropriate words (word banks) linked to indoor and outside play. Also various writing resources 


Encouraging show and tell. Each child brings something they have made and tells the group about it e.g. how it was constructed, why and then have questions and discussion from the group




Planning for Physical development

Planning opportunities to encourage physical development is essential for improving both gross and fine motor skills, whilst building confidence in children’s physical ability with sensitive guidance and encouragement. We need to provide age appropriate equipment and resources that physically challenge and interest our children of all ages, both indoor and outdoor. When planning activities, time needs to be built in for practising and repeating new skills. There also needs to be planned time for promoting healthy life styles and choices which will have give a positive self-image.


Stage of development

Planned opportunities to support physical development


Birth-12 months


Gross and fine motor skills, will at first, be jerky and uncontrolled but with as skills are learnt by cause and effect, they become more controlled and purposeful


Sensory exploration helps link babies to their immediate environment


As babies become more physically able they will crawl, pull up or cruise around








Planning space to be free to kick, roll and stretch out 




Providing activities which move and make a noise encouraging babies to reach out with their arms and legs – gyms with a number of tactile objects and hanging bells will encourage reaching out with legs and arms


Opportunities for grasping objects – placing toys out of reach to encourage babies to reach


Having tummy-time strengthen the baby’s back and neck muscles – available both indoor and outdoor 


Offer low-level equipment for safe cruising 


Baskets of colourful toys that can be sucked, pulled and squeezed near by to encourage babies to reach out


Offering baby massage 


Offering rest areas which are accessible when needed


1-2 years




Now more mobile toddlers can physical go to a wanted toy, person or object. This can be potentially dangerous


Love expressing themselves through sounds and movement














Provide safe space, both indoor and outdoor, for bouncing, climbing and throwing


Offering soft play materials – tunnels, slopes, small steps to provide a challenge


Music to explore rhythms of movement – using scarves, streamers and musical instruments


Toys with buttons to press, handle to turn, wheels to rotate and books with flaps


Tactile exploration – gloop, dough, clay and sand 


Painting and making marks


Role play activities which need actions – sweeping, poring, digging, and rolling


Encouraging positive health – washing hands and daily routines e.g. hanging up coats and aprons 


Discussing choices of drinks – water, juice milk


2-3 years


Now in control of their movements become skilled negotiator of space and objects


Hand-eye and hand leg co-ordination


Put movements together running, jumping and turning


Copy real events e.g. see a plane pretend to be one and act it out


Find stopping difficult


Planning must include a risk assessment, indoor and outdoor, for large equipment e.g. use of ladders, different size boxes. Zones need to be allocated for these where children can play safely 


Proving opportunities for – kicking, throwing and catching a ball


Proving activities for balancing, experimenting with movement e.g. through party games or free expression using all the body


Providing music and dance – using gestures, scarves, streamers and through spontaneity 


Real and role play activities – encouraging both meaningful and pretend games to stimulate imagination


Making large expressive marks in the form of murals and collages


Need provision for rest and recuperation 


Encouraging positive health – display colourful menus and food (include cultural differences) 


3-4 years






Use movements to express feelings


When chasing they are competent at avoiding others and objects


Hold a position


Climb stairs


Move spontaneously


Fine motor skills improving


Planning enough indoor and outdoor activities so children don’t have to wait 


Mark out boundaries for some activities with different surfaces. Mark out chalk lines for various paths and tracks for children to follow on foot, skipping, pushing prams or riding bikes 


Children can now enjoy team games with simple rules e.g. including rolling, throwing, catching and fetching


Encourage controlled actions and expressions, during a music, story time or rhythm session –stretching, balancing, being happy or sad, being big or small


Planning arts activities e.g. cooking, painting, playing an instrument 


Providing to promote fine motor skills – world toys, construction, posting, threading materials for collage, fingers or whole hands finger paints, patterns in damp sand or paint


Encouraging positive health – displaying physical activities and talking about the benefits of not to become overweight. Also the importance of rest and providing an area for recuperating


4-5 years






Move with smooth control and co-ordination


Begin to understand the need for safety when a new challenge


Provide large cartons, fabrics and planks for imaginative construction (check for damage and possible safety issues)


Plan games that improve precision skills e.g. target throwing, kicking and catching games with beanbags, cones ball and hoops


Encourage different skill combinations e.g. hopping forwards and backwards, sideways, left and right 


Balancing skills e.g. bikes to ride


Plan time for repeating activities, refining and improving new skills


Planning whole body action rhymes e.g. “Head, shoulders” or “Going on a bear hunt”. This gives opportunity to talk parts of the body and to extend vocabulary 


For improving fine motor skills, provide various implements and tools (left and right handed) e.g. scissors, tweezers, tongs, scoops, brushes and paints


Provide different textures and materials e.g. wood, plastic, rubber, sand, clay, water, textiles and paper


Provide construction toys which need twisting, pushing and slotting. Building and taking them apart to see how things work 


Encouraging positive health – have water available. Talk about how they feel after exercise



Planning for Social and emotional development

Children need to develop a sense of belonging, a positive sense of self, social skills and respect of others. When they feel they are warm, safe and cared for, children can develop secure attachments, giving them the confidence to explore the world and express their feelings and ideas freely. Adults are children’s role models, we need to set a good example of what is socially acceptable. Looking from the child’s point of view can help support a child in a challenging or emotional situation. Planning needs to take account of children’s different personalities and traits e.g. not all children cope well in large groups and some need space to be on their own sometimes.


Stage of development

Planned opportunities to support social and emotional development


Birth-12 months


Begin to understand awareness of self


Play with own feet and hands

Thrive on emotional needs being met and physically being comforted. Snuggling in and comforting objects familiar to them


Babies are social from birth and they learn by interacting with others


They build special relationships with special people


Can anticipates food and express discomfort


Can point, showing what they want




The environment at home will probably be very different to the setting. To help plan, finding out routines, familiar lullabies and songs from parents, so they can be shared in the setting and at home – this brings consistency 

Plan feeding times, taking in to account individual and cultural dietary needs


Provide comfy sofa to sit together


Plan to have conversations but follow their lead and cues, respond by mirroring, to expressions, sounds, actions and gestures sensitively


Talk about the people in their lives


Keep comforter and toys easily accessible for times when they are not centre of attention


Provide mirrors so they can see their own reflection and talk about what they see


Play gentle music when they are tired


Plan space for tummy time and free movement – getting down to their level to play and interact


Repeat greetings at start and end of session so they become familiar daily rituals


1-2 years




Learning they are a separate person from other


Learning they are special


Becoming more confident in self


Can be caring towards others


Use cause and effect to see the response from someone – this helps their understanding of others and themselves


Become aware of their belongings


Plan a display photos of practitioners so when children and parents arrive they can show who looks after them


Plan a display of pictures with groups of children showing what they like to do, eat and play with. 

Make the children’s own book showing what they like to do, which reflects the diversity within the group


Promote positive images with diversity and disability


Encourage all children to caring for each other


Plan in time for children to complete tasks e.g. tying shoelaces, dress, toilet


Keep flexible routines


Children check acceptability of their actions – help them to label their emotions by talking to them about their own feelings and those of others


Read stories and have picture books showing empathy for others


2-3 years



Now children are more confident and show preferences and interests


They begin to recognise danger and know who to go to if they need help


Enjoy talking to adults and other children


Respond to others feelings


Are aware some actions can hurt or endanger others


Takes pleasure in personal hygiene


Share policies and practices with parents, including how to respond to possible situations to ensure best outcomes for children



Exchange information with parents about any concerns so everyone can observe and feed back


Help children to learn their rights, talk about ways to avoid harming or hurting others


Abilities of children need to be valued – what they can do and do for others


Record individual achievements


Encourage symbolic play to enable children to express their feelings e.g. through puppets, toy animals


Plan games to help them recognise need for rules and turn taking. Making groups to ensure children have opportunity to join in


Read stories and provide pictures or objects support children making choices


Make a area where children can share photos of their family’s pets


Create areas for children to sit and chat


Allow time for children to pour their own drink, serve food or water plants


3-4 years





As independence grows children will want to choose the activities they want to do, asking for guidance when necessary


Talk freely about home and community


Gaining more complex skills


Have a sense of personal identity


Start to show sense of trust with others and form friendships


Accept flexibility and changes in routines


Show care for living things and environment

Demonstrate sense of pride


Plan opportunities for children to take responsibility e.g. getting the paints out, putting them away, handing out paper, collecting books


Plan opportunities for children to have their own ideas e.g. making something out of junk and build on children ideas to plan new experiences that present a challenge


Encourage children to ask questions and be inquisitive


Establish routines which predict sequences and events


Encourage children to play and collaborate with a variety of children


Provide activities and opportunities for children to share experiences so they understand differences in each other children’s lives e.g. camping, a hobby, a pet


Talk about why we should care for their homes, communities and the environment

Plan extra time for children in transition as they move from one setting to another and different groups


4-5 years


They now will become absorbed in an interested activity


Can sit and concentrate


Express needs and feelings in appropriate ways


Show range of feelings when appropriate


Respect each other cultures and differences


Accept they may need to wait for something they want


Can stand up for themselves


Are aware of boundaries set and behaviour expected


Dress independently

Opportunities which encourage experimenting and to talk about what they are learning. By sharing each others experiences the ideas are given value


Make a display showing who makes up the local community


Invite someone to the setting to talk about aspects of their work and life 


Share different cultures and beliefs


Encourage them to share feelings and stories of their experiences. During circle time discuss those feelings, using props like puppets 


Make a feelings chart with e.g. happy, frustrated, angry, excited, sad 


Provide activities which require turn taking and sharing


Praise good behaviour, caring, sharing and taking the initiative


Listen and help children identify, find solutions and resolve differences or injustices. Trying to find the best outcome can help them deal with similar situations in the future


Try to get them to look at another viewpoint


Provide books and stories where people break the rules and the consequences



The Children's Project Ltd
Changing the World - one baby at a time
08450 94 54 94