Benefits of Using In the Moment Planning for Young Children


woman teaching a little girl

As a nursery practitioner, a lot of your time is taken up observing children, making notes, completing assessments, and planning learning for the week ahead.

It seems obvious that a teacher would plan ahead to ensure children have a direction for their learning, and to allow them to prepare resources in advance. In turn, this enables teachers to feel more confident and organised, as they are already looking towards the future.

But, is planning these next steps always truly beneficial for a child? Are they being pulled out of play to engage in activities which have a real meaning to them? Or is it becoming more of a tick box exercise?

Instead of being bogged down in paperwork and taking time out of your day to get ahead, there is an alternative. In this blog post we’ll identify what ‘In the Moment Planning’ is and what it means for teachers, students, and parents.

We’ll also discuss some of the benefits to allow you to weigh up the pros and cons of this approach during early years education.

What Is In the Moment Planning?

The clue is in the name! In contrast to ‘topic planning’, this approach involves completing the planning cycle in the actual moment rather than planning in advance.

“Let the children choose what to do, join them and support them in their pursuits. Then write up what has happened.”

– Anna Ephgrave, author of Planning In the Moment with young children.

It’s centred on the idea that children have a natural curiosity and desire to learn. Therefore, instead of holding their hand and guiding them through pre-set activities, teachers take more of a back set and allow children to explore their own interests.

This is highly meaningful and valuable as it gives children the freedom to choose activities they enjoy rather than being directed by an authority figure. To make this possible, you need to work more closely with children and observe their interactions and choices.

You can then use this knowledge to extend a child’s learning in the moment, rather than taking the long-term cycle of observation, reflection and planning. With this approach, everything is done instantly.

The approach can be broken down into 3 stages:

  • The Child’s Spark – This is defined as the starting point when a child first shows an interest in something. They should be fascinated and truly captivated by what they are doing or the new object they have discovered.
  • The Teachable Moment – The teacher notices this interest and approaches the child. This gives the teacher the opportunity to extend the child’s interest by asking open ended questions and thinking of ways this interest can be applied to other areas of teaching.
  • The Documentation – At a future date, you can document the observation and include details of the spark, the teachable moment and the steps you took next. This helps monitor each child’s interests so you can tailor the environment to suit.

boy playing with a paper plane

Why Should I Use In the Moment Planning?

For this approach to work, nursery practitioners need to understand the benefits behind it and how it helps a child’s development.

In the Moment Planning is one of the most effective ways of introducing child led learning. By allowing children the freedom to explore their own interests, it increases their engagement as they are allowed to participate in activities they have chosen themselves.

Furthermore, this increased engagement is linked to enhanced brain development as children build on their current skill set and develop their own responses to different challenges. They are in charge of their own learning, and the teacher acts as more of a guide.

By being in the moment, you are experiencing situations as and when they happen. In traditional planning, you can often miss significant moments as you are too consumed with thinking ahead. Children do not store questions for a particular time that fits in with the ‘plan’ but instead ask them as soon as they come into their head.

By being in the present, you can actively engage with these questions and use these valuable insights to drive learning forward. You can observe and work on a child’s interest as they happen, rather than keeping to pre-planned tasks which might not reveal anything meaningful.

Another advantage of this approach is reduced paperwork. As you are planning less, you have more free time to spend with the children, immersing yourself in the experience. For any nursery practitioner, less paperwork has to be a good thing!

How Do I Introduce In the Moment Planning?

As a nursery school owner, introducing any new approach can be quite daunting, especially if your staff are used to a particular way of working.

If you’re considering implementing this approach in your nursery setting, we’ve put together some useful tips to make the process easier.

Trained Staff

To make In the Moment Planning work, you need strong, instinctive practitioners. Some of the skills required include being able to observe, looking beyond the obvious for real opportunities to extend learning, being able to improvise and think on your feet, and finally having thorough knowledge of child development. This includes having knowledge of sustained shared thinking and schemas.

Get Staff On Board

Most nursery school practitioners choose this career path as they enjoy spending time with children. With In the Moment Planning, it enables them to do this even more, which is a great starting point when encouraging your staff to adopt this approach.

a girl learning the alphabet

Correct Documentation

Although there is less paperwork with ITMP, it doesn’t mean a lower Ofsted grading. You need to understand how to document your teaching to show that you are now working on a child’s basis.

Keep the documentation simple, and make a note of the spark, the teachable moment, and the next steps you took to support this. It should be an accurate account of the interaction between you and the child and how you’re tailoring the environment to suit their needs.

The Environment Is Key

The environment should be engaging and stimulating to facilitate child led learning. Providing a variety of resources and materials is also important to decipher what things the child enjoys and is drawn towards.

You might also need to make changes to the environment to ensure it caters towards the needs of the child. You should review how the environment is engaging different children and make any necessary revisions to sustain this engagement.

What Are the Benefits of In the Moment Planning?

Reduces Paperwork and Stress

As we’ve already covered, ITMP reduces the amount of time spent completing paperwork and filling out assessment forms by allowing teachers to be in the moment.

For nursery school practitioners, your schedule is always very busy and things crop up all of the time. Any method which can free up some time is a big plus. Being stressed is one of the biggest causes of a burn out when teaching early years, so this approach helps relieve some of that pressure.

Planning activities and topics in advance is not necessary, as teachers can extend a child’s interests as and when they arrive.

More Time for Positive Relationships

One of the core principles of the EYFS framework is positive relationships. By having more time to interact with children, nursery practitioners can form a closer bond with them, and gain a deeper insight into their perspective of the world.

By spending more time with their teacher, children are more likely to become more effective learners as they feel supported throughout the process. Instead of having a distant, disconnected relationship, they form an attachment with the practitioner which increases their confidence and social skills.

In turn, practitioners tend to be a lot happier as they are getting to do what they love! Although documentation is an important part of their role to demonstrate teaching practices to parents and for evidence for Ofsted, being able to play and interact with children is at the heart of the job role.

little boy playing outside

More Opportunities to Learn

By creating an environment which is exciting and engaging, you are stimulating a child’s senses and inspiring them to find out more. They are curious about the world around them, and want to dig deeper into different resources and materials.

This approach specifically focuses on ‘sparking a child’s interest’ and then using this knowledge to extend their learning further. By providing a rich environment with lots of opportunities to learn, it becomes easier for a practitioner to identify these interests.

For example, if they notice a child is fascinated by balancing different resources, they can provide weighing skills to allow them to explore this concept further. This shows you are playing to their strengths and basing your teaching on what they enjoy.

Intuitive Approach

In the Moment Planning is viewed as an intuitive approach to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) as teachers are extending a child’s interests as they emerge.

Babies, toddlers, and young children do not think ahead, but instead operate in the moment. By implementing this approach you are catering towards their thinking style and going with the flow. Their natural curiosity can be sparked at any time and you need to be ready to explore this as and when it happens.

The core basis is to be involved in the ‘here and now’ so you can truly enjoy these moments and use them to the advantage of the child.

Child Centred Approach

As one of the most effective types of learning, this taps into a child’s natural instincts. It ensures children are at the centre of their own learning and teachers simply facilitate this. They should not distract or lead the child away from activities they choose for themselves.

By teachers not dictating learning, it allows children to set their own pace. Every child is different and this approach celebrates this. There is no one size fits all, but rather children have their own set of strengths and weaknesses.

child colouring in a butterfly

Benefits of Using In the Moment Planning for Young Children

Instead of your time being taken up writing notes and completing assessments, wouldn’t it better to spend more time with children?

This way you would be able to actively engage them in conversation and truly observe their behaviours as they complete different activities.

With In the Moment Planning, you can.

This approach is focussed on nursery practitioners being present with children and essentially planning in the moment instead of trying to get ahead. This allows a teacher to respond to a child’s interests and tailor activities to suit their genuine strengths and weaknesses. Instead of pulling children out of play to complete an assessment, ITMP is based on activities which have a real meaning to them.

The Learning Journals platform, is built by a nursery, for nurseries. We understand the challenges nursery teachers face everyday and want to reduce the amount of paperwork and stress, allowing you to spend more time doing what you love.

With our online platform, you can record, upload, and share limitless observations of a child. With an in depth observation only taking a minute or two, teachers spend time with children instead of being stuck with a folder that gets very little attention.

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