Planning in the Moment & the Focus Child Approach

Ofsted definition of teaching (July 2022) 

Teaching should not be taken to imply a ‘top down’ or formal way of working. It is a broad term that covers the many different ways in which adults help young children learn. It includes their interactions with children during planned and child-initiated play and activities, communicating and modelling language, showing, explaining, demonstrating, exploring ideas, encouraging, questioning, recalling, providing a narrative for what they are doing, facilitating and setting challenges. 

It takes account of the equipment that adults provide and the attention given to the physical environment, as well as the structure and routines of the day that establish expectations. Integral to teaching is how practitioners assess what children know, understand and can do, as well as taking account of their interests and dispositions to learn (characteristics of effective learning), and how practitioners use this information to plan children’s next steps in learning and to monitor their progress.

Planning in the Moment

At preschool, we use a combination of an underpinning termly curriculum plan and using the 'Planning in the Moment' approach which allows us observe, assess, plan and teach through hundreds of adult-child interactions every day. We use this approach to ensure that our termly curriculum plans stay updated and relevant to children's current interests and needs. 

The basis for this is that children have a natural desire to learn and explore. So instead of holding their hand through a variety of predetermined activities, we can allow them to find their own interests, and use this to enhance and build upon their existing knowledge.

It’s often broken down into three stages:

  • The Child’s Spark – This is when the child first shows an interest in something. There should be an air of fascination around the object and concentration in what they are now doing.‍
  • The Teachable Moment – The teacher will notice this and approach the child. This is the opportunity to extend their interest, by asking open-ended questions and considering ways to apply this interest to other options within the environment.‍
  • The Documentation – At a later date, we can document the observation. Include the spark, the teachable moment and what we did next. This will help us to map out each child’s interests, and plan an environment that works for them.

The Early Years Foundation Stage explicitly states that “Practitioners must consider the individual needs, interests, and stage of development of each child in their care.” Child-led learning is widely regarded as one of the most effective ways of doing that, while in the moment planning is one of the most effective ways to introduce child-led learning.

Child-led learning is particularly effective because it means children are engaged and involved. This is linked to better brain development in developing children.

First of all, children are not storing up their questions for tomorrow. Being in the moment means you are more likely to be ready with answers when and where they are relevant.

On top of this, many of their interests will be changing from week to week. By being ‘in the moment’, we can observe and work on a child’s interests as they arrive, rather than turning towards a pre-planned task when they might already have disappeared.

When children show high levels of involvement, that is when there is progress and development occurring – when the brain is at its most active. High level involvement occurs most often when children are able to pursue their own interests in an enabling environment supported by skilled staff. It is then in that moment of curiosity, puzzlement, effort or interest – the ‘teachable moment’ – that the skilful adult makes a difference.

From the teachable moment the child feels valued, interesting, important, capable and able to learn as well as gaining knowledge, skills and understanding therefore making progress in one or even several areas of the curriculum.


All observations made of the children are based on quality interactions between children, or children and adults. Observations may include any teaching that has taken place or progress that a child, or group of children, have made or special ‘wow moments’ (see below for more details)

During interaction with children, emphasis is highly placed on using ‘I wonder…’ statements e.g., ‘I wonder if…’, ‘I wonder what…’, ‘I wonder how…’ etc. We feel this approach to questioning is a lot less pressurising than direct questioning and allows children to open up more readily.

The average Early Years Practitioner may have a 1000 interactions and opportunities to plan in the moment each day,  which potentially leads to a 1000 tiny steps of development, all adding up to progress over time. 

It is impossible for us to record all of these interactions, and rather than attempt to document everything that happens we instead focus on writing less and interacting more. 

To ensure that we are still documenting children’s progress and involving parents in their children’s learning we will be using the Focus Child approach. 

What are ‘wow moments’?

Within an enabling environment, and with supporting adults, children will learn how to do things independently and when such moments are observed they are referred to as ‘wow moments’  Wow moments should focus on moments that are important for each child's personal growth and show off their own hard work.

Wow moments can be something your child does for the first time, skills they acquire, observations they make about the world around them and many other things.

They might have taken a big step forward, or you can celebrate a selection of little ones. Importantly, they shouldn't just be measured by what you expect for that child's age. 

Wow moment examples: 

Tilly rode her bike around the garden for the first time without using stabilisers.

That’s the sound ‘t’ said Simon when he was shopping in Tesco. 

Sarah pointed to a traffic sign and said ‘Look, that’s a circle.’ 

Matthew looked at a sign and said, ‘that says no dogs.’ 

Ellen put on her own shoes today. 

Jacob dressed himself and managed all his buttons without help. 

Sam made a model of a rocket using kitchen roll tubes.

Lucy was able to finish all the sentences with rhyming words in her bedtime story.

Parents are encouraged to share observations of ‘wow moments’ of their child at home by making an observation on their child’s Tapestry account. 

Focus children

Staff observe children’s learning and development throughout the term, and will continue to capture ‘wow moments’ however, each child will be a focus child once every half term. This will allow parents to have regular opportunities to contribute and consult with us. By the end of each child’s focus week, they will noticeably have more observations on Tapestry, where quality interactions and learning experiences are recorded. Staff will observe your child extra closely to monitor their interests, their learning, development and progress. 

At the end of the week we will either catch up with parents for a quick chat, or add a short summary observation to their Tapestry account. 

The parents/carer’s role in our system 

If your child is due to be a ‘focus child’ we will ask you to complete a short questionnaire on Tapestry the week before and to also upload some photos of your child/family enjoying activities out of our setting. (No more than 10 please) This must be completed before the start of your child’s focus week.

We value the knowledge and understanding you have of your child and would really appreciate it if you would share anything significant happening in your child’s life, any current interests or anything else that you would like to share.