What your child learns in their Nursery year

What your child learns in Nursery
We explain what your child will learn in school Nursery and how you can help them develop new skills.
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Although many children’s first experience of school is when they start Reception, many get a foretaste by joining a Nursery class in the academic year when they turn four.

School Nurseries are based on school premises, and provide early education in a play-based setting. The majority of activities are child-led and supported by teachers, but pupils will also begin to develop skills and knowledge that they’ll explore in more depth in Reception.

Remember, the spectrum of development is vast in young children. Some Nursery children will be capable of Reception-standard activities while others progress at a slower rate. Keep your child’s own stage of development in mind, but speak to their teacher if you have concerns.

Literacy in Nursery

Language development is a key priority in Nursery. Teachers immerse children in a language-rich environment through speaking and listening, reading a wide range of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and rhymes, and encouraging them to share ideas through conversation, story-telling and role play.

You can support this by talking about what you’re doing as you go about your daily life, for example walking to school, shopping or cooking dinner.

Aim to read with your child every day, if only for 10 minutes. Involve them in looking at the pictures, talking about what’s happening, and getting them to repeat rhymes or favourite phrases.

Nursery children are encouraged to develop the foundations for writing by working on their fine motor skills, for example by using equipment like scissors, paint brushes and play dough. If they are showing an interest in writing, teachers will help them to grip their pencil or crayon correctly.

Don’t push them to start writing at this stage, but focus on developing their dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Activities like painting, cutting and sticking, doing jigsaws, playing with LEGO or other building blocks, and using cutlery will all help them get ready for writing.

You'll find more details of literacy teaching in Nursery in our parents' guide.

Maths in Nursery

Although Nursery children don’t do maths as a standalone subject, teachers encourage an understanding of maths concepts, such as counting to 10 and recognising basic shapes.

There’s a strong focus on hands-on learning, such as using coins, blocks or counters. Teachers will encourage children’s understanding of numeracy throughout the school day – for instance by asking them to count how many blocks are in their tower, or talking to them about ‘more’ and ‘less’ if they’re filling vessels at the water table.

You can take opportunities to build on this. For instance, if your child is playing with cars, you might say, ‘How many cars are in this traffic jam? Now another one has joined – how many are there now?’

Or if you’re setting the table for dinner, you could ask your child to count out the right number of knives and forks.

Counting songs like Three Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed and Baa Baa Black Sheep, are important numeracy learning tools in Nursery. You can support your child by singing these songs at home and encouraging them to join in.

For a more in-depth guide to numeracy in Nursery, read our guide for parents.

Science in Nursery

The EYFS Framework for learning doesn’t include science as a distinct subject, but your child will begin to develop science skills through other topics, experiences and everyday activities.

For example, they will be encouraged to wash their hands before eating, and teachers will explain why this is important to keep them healthy.

Nursery children often spend a lot of time outdoors, and teachers will use this to introduce simple science concepts. They might talk about a flower that a child has picked and name its parts, prompt them to think about what’s happening to their body when they’ve been running around (they feel hot and their heart beats faster), and talk about different textures when they’re building junk models.

Talking about science often happens naturally at home, and you can encourage an enquiring mind, for example by discussing how weather changes with the seasons, what makes machines work, why we have to brush our teeth and – that favourite pre-schooler question – why the sky is blue.