Teaching and learning

9 Understanding the world EYFS activities

Exciting ways to explore the understanding the world area of learning
A cartoon image of two early years children playing near a planet to represent understanding the world area of learning in the EYFS
March 9, 2018
Reading time:
a light bulb with the letter p inside it

a black and white image of two hearts

famly icon - piggy bank

a black and white image of two houses



a black and white image of a bunny and a bottle


a black and white heart icon

With Famly since

A specific area of learning, understanding the world is one of the seven areas of learning that should underpin your EYFS curriculum. On the surface, teaching pre-schoolers to "understand the world" seems like a very tall order, but luckily, we're here to help.

Check out our 9 inspirational activities to help you deliver understanding the world in your early years setting.

Understanding the world

Understanding the world involves guiding children to make sense of their physical world and their community. The frequency and range of children’s personal experiences increases their knowledge and sense of the world around them – from visiting parks, libraries and museums to meeting important members of society such as police officers, nurses and firefighters. In addition, listening to a broad selection of stories, non-fiction, rhymes and poems will foster their understanding of our culturally, socially, technologically and ecologically diverse world. As well as building important knowledge, this extends their familiarity with words that support understanding across domains. Enriching and widening children’s vocabulary will support later reading comprehension.

Statutory guidance: Early years foundation stage (EYFS) statutory framework

A preschooler uses a smal tool to explore the plants in their nursery garden

EYFS Understanding the world: The world

The understanding the world activity: Sensory Baskets

It’s no secret that sensory baskets are a brilliant motivation for babies and toddlers to explore different materials and their properties. Consider creating different collections of items that all belong to the same environment. Not only will this give the little ones a chance to create logical connections in their minds, but you get the opportunity to observe the things that interest each individual child the most.

Take a look at this list of items that you can include in your themed collections.

‍"Personal experiences contribute to children’s emerging sense of place, such where they live and other familiar places, and their sense of time. They begin to understand what happens over a day. They’re aware of morning, afternoon, evening and night time."

Help for early years providers: Understanding the world- Personal experiences

The understanding the world activity: Composting

The ‘magic’ of watching garden waste turning into soil might be just the way to recycle while fostering the children's curiosity about the outdoor environment. Later on, you can use the soil for planting activities and take along this lovely, non-fiction book that can inspire gardening even among the youngest ones.

Check out these four, fun ways to introduce kids to composting!

The understanding the world activity: Bug hotel

A simple twig pile in an undisturbed corner of the garden or a rotting tree trunk is enough to attract a range of wildlife to your setting’s outdoor area. It can be a true delight for the little ones to observe how different insects and invertebrates find shelter, feed, and collaborate.

Head over to this article to find out some other simple ways to attract more wildlife creatures to your setting.

A preschooler explores a mobile phone in their nursery setting.

EYFS Understanding the world: People and Communities‍

The understanding the world activity: Family Photos

Ask parents for some pictures of family members and relatives (or even pets!) and create a memory box that you can share with the babies randomly during the day. Try making an actual family tree, or a wall display, or a photobook – any way you approach it will work so long as the little ones can feel connected with their home environment when they’re at the nursery.

Here’s how to create a Familiar Faces Basket

"Having an idea of who they are as a child, within a family, leads naturally to being curious about everyone else. Starting in a setting or belonging to a childminder’s family, children begin to sense other relationships outside their own family."

Help for early years providers: Understanding the world- Diverse world

The understanding the world activity: Holiday Bear

Choose some of the children’s favourite toys and designate them as travel companions so that every time someone goes on a holiday, a special day trip, or simply to visit their grandparents, they can bring the toy along too. The children will get an opportunity to talk about what they and their ‘Holiday Bear’ have seen and done and everyone in the nursery becomes more interested in how different families and cultures function.

Two early years children are dressed up as astronauts

The understanding the world activity: Guest Visits

When your little ones are familiar with their nursery community, friends and family, it might be a good time to extend their cultural understanding and introduce them to interesting people from the local community. The visitors can talk about their occupations, hobbies, events and lifestyle. Make sure you give the guests guidelines so that they know to expect certain questions and encourage them to bring in some interesting bits and pieces to show the kids.

Teach Preschool prepared a nifty guide on how to prepare for a visitor.

‍"You should describe experiences using the correct vocabulary, playing alongside children. Encourage and support children with their first attempts to use wider vocabulary."

Help for early years providers: Understanding the world- Widening vocabulary

Free guide

Get 50 free EYFS activities

Download now
the eyfs activity library is 50 years old

EYFS Understanding the world: Technology

The understanding the world activity: Interactive Books

Most babies and toddlers are deeply interested in how things work and how they can be controlled. They can get engaged with everyday objects for hours, but if you want to step things up, try some of the lovely, touch-and-feel books with felt flaps on every page, such as ‘Red, Blue, Peekaboo’ . Not only will the kids be enchanted by simple mechanical movements but also introduced to the world of reading!

Check out this list of toddler-friendly, interactive books (some of them can even make sounds!)

The understanding the world activity: Dark Nook

Is there an empty corner in your playroom? It could be a perfect spot to experiment with simple technology such as lights and music players! Start by putting a few chairs in a circle and covering them with a blanket to create a fort. Put some small lamps with colourful bulbs, light boxes, flashlights and a CD player inside and let the little ones explore the game of light and shadows in an ambient atmosphere.

Take a look at these seven, simple ideas for building a DIY fort!

A fire fighter holds an early years child, who's giving a thumbs up, during a nursery visit to a fire station

The understanding the world activity: Making Movies

Many children are already quite competent with technology, so instead of simply presenting how something works, give them the chance to get some hands-on experience with technology and encourage them to make their own movie! You can start with story stones to come up with scenario ideas.

Take a look at these 6 simple video ideas.

‍"Diversity in technology can be defined in different ways, think about who has access to technological devices at home and in the setting. It’s important to make sure all children are supported to become more technologically aware in the world around them. Talk about what is used in the home, in shops, including the use of mobile phones, tablets and computers."

Help for early years providers: Understanding the world- Diverse world

The big ideas

download pdf
graphical user interface, text, application
Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

Picture of a Guidance document
UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

Try famly for free

Get 1000s of free EY activities

Want over 7,000 activities? See them in a free 14-day trial. Filter to target learning areas, age groups and topics, and get inspired.

Get started