In the moment planning: a teacher's guide

Paul Main

In the moment planning offers teachers the opportunity to capitalise on children's interests whilst delivering learning objectives.

What is in the moment planning?

Do you consider a child-led approach to learning as an effective way to teach child? If yes, in the moment planning could be applicable for your early years' education setting (and other key stages). This theory is quite simple and easy to understand. This type of spontaneous planning, on the face of it, might sound a little scary. We will argue that this type of child-led learning in an engaging environment can produce some brilliant work. It's all about reducing a major part of planning and giving independence to its practitioners to enhance a child’s interest at the moment. In the moment planning is a strategy where a topic is spontaneously planned by the early years' education settings based upon individual children's interests.

This system relates to completing the real-time planning in the actual moment rather than planning. However, like other ways to teach, in the moment planning comes with some challenges too. What do you tell the staff? What do you show the stakeholders? How do you document it? All these questions must be answered. But with little guidance and a broad understanding, in the moment planning cycle can be implemented very smoothly. In this article, we will share how an environment with materials that produce ideas and tools to structure them can yield exceptional results.

What is included in 'in the moment planning'?

According to Anna Ephgrave, the author of one of the most influential publications on in the moment planning, we must let the young learners decide what to do, we must accompany them and support them in their tasks. And, then document what happened. This approach to scaffolding requires a balance of adult direction and child interactions. Traditional planning would want a clear route to achieve the learning objective but this approach involves more spontaneous planning. To be successful, we must have a rich repertoire of actions that we can use to complete the learning journey. The universal thinking framework enables educators to 'think in the moment'. Skilful adults can often spot opportunities to take the learning in different directions.

This means, rather than taking the most common long-term observation, reflection and planning cycle, skilled practitioners must do all of these spontaneously. A skilled practitioner would work more closely with individual children, observe their interests and extend the teachable moments accordingly.

The main idea behind Anna Ephgrave's in the moment planning is that young learners have a natural desire to explore and learn. Therefore, rather than engaging in a wide range of preset activities for children, practitioners must allow them to find their interests and use their interests to build upon and enhance their existing knowledge.

In the moment planning can be divided into the following three stages:

  • The Child’s Spark – These crucial moments occur when the child first demonstrates his interest in something. The child feels fascinated about the object and shows the concentration in doing what they are doing.
  • The Teachable Moment – The practitioner will take notice of the child's interest and approach the child. At this moment a teacher would try to extend the child's interest, by considering ways to apply the child's interest to other options within the environment and by asking open-ended questions.
  • The Documentation – The practitioner would document the observation at a later date. It must include details of the spark; what happens in the teachable moment and what the practitioner did next. This step would help a practitioner in mapping out the interests of each child, and in planning an environment that supports them.

Child-led learning activities like block building
Child-led learning activities like block building

What must be included within in the moment planning?

While implementing the concept of planning in the moment, practitioners need to consider the interests, individual needs, and stage of development for individual children in care. Child-led play sessions are thought to be the most useful ways of doing that.

Child-led learning is extremely effective because it means children are involved and engaged. This is associated with better brain development in children in their growing years.

In the moment planning is important because children do not have to keep their questions for tomorrow. Children's interests may change week by week. But, being in the moment implies that a teacher is expected to be ready to answer questions whenever they are relevant. Also, the practitioner may observe and build on a child’s interests as they appear, instead of turning towards pre-planned tasks or engaging students with pre-planned activities. Teachers may take more time to become familiar with this specific concept of paperwork.

Using child autonomy to drive engagement
Using child autonomy to drive engagement

What is the best way to implement in the moment planning?

Like any other changes to a school's environment, implementing the moment planning in real life can be the toughest part of the process.

Building a broad understanding of this process is not difficult, but asking practitioners to follow it, performing the correct documentation and starting endless paperwork may be a little daunting. Many early years environments have adopted learning journals that make this process easier. We will argue that it's not just early years environment that can benefit from this approach. Using photography and videos, schools can document in digital learning journals what the child is achieving. Our learning skills framework can be used to monitor the progress of pupils.

Moving away from traditional planning
Moving away from traditional planning

Considerations with in the moment planning

We have covered some of the best tips for initiating at the moment planning in a school.

  1. Skilled practitioners

For the success of in the moment planning, it is important to have a skilled practitioner, who may complete his/her typical cycle of observation on the spot.

A nursery practitioner needs to work closely with the children. So the schools need highly-skilled, instinctive practitioners.

A practitioner may need the following important skillsets for successfully implementing the moment planning:

  • Strong Observation – The skill to focus and find out precisely what a child is doing. The practitioner must observe the real interest displayed by a child and need to be able to extend and build on to a child's interest and deep level learning by moving things around, or throwing, propelling and catching objects.
  • Improvisation – It is important to have the ability and confidence to think in isolation, giving the correct answer, and making suggestions is the primary objective of this approach to teaching.‍
  • Knowledge of Child Development – In this particular type of planning, sustained, shared thinking and extensive knowledge of how children develop are the core elements that help the skilled staff in uncovering a child’s interests more precisely.
  1. Engaging and Stimulating Learning Environment

This is a form of planning in which the core provisions in the classroom must be stimulating and engaging, so that students may approach things themselves. Also, variation plays a critical role in achieving the moment planning learning outcomes. Engaging and stimulating nursery settings are specifically useful when nursery school practitioners do not have a full picture of every child’s interests.

Creating engaging learning environments
Creating engaging learning environments


Final recommendations on in the moment planning

Following are the recommendations to implement in the moment planning in an educational setting.

  • A skilful practitioner would not ask children about their interests. Children must be free to play while the practitioner interprets their interests.
  • To provide a strong understanding and effective learning experience, the nursery practitioner must not teach pre-planned topics. In the moment planning is more about constantly changing the environment and nursery resources as the children change their interests.
  • The most effective practitioners ask open-ended questions, usually starting with ‘How’ or ‘Why’, and these questions must never have a definite yes or no answer.
  • To offer positive learning experiences, the instinctive practitioners are recommended to carefully listen to and observe every child that they are focusing on.
  • If the childcare practitioners are unable to dedicate the time to learning journey of each of the focus child, he must have a group of children every week to give full attention to.
  • The nursery school practitioners must always go to the children. If the practitioner would ask children to come to him, he may disrupt the flow of children playing with the provided nursery resources.
  • Each educational setting is unique, and an adults role is to provide students with an enjoyable experience of learning and experiment to know what works for his educational setting.