An Introduction to the Foundation Phase
An Introduction to the Foundation Phase

Amanda Thomas

Amanda Thomas is Senior Lecturer in Early Years Education at the University of South Wales, UK. She has ten years of experience as a primary school teacher. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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and Alyson Lewis

Alyson Lewis is PhD researcher at Cardiff University, UK. She has ten years of experience of working as an early years teacher. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Bloomsbury Academic, 2016


Content Type:

Book chapter

Education Level:

Early Childhood Education

Related Content

Planning for Purposeful Play in the Foundation Phase

DOI: 10.5040/9781474264310.ch-007
Page Range: 139–158

Planning in the Foundation Phase

Practitioners need to plan across the seven Areas of Learning, promoting balance, appropriateness and progression in teaching and learning. Personal and social development should be at the heart of the curriculum and there needs to be parity between structured learning through child-initiated activities and those directed by adults.

It is important that children are not introduced to formal methods of learning too soon as this can have a detrimental effect on their future learning and development.

 --(WAG, 2008d, p. 8)

Everyone working with children should have good knowledge of child development, the milestones children are working towards appropriate to their age and how to use this knowledge to plan appropriate learning activities. Practitioners need to be reflective in order to ensure that their practice is continually evolving and that their knowledge is up to date. Gray and Macblain (2012, p. 12) write:

It is essential that all of us who work with children, and who study their development, maintain a strong sense of critical reflection and openness in how we view child development and education as well as our own professional practice.

Foundation Phase planning needs to be flexible to allow practitioners to plan and provide an experiential curriculum based on the developmental stage of the child. There are many different structures and formats for planning but usually practitioners use long-term, medium-term and short-term planning which are discussed in more detail in this chapter.

Effective planning

Good curriculum planning is essential to promote balance, appropriateness and progression in teaching and learning. There needs to be a balance of child-led and adult-led activities. According to Ellis (2011, p. 29), ‘in planning the curriculum we need to focus on what we want children to learn, rather than what we want them to do’. Moyles (2011) argues that it is the job of the teacher to translate the curriculum into learning activities for the children. As noted above, there are many different structures and formats for planning, but they usually include long-term plans, medium-term plans and short-term plans.

Long-term planning usually indicates what will be taught over the year and identifies the learning opportunities offered by each area of provision. It links to the continuous provision in the ‘bottom up’ model of delivery. Medium-term plans are usually for half a term or a term and identify a specific topic and links to the enhanced provision in the model of delivery. Medium-term planning also includes calendar events and visits and visitors. This planning should reflect the existing interests and needs of the children. It should include planning for all seven Areas of Learning inside and out. Teachers usually plan with three things in mind:

  • Existing knowledge and interests.

  • Curriculum guidelines.

  • Teacher’s own interests, strengths and motivation

(Moyles, 2011).

Short-term planning can be daily or weekly but needs to be flexible enough to adapt to learning needs and interests. This will be informed by the medium-term plans, observations and assessments of the children, individual targets and evaluations of earlier plans and from team discussions. Short-term planning should contain the intended learning outcomes and success criteria along with details of the activities, the adult responsible and differentiation (i.e. catering for different abilities within any given activity).

All types of planning need to be meaningful to others and should make links to the framework. There needs to be a balance between adult-initiated tasks and child-initiated learning. There should be evidence of differentiation, opportunities for planned observations, key questions and pertinent language. There should also be opportunities for choice and flexibility a consideration of the skills development and links made to the skills framework.

Themes and topics need to be imaginative, creative and fun, both for the children and the practitioners. Many settings start off a theme with a ‘wow’ day which may involve a trip somewhere such as a supermarket if the topic is ‘food’. Or sometimes visitors will come in to work with the children, such as the local policeman if the topic is ‘people who help us’.

Children’s ideas are also encouraged during ‘wow’ days through mind mapping. This allows them to take ownership over the activities to be pursued and is a good opportunity for the practitioner to find out what they already know about a topic. Parents are informed about the topics being studied through ‘termly curriculum maps’ issued at the start of each term. Foundation Phase settings will differ in the way they set out their long-term, medium-term and short-term planning, but the key concepts will remain the same.

Access the following link online to view an example of a termly topic planner: www.bloomsbury.com/an-introduction-to-the-foundation-phase-9781474264273 .

Building the Foundation Phase model of delivery

The Foundation Phase model is a ‘bottom up’ model which builds on what children can do and this means the child is at the centre of learning, not the curriculum.

Figure 7.1. The Foundation Phase Triangle

If you are a practitioner, how would the triangle look in your setting?

Continuous provision

Long-term planning is the continuous provision from the model of delivery. Continuous provision encompasses the Areas of Learning that are always available for the children to access. Examples include:

• Construction (small and large)ICT
• Sand (wet and dry)Role-play
• WaterReading Corner
• Clay/doughPainting
• Mark-makingCreative Area
• Outdoor classroomMusic Table

When practitioners are planning for the long-term continuous provision, it is crucial that they are aware of the progression of skills needed to be developed throughout all areas of the curriculum. The skills for each Area of Learning can be found in the Foundation Phase framework documentation and the non-statutory skills framework (see further reading).

Enhanced provision

Medium-term planning is the enhanced provision from the model of delivery and is usually half-termly or termly. Enhanced provision is what we add to the continuous provision to create additional, enhanced and enriched learning opportunities. This can be based on a topic or a theme which also incorporates some of the long-term plan objectives.

Focused provision

This is how practitioners initiate, direct and model what children need to learn in order to become confident, independent lifelong learners. These are specific activities that are initiated and modelled/led by the practitioner, involving high-quality adult–child interaction. This is short-term planning and can be weekly or even daily. All three levels of delivery have quality learning outcomes. The key points to note from each type of provision are that the continuous and enhanced provision gives children:

  • time to explore, investigate and practice and consolidate their learning and understanding;

  • an opportunity to follow and develop their ideas and interests;

  • a way to take risks and problem-solve in a supervised environment;

  • an opportunity to revisit skills and concepts until they are comfortable with them;

  • time and opportunity to make connections necessary for understanding.

Focused provision allows practitioners the opportunity to introduce new skills and concepts and model what we want the children to do independently.

This model of delivery allows a balance between practitioner-led and child-initiated activities, teaching and learning, planned and spontaneous play, independent and directed learning and free choice and directed activities. Foundation Phase settings have the freedom to interpret how they are going to achieve this balance. An example of how the three areas of provision can link together is shown below.

Copies of the enhanced and medium-term planning sheets can be sent home to parents to promote home–school links. When practitioners and parents work together there is a positive impact on the child’s development (QCA, 2000).

Focused tasks

These are specific planned activities, usually initiated and modelled by the practitioner and involving high-quality adult–child interaction. The features of focused tasks are as follows:

  • Direct teaching of skills/concepts/knowledge – the adult is leading the learning.

  • Focused tasks can be whole group or individual and will vary according to the nature of the task.

  • Learning is measured and the assessment of the learning links back to the learning intention.

  • Next steps in the children’s learning are identified and planned for.

Focused tasks should not stand alone; children need opportunities to practice skills/concepts/knowledge during play and in a relevant context. Focused tasks must be reflected in the environment, as enhancements to the continuous provision. An example of focused planning is shown below.

Foundation Phase Focus Plan:
Learning IntentionActivitiesResources/Key Vocabulary Assessment of LearningAssessment for Learning (Next Steps)
Knowledge and understanding of the world    
Creative development    
Welsh language development    
Physical development    
Personal and social development, well-being and cultural diversity    
Language, literacy and communication    
Mathematical development    

Key skills: LNF links, thinking skills and ICT skills should be identified under each Area of Learning.

It is important to note that these are examples – individual schools will have their own versions of planning for the three types of provision. An example of focused planning for a reception class studying the topic ‘The supermarket’ is shown below.

Area of Learning: Literacy, Language and Communication skills

Learning ObjectiveActivityKey SkillsSuccess CriteriaVocabulary
To write a simple shopping listChildren to look at a range of different food items and to choose their favourites to make a simple shopping list.Communicating, listening, questioning, thinking skills, ICT

Are the children able to write a simple shopping list?

Are the children able to choose which food items they want on their list independently?

Like Dislike Names of food

Individual settings will have their own format for planning and their own planning sheets; the above is just one example.

Organizing the classroom and learning environment

Practitioners need to set up an environment that allows skills to constantly develop ( continuous provision ). Some areas should be permanent to enable children to build on previous experiences (reading area, maths area, writing area, etc.). Topics/themes are opportunities to enhance the skills the children are developing to reflect their interests and take the learning forward ( enhanced provision ). What is planned for in focused tasks should then be reflected in the learning environment to allow consolidation. Adult involvement in play is crucial in order to model, extend and promote learning in different areas. Take time to observe the children in their play, to identify where they are in their learning, their needs and interests.

Experiential learning is the central focus throughout the day. It is the stage not age of the child that is of paramount importance. Time should be given for observation and interaction. Foundation Phase settings need to consider the organization of their areas of provision. For example:

  • Would it more suitable to have the continuous provision such as sand and water in the same area?

  • Would it be a sensible idea to have the writing area near to the role play if the children are going to be doing emergent writing in their role play?

  • Where are the resources for outdoor learning and play going to be kept? Are the resources clearly labelled and can children access them easily?

  • Is there a set timetable as to which resources children have available to them at specific times or on certain days of the week?

All of the above will depend on the size of the setting, the layout of the building and the needs of the children. However, all settings will need to ensure that children are given choice and opportunities to develop their independence.

Foundation Phase practitioners need to create an environment:

Foundation Phase practitioners need to consider the whole environment, both indoors and outdoors, and the impact on children’s sense of well-being. Planning needs to be equally effective for both the outdoor and indoor environment. The learning environment should provide a wealth of learning possibilities and opportunities across all seven Areas of Learning. Teaching and learning experiences should be complementary both inside and outside.

In the Foundation Phase there needs to be a balance between free, child-led spontaneous activities and structured, focused and adult-led activities. In contrast to the belief of Maria Montessori, most Foundation Phase settings are rich and stimulating, with colourful wall displays and interactive Areas of Learning, and are enriching and fun. There should be free-flow access between the outdoors and indoors and between Foundation Phase classrooms (although this will depend on the building structure and layout of classrooms). The setting should be language rich in both Welsh and English and offer opportunities for the children to be independent, be loud and quiet, mark make and explore, read and investigate. Resources should provide for equal opportunities and meet individual needs. Activities should be stage and age appropriate and enable children to consolidate existing learning and acquire new skills. Children need to be able to make choices and engage in experiences that interest them. Remember, visitors are an excellent resource as they can provide first-hand experiences for the children. Most settings will have the following learning/play areas:

  • Home corner

  • Sand/water area

  • Writing, mark making area

  • Maths area

  • ICT area

  • Book corner/listening station

  • Music table

  • Construction area

  • Craft table/painting area

  • KUW/discovery area

  • Outdoor area with equipment to enhance physical development.

All adults in the setting need to be involved in planning, doing, observing, assessing, evaluating and reviewing. This collaboration can be summarized as follows.

  • Continuous Provision : Adults ensure children get the most out of their play. This is not about children completing tasks, but having fun.

  • Enhanced Provision : Here the adult extends and enriches the learning by providing additional resources and introducing new ideas.

  • Focused Tasks: The adult’s role is to lead and develop the children’s ideas, listen and respond to the children’s theories and suggestions, teach skills, knowledge and concepts.

Adults need to be good role models, show empathy, be consistent, encourage and guide the children. They need to talk with the children, question them and share expertise with each other and use observations to improve practice. The learning environment needs to build upon the biological processes of child development and learning, the context in which development and learning takes place and the area of knowledge to which the child is introduced. In a quality learning environment these come together in an integrated way (Bruce, 2005).

Planning for play

The Welsh Assembly Government (2008d, p. 5) argues that ‘Play is an essential ingredient in the curriculum which should be fun and stimulating.’ The Plowden Report in 1967 acknowledged the importance of play and Chapter 2 discussed how both past and present pioneers of education recognized play as a crucial part of a child’s learning and development.

Piaget saw play as a vital ingredient in the development of cognition. Children who engage in play are learning together by sharing, negotiating, problem-solving and communicating thoughts and ideas. He identified five types of play:

  • Functional play

  • Physical activity play

  • Constructive play

  • Symbolic play

  • Formal games

Across the UK and internationally the importance of play has been recognized and it has an established place in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum in England and in the Foundation Phase curriculum in Wales (ATL, 2012). Play is viewed as vital for a child’s natural growth and development – play is seen as just as appropriate in a child’s world as work is in an adult’s world. However, it is worth pointing out here that sometimes parents may not share this view of learning through play as worthwhile for their child. This is where open, honest communication between the setting and parents is needed to alleviate parental concerns and fears. Many settings have open days where parents can come in and observe their child at ‘play’ and where practitioners are on hand to explain the value and purpose of a play-based approach to teaching and learning. Through planning a play-based curriculum, practitioners can allow children to:

  • have learning experiences that help them to make sense of the world;

  • practice and consolidate ideas, concepts and skills;

  • understand the need for rules;

  • play alone, alongside and with others;

  • communicate ideas and thoughts;

  • take supervised risks;

  • problem solve;

  • think in creative way;

  • re-enact fears in a controlled and safe environment

(QCA, 2000).

Practitioners planning for young children in the Foundation Phase need to offer opportunities for open ended learning and cater for individual needs. Learning is a process and not a product; it should be a journey of discovery with endless possibilities and outcomes (Drake, 2005). Isaacs (1929; as cited in Drake, 2005, p. xi), argues that ‘play is a child’s work’ and should not be seen by adults as a separate activity. Children are motivated to learn through play and play needs to be carefully planned. Children need to be able to choose whether to play indoors or outdoors and they need to be given time and space to become deeply involved in their learning. They need to be able to return to play equipment and play experiences to ensure knowledge and understanding becomes deeply embedded.

When planning for play in the Foundation Phase, staff must take into account the different ways children learn and play. Children need to explore and investigate using their senses. They need to use their emotions and feelings to express themselves. Alongside this, there must be structured activities and experiences with planned learning outcomes to extend children’s learning and development. Planning for play should consider the three types of provision previously discussed. It needs to consider the children’s individual needs, the seven Areas of Learning, the setting, the children’s input into the planning process and the learning environment.

The aim of the Foundation Phase practitioner is to provide a broad and balanced curriculum that allows learning to take place in a meaningful context. The environment needs to be accessible, well resourced and well planned. Therefore the value of play/active learning cannot be emphasized enough as, according to the Welsh Assembly Government, ‘when children are involved in their learning they take ownership’. Play and active learning can motivate children, support and develop skills and concepts, enhance language development and consolidate learning (WAG, 2008d, p. 7). A play-based approach supports learning across all seven areas of the Foundation Phase curriculum.

Stages and types of play

Foundation Phase practitioners need to be aware that there are different stages of play and that children move through these stages at their own pace. By having knowledge of these different stages, practitioners are able to plan for progression. The different stages of play are outlined below.

  • Solitary: Children play alone with little or no interaction with others.

  • Spectator: Children observe their peers, watching but not joining in.

  • Parallel: Children play alongside each other, each playing separately.

  • Associative: Children begin to play together; interaction is developing and they enjoy the same activities and playing with the same equipment.

  • Cooperative: Children play in group situations and share outcomes from their play; play is intricate and detailed.

Although children progress through these stages they often choose to return to an earlier stage, so they may play cooperatively but still return to solitary play.

Throughout these activities Rhys made no effort to interact with other children but was quite content to have fun on his own. This is an example of solitary play.

Types of play

In addition to different stages of play there are also different types of play. Practitioners need to take in to account resources, space, time and organization within the setting when planning for all types of play. Activities need to be exciting, challenging and differentiated for the children (WAG, 2008d). Some examples of the different types of play are as follows, though they are often not used in isolation but in conjunction with each other.

Pretend/imaginary play

All Foundation Phase settings will have a role-play area where children are encouraged to act out different situations and roles. Here the children can develop communication skills, social skills, confidence and solve problems. Physical development can be improved with the use of both fine motor and gross motor skills. Children learn to cooperate and to extend their vocabulary and practise their reading and writing skills. Examples of pretend play resources are:

  • Home corner

  • Café

  • Farm shop

  • Post office

  • Travel agents

  • Seaside café

  • Cave

Small world play

Here children can re-enact experiences using small world resources. Examples are sets of figures, animals (zoo and farm), vehicles, dolls houses, farm houses and castles. Small worlds play allows children to problem solve, cooperate with others, share and take turns, develop knowledge and understanding about different jobs people do and to extend their vocabulary. Manipulative and hand–eye coordination are also developed.


Through construction play, children are given opportunities to develop an understanding of materials and their properties. Children build with blocks of different sizes and make and take apart things. Children are given opportunities to work with different types of wood and tools including recycled materials. They are encouraged to design their own creations and to reflect upon and evaluate their finished products.

Construction play allows children to take care of equipment and tidy up resources after use; share and work with and alongside others; value their own work and that of others; and communicate their ideas in a variety of ways, including using ICT packages. Children will develop their manipulative skills and develop an understanding of area and spatial awareness. Problem-solving and investigative skills will develop alongside creativity. It is important that children are given opportunities to work with natural materials as much as possible in the Foundation Phase. This will give them tactile experiences and allow them to investigate the properties of the materials such as what happens to water when it is heated or cooled.

Creative play

Creative play celebrates a child’s individuality. It allows them to express their feelings and emotions imaginatively through various forms of self-expression. Ways include through drawing, painting, craft work, role play, dance, poetry, drama and writing. Creativity needs to include both the indoor and outdoor environment, with resources that stimulate imagination and thinking. Creative play activities allow children to handle new materials, play different roles, make new pictures and models and create sounds and movements. Children will develop observational skills, have opportunities to explore and investigate, listen and respond, reflect and problem solve, and persevere and collaborate. There is no right or wrong in creative play and children’s uniqueness and diversity should be celebrated.

Physical play

Physical play can involve the development of gross motor skills and fine motor skills. It involves spatial awareness and balance and is also concerned with a healthy lifestyle and physical well-being. Children need space to move about in both indoors and outdoors and have access to both large and small equipment. Gross motor skills include walking, running, stopping, pedalling, pushing and pulling, balancing and throwing and catching. Fine motor skills include building a tower of bricks, holding a pencil, completing a jigsaw puzzle and tying shoe laces.

Role of the practitioner in children’s play

Before the role of the practitioner can be discussed it is necessary to look at the most typical lenses through which early childhood practitioners have viewed and continue to view the child.

The empiricist lens

The child is seen as an empty vessel that needs to be filled or something that needs to be moulded by the adult into a desired shape. This derives from John Locke’s philosophy (1632–1704).

The nativist lens

This is the opposite view to the empiricist view. Here the nativist practitioner sees the child as biologically pre-programmed to unfold in certain directions. This stems from the philosophy of Jean-Jacque Rousseau (1712–78).

The interactionist view

This view sees children being partly empty vessels and partly pre-programmed. There is an interaction within and between the two. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) originated this approach.

So the role of a practitioner adopting an empiricist approach would be to identify missing experiences, skills and concepts and to select experiences for the child to fill in these gaps. Learning is broken down into meaningful sequences and children are taught step by step. Prior to the introduction of the Foundation Stage in England and the Foundation Phase in Wales, many four-year-olds were taught through a numeracy and literacy hour in adult-led groups. In contrast, the nativist approach would mean that the adult should not interfere in the child’s learning, but can offer help when needed. Children are thought to need to play and develop creatively, with imagination and without interruption. The interactionist approach believes that biological structures of the child’s brain interact with each other but will also adapt and alter in light of the experiences of the child. This view contends that the role of the adult is critical. Here, children are supported by adults who help them to make maximum use of the environment and cultural experiences within the setting.

Dockett and Fleer (1999) suggest three roles for adults in play-based learning environments. The adult needs to manage resources, time and space. As a facilitator the adult mediates and interprets children’s play whilst promoting equality. Foundation Phase practitioners need to be aware of when to intervene in children’s play and when to extend their learning and challenge their thinking skills and when to allow children to come to conclusions on their own. Practitioners need to scaffold and support children’s learning when necessary and withdraw support when the child has succeeded with an activity.

When planning for different play/active learning activities, practitioners need to consider their role, what questioning skills to use, how to organize the learning environment and how the activities will be differentiated to accommodate all learning needs. In the Foundation Phase the development of the whole child is seen as paramount and this reasserts the view of the early childhood pioneers Froebel and Steiner who considered ‘the development of the whole child to be of enormous importance’ (Bruce, 2005, p. 15).

These pioneers believed in starting where the child is at, focusing on what the child can do rather than on what they cannot do. For Froebel, play allows the practitioner to see what the child can do and what is needed to support and extend learning at that stage (Bruce, 2005). In addition, Foundation Phase practitioners need to plan time to observe, monitor and assess children as well as evaluate the provision provided. Perhaps, however, the value of learning from play can be summed up best by Vygotsky (1978, p. 102):

In play a child always behaves beyond his average age above his daily behaviour; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development.

Barriers to a play-based approach

As with any initiative, concept or idea, there will be opposition, and the notion of children ‘playing’ whilst learning has divided opinion for centuries. Perhaps the very first difficulty is in deciding what is ‘play’ and what is a non-play activity? The classic definition of play would be self-determination, autonomy, freedom to choose and independence. However, there is no clear and commonly understood definition of play (Andrews, 2012). Hughes (2010) argues that we cannot understand a child’s development without a complete understanding of play.

Prior to the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988, play was given a high status in settings. The United Nations states the right of all children to play, but with the introduction of the National Curriculum and Desirable Outcomes for Early Years there seemed to be an increasing emphasis on childcare and education provision in the place of play. Policymakers are almost afraid to advocate the notion of children playing unless there is a purpose or a set number of learning criteria being met. Even the Foundation Phase documentation considers play to be a ‘learning vehicle’ and that play ‘consolidates their learning’ (WAG, 2008b, p. 4). Practitioners may consider that they are offering child-led play activities whilst in practice they are putting boundaries on the play being offered to ensure it meets the intended learning outcome.

Consider the following scenario in a setting.

Else (2009) observes that something may not start out as play but as children engage, becomes more playful. The EPPE project (2003) indicated that the most effective learning approach was a combination of adult-led and child-led activities (Andrews, 2012). However, as long as we have an education system that is target driven, linked to learning outcomes and advocates testing children, can we ever have a play-based curriculum in the truest sense? Even now, Foundation Phase children in nursery classes are labelled with realistic and challenging targets!

Practitioners can also find it difficult to describe what approaches they take when supporting play, how their setting supports child-led play and the true benefits of a play-based curriculum. Is this because we still see play as the opposite to work and therefore not an instrument of learning? There will always be people who do not see the purpose or value of play and will consider it to be a ‘reward’ after children have finished their work.

The Foundation Phase curriculum has gone some way in embedding the ethos of ‘play’ and its benefits. The Learning and Teaching Pedagogy document (WAG, 2008a) discusses the importance of practitioners and children as partners on a learning journey and that children should have ownership of that environment. Nevertheless the introduction of literacy and numeracy tests in 2013 for all learners in Wales between the ages of seven and fourteen will have an impact on curriculum delivery. The difficulty facing many Foundation Phase practitioners in Year 2 will be how to prepare children to sit tests in a play-based, child-centred curriculum. Will it still be an equal partnership and learning journey or will it revert to being an adult-led didactic curriculum approach? This is explored in more detail in Part III of this book.


The Foundation Phase is a play-based curriculum with an emphasis on balance between child-led and adult-led activities. This could be challenging for practitioners as there are barriers to a play-based approach to learning and not everyone is supportive. Numeracy and literacy tests were introduced in May 2013 and the Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF) in September 2013. The impact of testing on a child’s ability to learn may lead to a ‘test readiness’ culture in the Foundation Phase. This could lead to practitioners having to revert to an ‘age not stage’ approach to learning.

Further reading and information

Bruce, T. (2011), Early Childhood Education , 4th edn. Oxon: Hodder Education.

Children’s rights and research on play: http://playengland.org.uk/about-us/about-play-england.aspx .

Moyles, J. (1989), Just Playing? Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Pioneers of play information: http://www.infed.org/index.htm .

Play resources and publications in Wales: http://playwales.org.uk .

Pound, L. (2009), How Children Learn 3 : Contemporary Thinking and Theorists . London: Practical Pre-School Publications.

Woods, A. (ed.) (2013), Child–Initiated Play And Learning . Oxon: Routledge.