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The three bears

In the garden with her key person, Zia plays a game with some sand and containers. She wants to share the sand equally for the three bears.

Good for looking at

  • Maths
  • Sharing
  • Amounts
  • Language
  • Pretend play
  • Imagination

In the garden with her key person, Zia is playing a game with some sand and containers.


  • How do we know what Zia is interested in?  Be specific, look out for body language, actions, gestures.
  • How does Zia engage with the objects?
  • What is she learning from her play?
  • Which development areas, characteristics of learning are evident?
  • How does the adult support Zia’s learning?
  • What is valuable about the materials provided as learning resources?


What are your thoughts about:

  • The areas of learning and development that were covered through her play activity?
  • The adult’s role – how did she support Zia?
  • The importance of the environment and the materials?


What would you do to:

  • Support Zia’s development of mathematical concepts?
  • Support Zia’s interest in stories and pretend?
  • Encourage other children to join Zia’s game?

What next:

  • Did watching the clip help you notice any particular strengths or weaknesses that you might have when trying to support children during their play? How could you use this? Could you support others with something you are particularly good at? Or find some one to support you with an area you find difficult?
  • Could you suggest a way of encouraging this kind of play in your own setting?
  • Do you you make sure young children in your care get time for one to one interactions with their close adults?

Example Observation

With an adult playing with the sand next to her, Zia talks about sharing as she tries to get the same quantities of sand and water into her three bowls. “He needs a bit more – I’m sharing it out“. Then she gets a pebble for each bowl making them equal again. “1,2,3”  The adult progresses the play by making the link between her 3 bowls and the three bears story which Zia immediately relates to. “Don’t eat the baby one” she says and between the two of them they progress the story. Zia knows what happens “the daddy one was hot, the mummy one… and the baby bear was just right!” She indicates that there were three bears on her fingers. When the adult suggests giving them three spoons Zia remembers exactly which colour spoon she’s looking for when she goes to the mud kitchen.


This clip shows Zia concentrating, highly involved with her activity. It involves many aspects of creative play showing what she understands about sharing and amounts. English is an additional language and she’s communicating well with the adult, trying hard to understand and be understood. She understands stories and can use them in her play, as here where she’s supported by the practitioner, who tunes in well with her interests. The practitioner acts as a prompt to make occasional suggestions to enhance her play experience and her understanding of mathematical concepts.