Child Initiated Independent Learning 

‘‘A self-initiated activity is an activity wholly decided on by the child and is the result of an intrinsic motivation to explore a project, or express an idea. In doing this the child may make use of a variety of resources and demonstrate a complex range of knowledge, skills and understanding..’’ (QCA, 2008)

Independent learning is about children having opportunities and time to plan, develop and extend their play, interests and learning. Within child initiated time children are able to extend and apply their learning. They are encouraged to explore, take risks, make decisions, solve problems (stepping out of their comfort zone) and share their achievements with others. Children have purposeful opportunities to transfer and apply the knowledge and skills they gain from other areas of learning in a context, which is meaningful to them. They consolidate and internalise, thus forming deeper understanding.

Asking children to plan and review what they do involves them purposefully in their own learning. This is a very motivating experience which allows children to become absorbed and engrossed, developing skills of concentration and perseverance. It provides many opportunities to develop resilience, resourcefulness, reciprocation, reflection and to experience the intrinsic reward of a job well-done.

Children think about, plan and review their time, making decisions and experiencing personal success, which helps to develop their confidence, self-esteem and independence. It values creativity and individuality, and provides time for child initiated collaborative work. Independent planning time gives children ownership of their learning, providing many opportunities to celebrate everyone’s interests and achievements, promoting a culture of success in school.

Child initiated learning not only provides opportunities to apply learning from other curriculum areas, but also helps children to develop skills, concentration, perseverance and the ability to work collaboratively, which can be transferred and applied to all the learning that takes place in school, at home and in all aspects of life.

Key Ingredients

Key to child initiated independent learning are:

  • The role of the teacher
  • A rich, enabling environment
  • Ownership of learning

Organisation of the Learning

Providing a well organised, stimulating and enabling learning environment enhances children’s learning. The purpose, particularly for younger children, is to provide a stimulus when they are thinking about planning. The learning environment is planned and managed to make resources easily accessible to all children, which means that they know what is available, where it is and where to put it back when they have finished using it! Shadow storage and labelling of areas supports this and allows adults and children to see at a glance what needs to be put away if anything is missing. Each area is planned and resourced to be literate and numerate. All opportunities are taken to reflect cultural diversity in learning environment areas. We positively challenge all forms of stereotyping

Areas also contain information (displayed) showing how they support all areas of the Foundation Stage curriculum.

Each term staff and all pupils (from Year Reception to 6) work together in learning environment area teams to evaluate and audit learning areas and make plans for enhanced provision in independent learning. They also identify which pupils (cross phase) and member of staff will be the main provider for each area. Plans are displayed around the learning environment for reference of staff, pupils, parents and helpers

Each week child initiated independent learning is reviewed by staff in a meeting. Individual pupil’s learning and projects are discussed and assessments are made and moderated, informing future action which is recorded in a short-term plan for the following week. This means that all staff are aware of next learning steps for children and resourcing and management ideas are shared, celebrated or actioned immediately.

Making the learning environment manageable by everyone enables all children and adults to see what resources we have and how to keep them tidy. As a result adult time can be spent supporting and extending children’s learning, rather than managing resources.

Role of the Teacher - who owns the learning?

The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning. This means RATHER than planning WHAT children will learn theySUPPORT the learning process PROVIDING input if needed. Teachers learn ALONGSIDE children using observation, discussion and knowledge of the child to support their learning, building strengths and helping with areas of development. The really important thing is that the teacher is working in partnership with the children ~ the teacher IS NOT in CONTROL of all the learning! This involves the teacher doing more listening than talking. Children’s interests are followed so they feel they have ownership of their learning, which is very motivating and leads to high levels of engagement and FLOW and of course INTRINSIC REWARD. It’s very rewarding for all involved and is a highly skilled professional role.

How we Plan

Reception/Year 1

Children use the computer to complete their planning sheet. They plan up to three things. One reason for this is that no matter how long the session lasts, if an area (eg water-limited to 4 places) is full children have something else planned, so pupil planning always works. Children are not expected to always follow their plans in order or complete them all each day. Planning is about children making choices about their learning. We do not expect everyone to plan a particular area in a week because this would restrict children’s learning and make child initiated planning meaningless.

Rather we value each individual’s interests and support them in developing this, knowing that all areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum are planned and delivered by staff in prime and specific subject areas. Planning time focuses on children’s interests, personal, social and emotional development and fosters the development of a lifelong love of learning.

When a child spends the whole of one or more sessions working on one thing, they show real motivation, concentration and perseverance. Being absorbed in learning and experiencing ‘flow’ is a very positive learning experience to have. Children are given a feeling of time to have quality learning experiences.

Year 1

Year 1 children also use the computer to plan, but their planning is more complex and precise. Children think about what they plan to do, rather than the area in which they would like to plan, i.e. I am going to design and make a home for my toy dog, or I am going to play the baby game with Isabelle and Oscar, I am going to write a letter to ….. etc.

As well as developing and using ICT skills daily in their planning, children select and record the date each day and use a word bank to record their planning. They type their name into the computer, needing to remember to use the shift button to start with a capital letter. They use their writer’s voice to compose what they plan to do and are encouraged to discuss their planning ideas with parent/carers and other children.

Year 2 and 3

As planning progresses children move on to thinking about and planning their time for the week ahead. Time is planned for part of one morning each week to discuss and share ideas. Children share plans, asking questions and making suggestions, deciding how they can continue previous planning or start a new project. They record their projects on a self-designed document, which identifies the project goal, the weekly target, personnel they will work with and resources required.  Each week children discuss and monitor progress before setting the new target for that week. They can make use of an e-planning dictionary in their e-planning folder. Pictorial progress is recorded using the digital camera during weekly review time.  Examples include designing and making jewellery, vehicles, a shepherd’s crook, planning, writing, illustrating and publishing a book (with a book launch), groups of children creating a pop group and performing, planning a wedding, writing movie scripts, carrying out auditions, making scenery and costumes as well as performing to everyone! They have researched and written healthy eating books and an animal magazine!

In Year 2 and 3 children also begin to think more discreetly about the learning skills they are using. This could be how well they are able to focus, being able to work collaboratively, being resilient when things get tricky, and solving problems etc.

By talking together about and reflecting on their learning children are able to identify their personal strengths and areas they need to develop. Through discussion they share ideas and suggestions and support each other. Each child’s planner includes a ‘learning skill focus’ box and children develop the skills to consider which learning skill they can best use to help them to achieve their target. As we discuss these skills in our morning session children explore strategies to help them and are supported by an e-strategy bank developed over time which they can draw upon when completing their planners. In morning and Friday afternoon review sessions children reflect on how well their learning skill focus helped them to achieve their target. Generally the skills children identify as strengths and areas to work on in child initiated are the same in all of their learning and are transferrable, so skills developed in ‘planning time’ are useful in for maths (for example attention to detail, resilience, problem solving etc and vice versa!)

Children have a planning file in which they keep their project plans and photographs. These planning diaries form part of children’s personal records of achievement, supporting their development in PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) developing confidence and responsibility by making the most of their abilities, and developing good relationships. It promotes well-being and the development of a love of learning.

Year 4,5 and 6

In Years 4, 5 and 6 children are introduced to other ways of creating their personal planners. These include continuing to use their publisher document, using power point with the option of recorded spoken evaluations and the use of their own planning book. Children may use one or all of these methods. The emphasis is very much on attention to detail in planning, doing and evaluating. Through reflection and self-assessment we observe children monitoring the standard of their plans and support all children to independently plan to a high and consistent standard. Other methods of recording planners may arise and be used in the future.

Supporting Learning


All children are taught to think about and reflect on their time and how they will use it. From Year 2 children are introduced to ‘organising my time’ timelines which they use to help them plan their time on planning afternoon. Children learn to divide their time using jumps, fractions and minutes. From this they are to move on to applying further maths learning by exploring equivalent fractions, percentages and decimals in a very purposeful context.

Blank lines are also used to help children reflect on and value skills such as focus, teamwork, stepping out of their comfort zone and so on.

From Year 2 on children also have an e-planning dictionary in their e-planning file.


Once children have planned they are encouraged to work independently

(individually or collaboratively depending on what they have planned).

Adults provide support if asked, and sensitive intervention if this helps to raise the level of learning. Space is made available for children to store work in progress, including construction equipment.

Reviewing-why review?

Time to review is an essential part of the plan, do, review process, as planning only works if time is made to review and evaluate learning. Review time for younger children takes place as and when possible within the constraints of a very busy curriculum (usually two or three times a week).

The whole school always review in mixed age R/Y1, 2 3, 4, 5, 6 groups on a Friday afternoon. Children really value review time and share their own and each other’s problems, solutions and achievements in a positive atmosphere of mutual respect.

Creativity and individuality are celebrated, and often one child talking about what they have been doing can interest, encourage and inspire other children to become involved in activities they may not have thought of.

It is a time to celebrate success, reflect on what they have done/are doing and to think about what they will plan next!

How we review

On Friday afternoons review time is organised so that all available adults can take a mixed Reception/Year 1 through to Y6 group for review (usually this means children in groups of around 10). Children working collaboratively make sure they are in the same review group. Every child has the opportunity to share, show and talk about what they have been doing.

Children listen to each other and respond positively to other people’s learning. They are encouraged to ask questions, make suggestions and celebrate success/achievements. Confidence and self-esteem are raised during this valuable time. Speaking and listening skills are also modelled, developed and extended. Children help each other to improve and extend their learning, raising the quality and standards of learning and achievement. Photographs of projects in progress and achievements are taken and inserted into planning files.

Pupil progress in independent learning is observed and discussed during staff meetings. Assessments for Foundation Stage personal, social and emotional development and PSHE are shared and moderated.

Staff review time!

As a staff we are continually seeking new research/ articles on creativity and how children learn. We review and improve our provision through evaluation of how we organise the learning environment, plan for and facilitate children’s learning. We are also involved in a creative learning process. Everyone at Armathwaite School is a learner and we are all learning all the time!

Autumn 2002 Primary Leadership Paper N0.7 creativity states that:

“Effective learning involves:

  • Children having time to explore and experiment with ideas, materials and activities
  • Children feel secure to try new experiences and ways of doing things
  • Children learn through all their senses

In this area of learning, effective teaching requires:

  • Practitioners who give children opportunities to develop their own ideas
  • Valuing children’s own ideas and not expecting them to reproduce someone else’s dance, model or picture
  • Practitioners who plan experiences, opportunities and the environment to support children’s ability to discover, explore and express their creativity
  • Practitioners who interact with and support children in developing confidence, independence in making choices…….”

The National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural education (NACCCE) stated in its report All Our Future: Creativity, Culture & Education (2000) that:

“The personal challenge is to develop the unique capacities of all young people and to provide a basis on which they can build lives that are personal and fulfilling.”

Excellence and Enjoyment A Strategy for Primary Schools - DfES 2003

“Every teacher knows that truly effective learning and teaching focuses on individual children, their strengths, their needs, and the approaches which engage, motivate and inspire them.”


As their independent learning skills develop we find that child initiated learning provides opportunities for children to develop independence and responsibility and make the most of their own and others abilities.

We strive to raise standards of achievement by supporting our children to become more secure, motivated, confident, independent learners. Child-initiated independent learning helps our children achieve higher levels of this in all aspects of their school life, and we hope their home life too. It fosters our children’s individual, creative and personal development.

We review and work to improve our planning and provision all the time. The difference in how we do it now is that we involve the children fully in this process.


© Copyright 2019–2024 Armathwaite Community School

School & College Websites by Schudio