Within the EYFS Practice Guidance shared thinking is described as: ‘Sustained shared thinking involves the adult being aware of the children’s interests and understandings and the adult and children working together to develop an idea or skill. Sustained shared thinking can only happen when there are responsive trusting relationships between adults and children. The adult shows genuine interest, offers encouragement, clarifies ideas and asks open questions. This supports and extends the children’s thinking and helps children to make connections in learning.’


Throughout the EYFS there is reference to thinking skills and opportunities for developing these skills through adult support and modelling, creating an effective learning environment and giving children enough time to develop their ideas.

Within the Learning and Development theme, two key principles, Active Learning and Creativity and Critical thinking support the notion of sustained shared thinking.

  • Active Learning ‘involves other people, objects, ideas and events that engage and involve children for sustained periods.’ It is through sustained play with another, and in the early years with an adult, that shared thinking can really flourish. The thinking process takes time to develop.

  • Creativity and Critical thinking ‘When children have opportunities to play with ideas in different situations and with a variety of resources, they discover connections and come to new and better understandings and ways of doing things. Adult support in this process enhances their ability to think critically and ask questions.’

These thinking processes occur in all areas of Learning and Development. Specifically they can be found within:

  • PSED: Dispositions and Attitudes – ‘how children become interested, excited and motivated about their learning.’

  • CLL: Language for Thinking – ‘how children learn to use language to imagine and recreate roles and experiences and how they use talk to clarify their thinking and ideas or to refer to events they have observed or are curious about.’

  • PSRN: Problem Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy –‘children use their knowledge and skills in these areas to solve problems, generate new questions and make connections across other areas of Learning and Development.’

  • KUW: Exploration and Investigation – ‘how children investigate objects and materials and their properties, learn about change and patterns, similarities and differences, and question how and why things work. Children should be involved in the practical application of their knowledge and skills, which will promote self-esteem through allowing them to make decisions about what to investigate and how to do it.’

  • CD: Being Creative – Responding to Experiences, Expressing and Communicating Ideas – ‘how children respond in a variety of ways to what they see, hear, smell, touch or feel and how, as a result of these encounters, they express and communicate their own ideas, thoughts and feelings.’

  • Opportunities to promote the development of thinking skills within the EYFS are plentiful. In the key messages of effective practice – ‘Play and Exploration’– it states that: ‘children need to experience making mistakes in a safe environment, they need opportunities to test their ideas, to learn through play situations that they have chosen to explore… [In play] they share experiences and understandings, talk and thinking with the other children and the adults who join in the play and explorations.’