Enabling Environments: Let's explore ... Rotation

Let the ideas go round and round the nursery with activities and resources for following a natural interest, suggested by Diana Lawton.

Young children can be observed in nursery settings exploring rotation and circular movement in many different ways - with their whole bodies, with finer movements in 3D work and graphically. A child may become absorbed by things that turn, such as taps, wheels, cogs and keys. They may rotate their arms, roll themselves or balls along, construct objects with rotating parts and reproduce circular movements in mark-making. A pattern emerges that is repeated in different areas and situations.

Children's own individual experiences from their homes and cultures will often provide starting points for an exciting learning journey. Discussions with parents and carers will give a picture of how the interest is manifesting itself away from the setting. By tuning in to a child in this way, adults can intervene sensitively. Initially this might be through showing interest and enthusiasm, through conversation or suggestion, and by playing alongside.

Relevant resources and experiences could then be offered if appropriate. Good long-term planning for these predictable interests can keep ideas and resources readily available. This is an effective way of delivering the EYFS curriculum. It makes sense to children and puts them at the centre of the learning process. With the continuing move away from topic based-planning, using schema as a basis for observation and assessment offers an alternative to the question, 'well, how do we plan for children's learning?'


Children naturally use their whole bodies to represent and explore schematic interests. Outdoors is the ideal place for this activity. A child's physical education has direct links to cognitive development, and early years practitioners can support this development on a daily basis.

Join in with children as they run round and round. If space is restricted, take the children to local safe areas where they can move freely. Play 'Follow My Leader' around trees and bushes, or racing cars speeding round tracks. Encourage children to explore all the possible rotations with their bodies - twisting, rolling, spinning, turning. Be aeroplanes spinning round the sky, leaves twirling down to the ground. Rotate arms like a windmill, roll down a slope like a ball. Children will enjoy suggesting their own ideas.

Share personal experiences, ideas, thoughts and feelings - for example, 'this reminds me of my dog chasing his tail' or 'going round and round is making me feel dizzy'. Play familiar circle games such as 'Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush' and 'Ring a Ring a Roses'. Some children will have their own ideas for games, which can become part of a collection to be revisited.

Continuous provision will offer opportunities for children to represent circular movement in other ways. Chunky playground chalks, wide decorators' brushes, paint rollers and water encourage large strokes on ground, fence and wall surfaces. Ribbon sticks and streamers are good for making circular 'marks' in the air, supporting the development of arm muscle strength. A collection of balls on a slope with lengths of guttering and cardboard tubes invites further investigation. Present the balls in baskets, sorted into, for example, large/small/plain/patterned/hard/soft, to open up the learning opportunities. If a slope isn't available, provide resources for constructing ramps. Hoops and quoits can be rolled and used to make patterns on different surfaces. Puddles offer opportunities for making circular tracks with wheeled toys, and a windy day will send a collection of windmills spinning.


These are a few ideas that could be drawn on from time to time and revisited throughout the year with individual children and interested groups. Add new ideas as they arise:

  • Observe a cement mixer as it mixes, a roundabout at the park, revolving doors, wind turbines, a hamster in its wheel.
  • Borrow an old-fashioned mangle and 'dolly' to stir and wring dolls' clothes (the mangle will require constant adult supervision).
  • Turn wheeled toys upside down for hands-on investigations, and look closely at an adult bike. Visit a garage and a car wash.
  • Explore pulleys and reels - for example, a fishing rod.
  • Provide a collection of toy spinning tops on a hard surface.
  • Use a compass to explore north/south/east/west. Collect sycamore keys and watch them spin to the ground. At Easter, roll hard boiled eggs down slopes.


A well-positioned focus table can 'catch' children as they move between play experiences. Adults can observe from a distance and intervene sensitively as children demonstrate their current knowledge and understanding. The following are a few simple but effective possibilities:

  • a mixed selection of things that turn (invite children to contribute to the collection)
  •  tray with dry sand and a sand wheel, three spoons in different sizes. Offer different kinds of wheels over a period of time - a large wheel and a small wheel. Vary the material for pouring, such as coloured sand, fine gravel, water
  • a large globe of the world, and a children's atlas
  •  globe of the constellations, images of the sky at night, laminated rhyme of 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star'
  • a collection of locks and keys
  • a marble run
  • old record-player turntable and small world figures and animals
  • a manual sewing machine (needle removed). Add laminated rhymes such as 'Wind the Bobbin Up,' 'The Wheels on the Bus,' and 'Roly, Poly,' to get a rhythm going
  • a collection of wind-up toys
  • a tray of wet/dry sand and small- world vehicles with different tyre tracks
  • a wind-up clock or collection of clocks and watches and magnifying glasses
  • a collection of wheels from hobby shops and construction sets, plus cotton reels, plastic perforated PE balls, dowel rods for axles, wood offcuts, rubber bands and masking tape. Provide images of wheels in action and a picture book about wheels alongside, and see what happens!
  • a bowl of coloured water on a tray, jug of water and droppers to make ripples
  • a collection of spinners to spin on a tray
  • a circular plant tray with dry sand for making marks with fingers. Include a wipe board and coloured markers and images of circle patterns, such as a cut tree trunk, ripples in water, a maze.


Domestic role-play offers many opportunities to investigate ideas about rotation. Stirring, whisking, mixing, washing and drying clothes, doing repairs with screwdrivers and drills, are all everyday activities that will be familiar. When children have had first-hand experience of these examples, they will often be observed using the new-found knowledge in their role play.

Adults can support this developmental play by offering interested children the opportunity to use or observe the real thing alongside an adult. Make sure resources are available in the home area to enable children to act out what they have seen.


Children love helping to load up the washing machine, put in the detergent, set the dial, press the start button and then see the drum rotating. Providing a rotary drying rack at a low level outside adds another rotation experience. Taking time to talk through what is happening, listen to responses and ask open-ended questions offers valuable insights into a child's understanding. Adults are then in a position to take individual children on in appropriate ways.


Give children opportunities to watch a plumber at work and other handy jobs. As part of continuous provision in the home area, offer a tool box with child-size working drill, screwdrivers and so on, so the experience can be re-enacted in role play. Make sure these resources are also available in the large construction area and outside.


Whisking, stirring and mixing will attract children who have a persistent concern with rotation. Knowledge of this underlying interest offers the opportunity for practitioners to draw in children who may not otherwise choose to participate in food preparation activities. In the food technology area have available a selection of whisks (hand, rotary, battery operated), spoons (metal, wooden, plastic, holes, different sizes), can openers and a liquidiser.

Children will enjoy using hand and rotary whisks to make fruit drinks, desserts and sauces. After chopping vegetables, they will be fascinated to watch them spin around in the liquidiser before stirring the transformed ingredients into stock. Draw attention to the circular patterns created as they stir, before heating and eating the soup.

Positioning the food technology area adjacent to the home area encourages experiences to move from one to another. Again, make sure the resources available in the home area kitchen reflect the real food experiences that children are having.


When reviewing continuous provision, it is useful to look at what is available on a daily basis to support different common schemas. Suitable images and fiction and non-fiction books can also be made easily accessible. The following resources will offer opportunities for developing ideas about rotation as children move around the setting:

Malleable: A selection of rolling pins and paint wheels for making wheelie patterns and circle cutters for cutting out 'wheels'

Large construction area: Steering wheels and wheels for building large vehicles, tool box with toy drills and screw drivers

Small construction: Construction sets that include cogs, wheels and rods - for example, Mobilo, Creative Gears; small-world vehicles, aeroplanes and helicopters, train and road tracks

Dry sand and water areas: As part of continuous provision, include spoons and bowls in different sizes for mixing and stirring, hand and rotary whisks for whisking up frothy concoctions, water wheels, textured wooden rollers for pattern-making, vehicles, aeroplanes, helicopters and wind-up boats

Technology workshop: Provide paint rollers and paint wheels to explore patterns and roll marbles in trays of paint. Make lots of opportunities for finger painting on circular trays and table tops. Make tracks with small-world cars, print with circle shapes, then go round the circles with felt tips

Designing and making: To offer opportunities for exploring 3D models that rotate, provide a good selection of discs in plywood, plastic and card, as well as cotton reels, corks, dowels, match sticks, spills, lollipop sticks and straws. Include tools such as a hole punch and a card drill, and a range of fasteners. Support children in using materials and tools safely and appropriately. Display a working model in the area, such as a toy crane, a windmill or a selection of vehicles with different wheels. A storybook and finding-out book and images of things that turn may stimulate ideas.

Mark making: Present a circular tray with a covering of dry sand for making marks with fingers near the area. Display images of circle patterns, along with examples of children's circular mark-making representations. Provide a desk sharpener and a selection of pencil sharpeners, including large for chunky pencils and crayons, double, novelty. Show the children how to use the different tools and examine the shavings that are produced.

Book Area: Use familiar rhymes to reinforce the idea of circular movements. Laminate the rhymes and provide a circular tray with a covering of coloured sand on a low table. Provide a tiny teddy bear for 'Round and Round the Garden,' a little toy bus for 'The Wheels on the Bus,' an upturned small basket and tiny mouse for 'Round and Round the Haystack' (see Book Box)


  • Make sure there is plenty of uninterrupted time for children to move between indoors and outdoors.
  • Take time to watch and listen. See what is catching a child's interest, and how they are responding with their bodies and voices.
  • Observe how they are using the available resources, and what connections they may be making with previous experiences.
  • Comment from time to time, reflecting back on what a child is doing.
  • When and if appropriate, join in alongside, following the child's lead.
  • Introduce resources, new experiences and visits out to enhance ideas and extend learning.
  • Ask open-ended questions and introduce new vocabulary.
  • Share information about individual children with colleagues, parents and carers to build up a picture of how a child is exploring the idea of rotation in other areas of the setting and at home.
  • Document experiences to share with parents and use it to revisit the interest and to demonstrate the learning journeys in individual profiles.


The learning that comes from exploring a schematic interest in rotation
and circular movement spans the whole curriculum and includes:

PSED Working as part of a group, sharing ideas
PSED Displaying high levels of involvement
PSED Responding to experiences, showing a range of feelings
PSED Continuing to be interested, motivated and excited to learn
C&L Responding to experiences using their whole bodies and with facial
expressions, gestures and expressive sounds
C&L Using new vocabulary to describe what they are feeling and seeing, such
as rotating, spinning, round and round, slower, faster
C&L Using talk to connect ideas and explain what is happening
L Exploring circular marks in a variety of ways
L Knowing that information can be obtained from books
M Using mathematical ideas to solve practical problems
M Exploring movement patterns and shapes
M Measuring and estimating distance
M Using everyday words to describe position
UW Asking questions about how and why things happen
UW Showing curiosity by exploring surrounding environments
UW Noticing similarities, differences, patterns and change
PD Developing dexterity and hand-eye co-ordination
PD Moving spontaneously in a variety of ways
PD Showing an increasing awareness of space
PD Developing control and co-ordination
PD Using a range of equipment and tools with increasing control
EAD Responding in a variety of ways to what they see, hear and feel
EAD Enjoying songs, rhymes and games linked to circular movement
EAD Moving in different ways
EAD Using representation as a means of communication


To support an interest in rotation it is useful to build up a selection of the following:

  • a collection of objects that turn - taps, whisks, spinning tops, keys, locks
  • variety of water wheels - large, small, double etc
  • a marble run
  • globes (the world and constellations)
  • a collection of cogs, wheels and rods
  •  pulleys
  • a collection of spinners
  • a record-player turntable
  • a collection of windmills (large variety from seaside shops and garden centres)
  • a good selection of balls - different sizes and textures, plain, patterned
  • a collection of wind-up toys
  • diabolos and yo-yos (for demonstration, although some children may manage these with perseverance!)
  • DVDs and videos of experiences, for example, a potter working on a wheel
  • a selection of circle games to have to hand
  • books, stories and rhymes (see Book Box)
  • laminated images
  • photographic documentation and notes about experiences and children's responses


  • Spacekraft (www.spacekraft.co.uk) stocks a large selection of balls, hoops and quoits, spinners, ribbon sticks, movement equipment, mobiles, windmills and giant bubble blowers
  • NES Arnold: set of textured wooden rollers £7, inflatable solar system £32, Creative Gears £25, Gears! Gears! Gears (Education set) £55, sand & water mill £9
  • Hope Education: Kaleidacolour class set, £31.95
  • Reflections on Learning: five different textured wooden rollers £10.99, Rainbow wind spinner £6.99, Delonghi role play microwave with turn table, £19.99, adventure slope £23.99
  • John Crane (www.john-crane.co.uk): Fully operative crane, as well as other, working building site machines (from £18)
Pulleys by Michael Dahl (Simple Machines, Franklin Watts)

Wheels (Simple Machines, Franklin Watts)

Diggers and Dumpers (Eye Openers series, Dorling Kindersley)

Amazing Flying Machines (Amazing Worlds, Dorling Kindersley)

Tractors and Other Farm Machines (Mighty Machines, Dorling Kindersley)

Dig Dig Digging by Margaret Mayo (Orchard Books)

Race Day by Gwen Grant and Neal Layton (Orchard Books)

The Usborne Book of Racing Cars (Usborne Publishing)

A Stars and Planets Big Book (Usborne Publishing)


'The Wheels on the Bus' by Annie Kubler (Child's Play) 'Round and Round the Garden', 'W ind the Bobbin Up', 'Roly Poly' from This Little Puffin, edited by Elizabeth Matterson (Puffin)

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