The findings of the report by the Centre for Education and Inclusion Research at Sheffield Hallam University will contribute to Dame Clare Tickell's review of the EYFS.
A particular focus was given to learning through play, outdoor provision and physical activity, how experiences in nursery meet the needs of the individual child, and to what extent children's views contributed to practitioners' planning and delivery of the EYFS.
Children's 'learning journeys' were used as a topic of conversation and researchers observed children's play grouped around the six areas of learning.
Researchers used activities based on the EYFS themes A Unique Child, Positive Relationships, Enabling Environments and Learning and Development.
They visited 15 settings comprising children's centres, private and voluntary nurseries, childminders, reception classes, an out-of-school club and a Steiner kindergarten.
Dr Ros Garrick, who led the research, said it showed that settings varied in how many opportunities children had 'to develop their play from their own interests', depending on how flexible the indoor and outdoor environment was and how adaptable the resources were.
'It's not about less adult intervention and less structure but about adult responsiveness (to children),' she said.
Dr Garrick also said the research revealed how much children enjoyed 'real world play' - everyday experiences such as going to the shops and choosing what they would eat for their tea, or helping to tidy up. This tended to be more common in childminder settings.
Childminders were also seen as 'more partners in play. Children were more enthusiastic about involving adults in their play'.
Dr Caroline Bath, co-author of the report, said that there were quite a few examples where children did not contribute to their learning journeys - 'not to the extent that children felt that they had ownership of them' - for example they did not choose the photos for them, or know what they were for. She suggested that children could be more involved in different types of record-keeping.
Children also tended to comment when a parent was involved voluntarily in the setting. 'The fact that parents were there was appreciated,' said Dr Bath.
'Children's Experiences of the Early Years Foundation Stage' is at http://publications.education.gov.uk
WHAT THE CHILDREN SAID
Aziza, four, said to a child pretending to be a dog: 'I'll get your dish. I'll feed you. This is your water.'
Jack, four, played at pirates: 'Treasure map! I've got a spade here!'
Holly, three, conducting the plants as a choir with an improvised baton: 'I'm teaching all the plants to sing. Lalalalala.'
Michael, four, kicked the ball to his childminder: 'You're Chelsea. I'm Hull.'
Mark, three: 'That's me with my Buzz Lightyear ... I went round the garden, I found some baddies.'
Real World themes
Sarah, four, describes a visit to the zoo: 'I didn't like the giraffes. The ants wanted our dinner.'
Holly and Angie, both three, read house numbers on doors on the way to school to collect an older child.
Simon, four, helped to look after chicks being hatched: 'Actually, I like the chickens. They keep on pecking my fingers.'
Maisie, two: 'We made cakes with different colours. You will be excited when we eat them.'