<b>The all-you-need-to-know guide to STEM and Early Years Learning Terms. The A - Z of early education </b>

The all-you-need-to-know guide to STEM and Early Years Learning Terms. The A - Z of early education

Here is our glossary of words and phrases which might be used in early years learning activities and STEM resources. 

These terms can be used a lot in early years educational resources, but for a new-to- homeschooling parent it can be helpful to have a glossary of terms in one place to decode any buzz words, literacy terms you haven't used in a while (!) or abbreviations you've never heard of!

One of our main missions at OjO is to make sure that early years STEM learning is accessible, so we thought it would be helpful to leave this glossary from our early years learning kit open access for all parents and their little learners to be able to reference. 

Have fun learning the A-Z of early years lingo... let us know if you think we should add something!

Tip: Press Control/Command and F on your keyboard to search the glossary!

Active learning:  learning which engages and challenges children’s thinking using real life and imaginary situations.  It embraces the holistic development of each child and helps them make connections with learning and exploration of the world around them.

Alliteration: - describes when a series of words in a row have the same first sound, for example, “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.”

Find Alliteration Resources for early years here!

Attachment: - being with warm, responsive adults is vital for young children; these close relationships assist their all round learning, behaviour and development. Family of course provide this as do those offering a  ‘key person’  role in a nursery setting.

Cognitive development: - the emergence of the ability to think and understand. 

Continuous provision: - enables settings  to offer children open ended learning opportunities which they  may successfully explore with or without an adult being present.  Children are able to safely investigate their environment and develop independence.

Constructive play: - allows children to play with objects, find out what combinations work and don’t work and acquire basic knowledge about building, constructing, making music and drawing.

Creative thinking:  - a way of looking at problems or situations from a fresh perspective. Which may suggest unorthodox solutions.

Critical thinking : - occurs when children are analysing, evaluating, interpreting or synthesising information. Ask open ended and ‘what if’  questions to foster this.

Developmental milestones: - the behaviours or physical skills seen in infants and children as they grow and develop. Rolling over, crawling and talking for example.

Early Learning Goals (ELG’s):  - each area of the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum has an ELG, which is the standard that a child is expected to achieve by the end of their Reception year. There are 17 ELG’s.

Enabling environment: - encourages young children to play and learn  because they feel relaxed, comfortable and ‘at home’ in the setting. It supports both the physical environment, indoors and out and also the emotional environment, allowing adults to respond to individual needs.

Environmental print: - is the print of everyday life. The name given to the print that appears in signs, labels and logos.

EYFS: - Early Years Foundation Stage - sets standards for the learning, development and care of children from birth to 5 years old. All schools and Ofsted registered early years providers must follow the EYFS, including childminders, preschools, nurseries and school reception classes.

Experiential learning: - children learning through exploring, experiencing, creating, discovering and relating to and interacting with the world around them.

Hand and eye coordination: - the ability of the eyes to guide the hands in movements, for example in sports, handwriting, reading and life and play skills.

Key worker/person: - a named member of staff with responsibilities for a small group of children who helps them feel safe and cared for  within the setting.


Left to right orientation: - the ability to understand that the conventions of  English language, letters, words and sentences are formed from left to right. 


Letter formation: - the ability to quickly and accurately reproduce the letter of the alphabet.


Literacy : in the early years literacy includes a range of modes of communication including music, movement, dance, story telling, visual arts, media and drama, as well as talking, reading and writing.

Manipulation skills: - the ability to move and position objects with one hand without the help of the other hand. For example, holding a puzzle piece, writing or cutting with scissors.

Matching: - the ability to pair  objects  or images which have the same characteristics. 


Cardinality: - numbers that say how many of something there are (1,2,3...... Answers the question, How many?)

Conservation of number: - the ability to understand that the number of objects remains the same even when rearranged.

Number bonds: simple addition sums that your child will eventually be able to memorise.

Number line:  a line with numbers on it. Used to teach maths by providing a visual representation of numbers.

Number formation: - the ability to write numbers quickly and accurately.

Number recognition: - the ability to identify and name basic numerals quickly and accurately.


Numeracy: broadly includes understandings about, number, patterns, measurement, spatial awareness and data as well as mathematical thinking, reasoning and counting.

Number Sense : - the ability to count accurately—first forward. Then, later in school, children will learn to count backwards. A more complex skill related to number sense is the ability to see relationships between numbers—like adding and subtracting.

Number sentence:  an arrangement of numbers and symbols e.g. 6 + 5 = 11 or 6 ÷ 2 = 3 (used to be referred to as a sum, but this is misleading, as it doesn’t always mean adding up.)

Number sequences: -children have to learn that numbers have a fixed order, one, two, three and so on.  This is a complex skill to master and involves a huge amount of working memory.

One to one correspondence: - involves counting a group of objects by matching a number name to each one, and requires hand-eye coordination as well as number skills.

Ordering: (numbers) - the ability to correctly identify or list  numbers in sequence.

Partitioning:  a method of working out maths problems by splitting the numbers into simpler units.

Subitising: - the ability to look at a small group of objects, randomly arranged and know how many are there without counting.

Memory skills: - the ability to store, retain and recall information, events and procedures.

Montessori Education:  - a method of education that is based on self directed activity, hands on learning and collaborative play, developed by Dr Maria Montessori (1870 - 1952)

Learn more about Montessori Education here

Motor skills: - simply an action that involves using muscles. usually broken down into gross motor skills, which use the large muscles in the arms, torso and legs to generate crawling, running and jumping and fine motor skills which use the small muscles of the fingers, toes, wrists, lips and tongue.

OFSTED: Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. They inspect and regulate services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skills for learners of all ages.

Pattern and sequencing: the ability to recognise and continue a repeating pattern

Pedagogy:  All that is involved in teaching and in learning.  Therefore it's about more than just teaching or what the teacher does.  The term includes the processes through which the child’s learning is facilitated and the adults assumptions about the nature of the child’s learning.

Peers: Other children who are the same age or may be of the same developmental level.  They are not necessarily friends.

Phonics and reading

Auditory discrimination: The ability to recognise differences and similarities in sounds (phonemes).  Good auditory skills are essential for the reading process.

Blending: to combine individual sounds together to pronounce a word, e.g. t-r-a-p when blended reads trap.

Consonant: - the majority of letters in the alphabet are consonant letters. Most have only one sound and rarely sound like their name!

CVC words: - an abbreviation of Consonant Vowel Consonant, often first words learned, cat, dog, sun etc.

Decoding skills: - the ability to use letter-sound knowledge to correctly pronounce written words.

Digraph: two letters that represent a single sound. For example, 'sh'.

Grapheme:  the written representation of a sound. For example, the shape you make when you write a letter 'e'.

Grapheme - phoneme correspondence (GPC): - being able to match a letter to a  sound and a sound to a letter.

Guided reading: a method of teaching that involves reading with children in small groups so that their individual needs can be met.

High frequency words:  the  words that occur most often in written texts. They include “the” and “and”.

Letter recognition: - the ability to recognise and name the letters of the alphabet. It includes being able to identify letters within words and when they appear in different fonts and sizes.

Letter sound recognition:

Letter sound knowledge: The understanding of the  letters and groups of letters which represent the individual speech sound in language. This helps children ‘decode’ written language.

Phoneme:  a unit of sound – examples would be the noises you make when you say 't' or 'k'.

Phonics: a method for teaching reading and writing by developing the ability to hear, identify and manipulate units of sound.

Phonological Awareness: the recognition that language is made up of sounds and the ability to work with the individual sounds in spoken words.

Segment: to split up a word into its individual phonemes (sounds) to spell it. E.g, the word 'bat' has three phonemes: b – a – t

Synthetic phonics: - a method of teaching reading, where children are taught to synthesise or blend sounds to make a word and enable them to read.  It is compulsory for all children in England and Wales to be taught using a synthetic phonics programme. Jolly Phonics and Read Write Inc Phonics are two very popular programmes in use in many schools.

Trigraph: 3 letters that go together to make one sound, ‘ear’, ‘igh’, ‘dge’.

Tricky words: words that are difficult to sound out, ‘said’, ‘because’, ‘the’.

Vowel: - 5 of the 26 alphabet letters are vowels; A,E,I,O and U. Unlike consonants, each vowel has more than one sound and can even be silent with no sound at all, tricky!.

Play: There are a number of different types of play which  children engage in as they grow and develop.

Solitary play: - the child is completely engrossed in playing and doesn’t appear to notice others. Most commonly seen up to around 2 years.

Onlooker play: the child takes an interest in other children’s play but doesn’t join in. May ask questions or talk to other children but mainly watches. 2+ years 

Parallel play: the child mimics the play of others but doesn’t actively engage with them. 2+ years

Associative play: children are now more  interested in each other than the toys they are using. This is the first play which involves strong social interactions between children. 3- 4 years.

Cooperative Play: - children begin to organise themselves, for example, roles may be assigned and children act as a group. 4+ years.

Play-based learning:  a context for learning through which children organise and make sense of their social worlds, as they engage actively with people, objects and representations.

SEND: Children with Special Educational Needs and Disability.

Setting: - generic term given to the many different providers of pre school education, for example, nursery, day care, child-minder.

Social and emotional development: - child’s ability to understand the feelings of others, control their own feelings and behaviours and build relationships with adults.

Sorting and categorising: the ability to organise items into groups based on a common characteristic such as, for example, size, colour, shape, texture.

Spatial ability: - the capacity to understand and remember the spatial relations between objects. It is important in the development of mathematics, science and engineering. Lego, shape sorting games, jigsaws and construction will help develop spatial thing skills.

Transitions: the process of moving between home and childhood setting, between a range of different early childhood or school age care settings or from childhood setting to full-time school.

Tripod grip: - the best way to hold a pencil, for both right and left handers, however it isn’t the easiest grip to learn. It uses the thumb, index (first) finger and middle. It is the most functional grip and is also necessary for fastening buttons etc. So persevere! 

Visual discrimination: - the ability to identify differences/similarities so as to distinguish between objects in the environment, for example, colours, shapes, symbols, numbers and letters.

Visual Perception: the way we know and understand the world around us through what we see. Key to  everyday life, finding your socks, judging the depth of steps and being able complete, “Where’s Wally” successfully!

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