Pivotal Points of Development – For Unlocking Learning in Early Years


Ali McClure is a respected, experienced early years consultant who specialises on development in boys, learning and behaviour. Her unique workshops, delivered over the past two decades, support practitioners to improve outcomes for boys. We’re delighted that she will be running a practical session at the Alliance's annual conference on the 1st June, titled Making it better for boys, exploring pivotal stages of development.

In this blog, Ali shares some insight into the topic of pivotal points of development, gender, and how practitioners’ understanding of these can help support both boys and girls to reach their developmental milestones.

What is the key to learning for boys in Early Years?

Young, smiling boyStrangely enough, the answer lies with our teenagers. One of our main challenges in Early Years today comes from what is happening with our 18 year olds. A Levels have now become the baseline qualification with so many more people getting degrees we have found ourselves at the starting blocks for the race to learn more, to learn sooner even the ‘race to read’.

It takes a confident Early Years Practitioner to stand up to the relentless pressures raining down on Early Years. These come from people in high places who believe that ‘the sooner they start, the more they will achieve’.

This is far from the truth, as our colleagues in continental countries show formal learning at aged 5 or 6 proves time and again we can actually cause damage from drilling our little ones to write before they have the skills to do so. They can often become ‘disaffected from learning right from the start’.

I call these dictates:




- and the acronym tells us what it can do to a child’s love of learning.


The approach we need is what our friends in the USA call:





Not such a memorable acronym, but maybe if we apply it to boys it can tell us something. How about:  





The gap between boys and girls learning is still an issue with current figures in England being 64% for boys reaching expected attainment compared to 76.5% for girls at the end of the foundation stage.

Why is this? Well, whilst every child is a unique individual and must NOT be defined by their gender, many boys do have some characteristics in common which can help us to understand and match what they really need in our settings.

Because of the difference in the way boys and girls’ brains are wired before birth many boys benefit from being able to learn visually, they need to see in real terms what a number means.

Look for opportunities to practise arrays with egg boxes, seed trays and a whole variety of loose parts. This helps all children to see what 6 looks like without having to think about it and translate the digit into the reality. This is often called subitizing. When they see 10 made with pebbles, coins or toy cars they can see that it is made up of two rows of 5 establishing the successful foundations for times tables further on in education with no need for drills.

In reading, recognising letter shapes is trickier for many children when it is abstract. What connection is there between an ant walking up your arm and the shape of the lower case a.


If a is taught using an apple the shape matches the letter, and with making gooey a shapes using cooked apple flesh, the learning then comes to life.

This also links into the second key for successful learning…gross motor activities

I know that many of you reading this encourage lots of gross motor work but how many of you really understand and embed the stages of development in this, not the months - related development milestones – he is 30 months therefore he should…, but the way that a child’s physicality develops in a certain order, cranial to caudal ( head to tail) then proximal distal ( close to distant).

Understanding these ‘Pivotal Points of Development’, the neuroscience behind it and how we can simply but effectively manage our continuous provision to offer every child, boy or girl just what they need to progress, has proven time and time again in settings which have worked closely with Ali that getting these pivotal points right can be the key to learning for boys, and for many girls too.Making it Better for Boys book cover

You can find out more by signing up to attend Ali’s lively, interactive and unforgettable workshop at the Alliance's annual conference on 1st June - or if you simply cannot wait, contact Jackie at office@alimcclure.co.uk or read about it in her highly acclaimed book:

Making It Better for Boys



Ali McClure is considered to be a leading authority in boys, learning and behaviour. Her unique workshops have been proven to improve outcomes for boys for two decades.

What they say about Ali:

“Ali is inspirational… I had the privilege of going on one of her workshops, it was pretty damn impressive”

“Outstanding training… leaves a lasting legacy”

Find out more on Ali's website here


Find out more about the Alliance's annual conference 2018, Minds Matter: protecting the wellbeing of children and practitioners in the early years, here.