Assessment in Early Years

By August 13, 2020 August 14th, 2020 Creativity, Education, Learning, Play

We know that each of the children in our care is uniquely created by our loving God and Father and that He has a plan and a purpose for each of their lives. We know that their needs and interests and learning styles will be different.

Psalm 139 says: For You shaped me, inside and out. I am Your unique creation...... Every detail of my life was already written in Your book. (The VOICE)

Our role is to provide every opportunity for our children to reach their God-given  potential by planning experiences which are “challenging and enjoyable.” But the experiences that one child finds challenging and enjoyable another may find intimidating, terrifying or completely impossible!

So how do we make plans that are appropriate for each uniquely individual child in our care? Every training course I have attended suggests using this “easy” cycle with the child in the centre. It begins with observations that are used to assess the child.

Observations involve us seeing our children

Some children we can easily see as they confidently bounce around our settings, playing and exploring whatever activities they choose, interacting with us and with the other children. But what about the quiet, the withdrawn, the silent, those who rarely interact with us or with others and struggle to engage in any activities, the ones who seem almost invisible. Or the ones who display so many negative behaviours that we have our eyes fixed on them all the time.

The Bible highlights the importance that the Lord places on seeing others as He sees them.

Genesis 16 tells us the story of Hagar. She is not seen by those who own and dominate her, and they use her and abuse her. Then she meets with the Lord and realises that He really and truly sees her. “The living God who sees me” restores her self-esteem and gives her the confidence and courage she lacks.

Luke 7 tells the story of a disreputable woman who meets with Jesus at the home of a very respectable man, who immediately judges her and devalues her. The question Jesus asks him is: “Do you see her?”

Hagar was invisible to those around her; and the woman’s disreputable behaviour was far too visible to those around her.

We need to ask God’s help to see the children in our care as God sees them, to open our eyes to those who are invisible. Sometimes we focus on negative behaviour and Jesus challenges us to see beyond the behaviour and preconceived judgements.  Look hard and look for the good, strive to really KNOW the children, so that we can restore self­-esteem and confidence and so that we value them.

Making observations  that count

The starting point is the child’s well-being and involvement.

Look first to assess:

  • is the child happy/ relaxed/content? (does he need settling/comforting/ toileting first)
  • is the child focused and actively engaged in the activity (or just “passing through ” and moving on.)

Look and note signs/behaviour that reveal that the child is engaged in the activity.

Look for ‘characteristics of effective learning’.

  • Playing and exploring
  • Active learning
  • Creating and thinking

Use your knowledge of the individual child.

For example, if you were using this story-time for an observation the body language of the children tells you a great deal, they are engaging with the activity and with the adult and they are snuggling up together to share enjoyment. This would be a good opportunity to make observations of any of these children.

Recording your observation

In brief set the scene.

  • What is the activity
  • What is the social setting (playing alone/in a group/with an adult, )
  • Use your knowledge of the individual child and record the things that they say and do that make you “smile “
  • Look for facial expressions, gestures , social interactions and responses
  • Make it relevant to your knowledge of the
  • Consider the areas of learning that are relevant to the activity and record what the child CAN DO
  • Note also anything the child is struggling with as this may be a starting point for your next steps

An example observation of developing social communication skills

For children who are developing language and communication skills the observation may not even include language.

The observation could be:

One of the boys gestures with his hand and with sound effects for the other boy to join him in the den. He lifts up the cover and indicates for him to lay down next to him. They look at each other and laugh, they pull up the cover and hide under it and laugh again.

The assessment is:

The boys are learning to communicate in a variety of ways. They did not need words to communicate but instead communicated through:

  • body language
  • eye contact
  • facial expressions
  • actions
  • and most of all through laughter and shared

Adults were not needed to support their communication in this way, they just needed each other and a fun place to be.

Making assessments , evaluating learning and planning next steps


  • Was this a successful learning opportunity for this child?
  • How relevant was the activity to the child?
  • Was the equipment suitable for the child?
  • Was the activity open ended?
  • Was the social setting appropriate?

Next steps could be:

  • To change/adapt the equipment by providing more/less or different equipment
  • To change/adapt the social setting

e.g. provide more support, change the social group, etc.

  • To provide more/less adult support
  • To continue to provide the same activity because it is relevant to supporting this child’s learning and


  • What did this child do well? What opportunities can be provided to enhance that success?
  • What did this child find difficult? What can be provided to overcome these difficulties?
  • Most successful learning opportunities come when the activity is linked to the child’s specific interests. For example:An observation of using constructionThe starting point for a child who is not yet able to use construction could be his love of vehicles and his fascination with straight lines.The observation could be:

    An adult invites him to come and make a fire engine; she helps him to use the construction toy showing him how the pieces fit together, then encouraging him to have a go himself, offering support when needed. He likes making the straight ladder and is able to find lots of similar pieces to fit together to make a really long ladder. He is delighted with his fire engine and plays with it, extending and folding the ladder many times.

    The assessment shows a wide range of  learning including:

    • Characteristics of effective learning:

    Playing and exploring, finding out, being willing to have a go

    Active learning, being involved and concentrating, keeping trying and enjoying achieving

    • PSE: expresses own interests and preferences, uses resources with help
    • Language: follows simple instructions
    • Maths: shows interest in shape by sustained construction activity
    • Expressive art and design: joins construction pieces together

    The next steps could be to support independent play:

    To provide less adult support so that the child can become more independent in using the construction toys. So simple step by step guides to building models could be provided in the construction area, to encourage him to make his own choice of vehicles and to learn to follow a simple sequence of pictures, with an adult always nearby to ensure success.

    An observation of role play

    For a child who often avoids language-based role play activities and has difficulty communicating with peers, the starting point could be his personal experience of hospitals and his knowledge of medical equipment.

    The observation could be:

    The adult shows a group of children how to play in the teddy bear’s hospital and invites the children to look after the bears. The child dresses up in medical uniform and begins examining the poorly bear, using language and appropriate vocabulary to explain what is wrong with the bear and using his knowledge to tell the other children what to do. The other children realise he is the “expert” asking him questions and following his lead. He tells them what to do and explains all about the bear’s poorly heart.

    The assessment could be:

    The child’s communication skills and interactions with his peers are enhanced when he is confident about the language, the vocabulary and the activity. The child is confident to join in role play activities when he knows how to play.

    The next steps could be:

    To help build up the child’s confidence in communicating effectively by targeting language based activities. Teach the vocabulary that he needs to use, particularly in the role play area and target this in advance so that he feels confident about what language and activities he can use. For example, if the role play is to be a vegetable shop teach the names of vegetables before setting up the role play area and model how to play, asking for items and paying the shop keeper.

    Start with the things that interest the child, so that he is motivated

    An observation of mark making

    For a child who generally avoids mark- making the starting point could  be just variety: change the equipment and the social situation. For a child who enjoys rhythm and music, add singing and rhythmical movement to the mark-making.

    The observation could be:

    The child enjoys stamping corks up and down on the paper together with the adult as they sing together and make sound effects: “boing, boing, splodge ”

    The next steps could be:

    To continue to combine more mark­ making and music making activities so that the child is motivated to take part in mark-making.

    The assessment could be:

  • Characteristics of effective learning:
  • Playing and exploring, finding out, being willing to have a go. Active learning, being involved and concentrating, keeping trying and enjoying achieving. Language: shows an interest in play with sounds songs and rhymes
  • PSE: plays cooperatively with a familiar adult
  • Expressive art and design: experiments with colours and and marks.The next steps could be:To continue to combine more mark- making and music making activities so that the child is motivated to take part in mark-making.So, let’s keep up with our observations, Do not allow any of our children to become invisible and do not allow ourselves to focus on the negative. Ask for God’s help to see the children as God sees them, to open our eyes to those who are invisible and help us to see beyond the behaviour and preconceived judgements.  Assessments are a tool to help us to support each child in reaching his God-given potential – one little step at a time.
  • By Elaine Douglas

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