Educational Elixar

Iddir's Ideas and thoughts on all things Educational !

To assess or not to assess ?



children p[laying

The message of Child at the Centre ( is clearly an easy one to pick up on and one that anybody working with children will be familiar with, albeit it being a tool for the early year’s workforce in self-evaluation it also embraces the essence of what educators should be doing within early years. It is easy to make the assumption that whist everything a childcare worker does, is and should be, geared around what the child is initiating through his or her play – is that really the case ?

In recent years and certainly within Fife, there has been an increased focus on developing standards and assessment measures to frame and evaluate children’s learning within early years but what does that mean? Are we “testing” three year olds? Is it really that important that they can hold their pencil in the, oh so sought after, pincer grip? bearing in mind that developmentally it can be really difficult for a child to achieve that. Is it really that important that we actually sit them down, interrupting their play, during the nursery session and ask them to name shapes, colours and number? These formative assessments only serve to obscure the need to think deeply about what children should be doing on a daily basis- playing.

Are we so concerned with attainment that we put so much pressure on our youngest learners with the risk of disengaging them completely from learning.?

A child engaged in deep quality play is learning skills for life and laying the foundations for later learning, developing cognitive abilities and critical thinking skills as well as acquiring problem solving skills. Everything that we “formally assess” can be built into the play that the children are engaged in without the need to interrupt the actual play experience. Clearly the powers that be have not read about psycholudics – the play cycle.  Let’s take a flip here and think about what we as adults do.  We are constantly learning and adapting, even the most insignificant of encounters will lead us to alter or change our behaviours as to what is socially acceptable at any given time yet whilst we are doing this we are doing one of two things – we are engaged and interested in a situation whereby we commit to memory the experience and pull past schemas to the forefront so that we can adapt our behaviour accordingly OR we are completely disinterested in the situation whereby we do nothing and plod along disengaging in the situation.  Now in the case of children, engaging and stimulating quality play builds a foundation for later learning by fostering cognitive development, critical thinking, self-regulation, and problem-solving skills. Unfortunately what is so often lost in the drive to improve achievement is a focus on the very experiences that foster young children’s learning: opportunities for play and authentic engagement with the world around them.

Take a simple experience in an early years setting, let’s say playing in a “shop” that’s been set up in the room, already children’s brains are whipped into overdrive. Most children will have visited a shop or supermarket at some point in their lives so they are already accessing the knowledge already acquired through those external experiences. Through this experience children can take their own learning across all curricular areas but for the sake of argument, let’s look at math and numeracy. Children may be exploring number and developing awareness that they represent quantities, using them to count on and back. They may be developing their awareness of how money is used and recognising that there are a range of coins. They are involved with information handling, developing their organisational skills.  Within literacy children have the opportunity to listen, talk, read and write through various means. Children may choose to write a shopping list prior to visiting the shop they may discuss what is needed with a group of peers so not only are they involved in role play bringing real life situations to their play they have chosen how they are learning . They may choose the role of shopkeeper and end up writing receipts for their customers. Not only are these children covering vast amounts of learning outcomes within math and literacy they are also covering huge amounts across the whole curriculum they are learning to share resources and take turns to name just a few.  The areas of numeracy and literacy is a real focus with regards to formative assessment and by making observations rather than interrupting play surely the learning is more confounding. Of course all of the aforementioned learning outcomes can be covered by ways of a nice easy ticky sheet , nicely laid out with five or six shapes in various colours, a nice neat number line 1- 20 and children can be asked to write their name and age on the top ! Perfect let’s just do that then. But-wait-I know how about throwing a spanner in the works and letting children play.

Children make no distinction between work and play therefore adults shouldn’t make that distinction for them. Children’s play is their work and during these working sessions children take ownership of their own learning making it more meaningful to them and fulfilling the demands and goals they set for themselves.

There is a place for formative assessments. Of course we need to know what stage a child is at with their learning so the provision and next steps are appropriate. But…does it really have to be with the youngest of learners?

Do we waste valuable learning time that our children won’t get back by introducing the formality of assessment in early years? Or do we let our children enjoy their childhood by leaving them to do what comes naturally, allowing them to learn at their own pace and in their own way…do we let our children play?



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