Making Connections between Play and Assessing Children’s Learning

This month’s newsletter is all about play and how teachers can engage in play with young children.  In the newsletter, we acknowledge the many tasks that teachers are responsible for completing on a daily basis.  Sometimes there are just not enough hours in the day to sit down and play, which is unfortunate.  Luckily, there are ways to multi-task, by using free play as a time to complete those ever important child assessment tools. 

Free play provides an excellent opportunity to gather authentic assessment data. Being at the table or on the floor with the children will allow you to get a more accurate sense of how they think, solve problems, interact with peers, and regulate their emotions.

Here is a list of things teachers can do to integrate authentic assessment into their play with children:

Learn the standards. Take time to become familiar with the learning standards or skills included on the assessment tools used by your program.  Over time, you will probably have much of the list memorized, which will help you recognize skills as they happen during children’s play.

Focus on one skill or area of development at a time. Be intentional about where you want to start your observations.  Pick one area of development or even one specific skill to focus upon each day or even each week.

Provide materials that promote the skills you hope to observe. Once you have identified the area of development or skill you want to observe, consider the materials available to you. Determine which materials would be most likely to bring about the skills you want to observe.  You don’t necessarily need to plan a specific activity for children to complete – simply make the materials available in a learning center and plan to engage in play with children in that area. See what happens next.

Brainstorm prompts and questions.  As we discuss in the newsletter, your questions should not derail children’s play, but a few properly timed and worded prompts can drive children’s thinking in a new direction. Without directly asking children to perform the task you want to observe, you can work questions into play scenarios such as, “How could we solve this problem?”

Post cue cards. Make notes on cue cards that you place in prominent areas of the classroom. Your cue cards can have the learning standards written on them or the open ended questions and prompts that you want to use.  Write these statements on Post-it notes or sentence strips to remind yourself and your coworkers of the skills and prompts you plan to use during play.

Think creatively about the materials and how they are used.  Sometimes we get stuck thinking that materials can only be used for one purpose or in one learning center.  Open your thinking to consider different ways to use materials to promote child engagement.  Ask colleagues and even the children if they have any ideas about new ways to use materials that might have lost their appeal.

Tell us about other ways that you have used free play as a time to assess children’s learning on our Facebook page here.