Observation, assessment and planning are important areas of practice to get right when dealing with early years. Early Years Update offers a range of practical ideas to underpin the information in the Early Years Foundation Stage Principles into Practice cards.

Theme: Enabling environments

‘The environment plays a key role in supporting and extending children’s development and learning.’

Commitment 3.1 Observation, assessment and planning

‘Babies and young children are individuals first, each with a unique profile of abilities. Schedules and routines should flow from the child’s needs. All planning starts with observing children in order to understand and consider their current interests, development and learning.’

Areas of knowledge covered:

  • starting with the child
  • planning
  • assessment.

This section of the CD-Rom in the EYFS pack contains a wealth of resources and sample documents illustrating good practice from different settings. There are examples of how observations of individual children of different ages have been recorded in a series of learning journeys, relevant to each of the six areas of learning. These demonstrate a way to record a child’s experiences in a specific context and link these with: a statement from the ‘development matters’ section of the EYFS document; a comment on the role of the adult; and possible next steps to extend learning. There are also examples of planning formats suitable for use with children of different ages, from babies to reception-class children. Information is provided on the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) and how it is used to gain an overall understanding of an individual child’s additional needs.

The in-depth section of the disc looks in more detail at how and when to observe children and how to make use of the information gained. It reviews the different types and purposes of assessment, then gives two detailed examples of planning and assessment in action.

Supporting effective practice

To support effective practice in this very broad area of the EYFS, practitioners should:

  • use the materials on the EYFS disc to consolidate
  • their understanding of the purposes of different types
  • of observation, assessment and planning
  • meet with colleagues to agree a system that is manageable and provides useful information for children, parents and practitioners
  • share information with parents so that they can understand and appreciate how their child’s individual needs and interests are catered for.

Working with babies

Treasure basket sessions provide an ideal opportunity to observe babies closely and find out what interests them. Plan to provide regular treasure basket sessions at times of the day when babies are alert and interested – this may require some flexibility with your daily routine. Create interesting collections of resources to provide variety in texture, shape, color and materials (avoiding plastic whenever possible). Observe closely how a baby interacts with a treasure basket – which things she finds interesting, which ones hold her attention, which things she returns to again and again. Note how the baby handles the objects and what she does with them. From these observations, plan what to add to your collections to intrigue and interest babies further. Share your observations with parents and with colleagues, and listen to their comments on the learning experiences you have observed.

Ideas to use with toddlers

A well-resourced environment, with lots of interesting objects and open-ended activities to investigate and explore, will hold toddlers’ interest and enable them to practice and consolidate their skills. Heuristic play sessions provide good opportunities for practitioners to stand back and look at how different children interact with resources and materials. By gaining an understanding of an individual child’s preferred ways of learning, it is possible to provide new opportunities and challenges to interest him or her. Recording learning journeys through photographs and written observations provides a visual record that can be shared and can inform your plans for what experiences to offer the child next. As children become more adept in their use of language, recording their comments and observations will help to give an insight into their thinking.

Working with three- to five-year-olds

Encouraging children to talk about and reflect on their learning will likewise give the practitioner fresh ideas for new activities. At the same time it will help to consolidate a child’s understanding of his/her own learning processes, developing skills in learning how to learn. Plan time to share written observations and photographs with children and invite them to comment on what they’ve said and done. This is an opportunity to develop their thinking and reasoning skills, and to stimulate your ideas about what to offer next, to build on the children’s interests. Devise planning systems and recording sheets that allow time and space to incorporate new ideas derived from discussions with the children, and be prepared to follow up on ‘wonderful ideas’ when they are put forward!