This position statement provides educators of young
children with important assessment guidelines. It
also highlights some of the pitfalls educators need
to avoid in their own assessment practices.
It was reporting time and Nancy found
she did not have enough information
about most children in the area of data
management. She decided to use the same
scenario for each child. Previously, the class
had made a chart of the number of boys
and girls in the class. Each child put a dot
under the correct category. Nancy decided
to use this chart as a basis for gathering
information about their understanding of
data. During learning centre time, she called
each child to look at the chart and asked
the same questions: How many boys? How
many girls? Which has more? She recorded
the children’s responses on her class list.
In this scenario, the assessment practice places
children in a test-like situation and fails to
capture their breadth of knowledge about data
management. The children were given one
chance to tell or demonstrate what they knew.
The information was not reliable or valid as
responses would vary, based on the child’s focus,
comfort, interest in the task, understanding
of the task, and what was expected. English
Language Learners may have been disadvantaged
because the task was language dependent. (i.e.,
Which has more?). Some children may have
been disadvantaged by the abstract nature of a
task that uses dots to represent a person. The
educator’s questions were ‘closed’, and demanded
a right or wrong answer. Lastly, in this example,
the purpose of the assessment does not support
children’s learning.

their highest level when engaged in play-based
activities that are meaningful to them.6
Authentic assessment provides a
more accurate and reflective picture
of a child’s true abilities.
As a form of authentic assessment, play
assessment has received considerable attention
over the years. The use of play assessment stems
from the belief that play provides a unique
window into a child’s developmental abilities. The
National Association for the Education of Young
Children endorses the use of play assessment
and states, “For younger children, assessment
is primarily incorporated with their play.”7
Furthermore, they suggest that play assessment
is appropriate for children with special needs,
noting that children with disabilities benefit from
in-depth and ongoing assessment, including play-
based assessment, to ensure that their individual
needs are being met.8
The Power of Observation
Observation provides information that teachers
need to build relationships with individual
children and enable those children to be
successful.9, 10
Observation as an assessment strategy is a form
of authentic or play assessment. With a focus
on observation in the kindergarten classroom,
educators can gain insights into all areas of
a child’s development: physical, cognitive,
language and literacy, social, and emotional. For
years, leaders in early childhood education have
recommended observation of young children in
early childhood settings. In 1992, Bredekamp
and Rosegrant noted that, “Observation is the
most effective strategy for getting to know young
children.”11 The Ontario Ministry of Education
has also endorsed the use of observation,
stating that, “Observation should be the primary
assessment strategy used in kindergarten.”12
Adapting the Program
Observation of English Language
Learners engaged in learning
experiences is the key to their
assessment. Asking probing
questions that demand an
understanding of language may
not be appropriate at this time.
Observation is a powerful and cyclical learning
process. Educators begin with careful observation of
the children, followed by thoughtful reflection of the
gathered information. Finally, educators implement
any necessary modifications or changes in their
programming or classroom environment. Indeed,
Jablon et al.13 describe observation as “an ongoing
cycle of asking questions; watching, listening, and
taking notes; reflecting; and responding”.
Observation allows educators to:
• gather information for instructional
• identify the resources that will be required to
meet developmental needs;
• identify and plan for individual student
needs and interests;
• extend professional understanding about
play as a valuable learning process for
students and for the educator as researcher;
• identify whether program goals are being
met; and
• assist in communicating with parents and
When teaching young children our observations
inform our daily actions.15

When planning in relation to overall expectations,
educators consider:
• what needs to be in place in the environment
(organization, materials, resources…);
• which strategies/explicit teaching
experiences to use to support the learning;
• which assessment tools or strategies to use
to document learning toward meeting the
overall expectation.
The specific expectations are more than a
checklist for meeting the overall expectations.
They are evidence indicating how children are
progressing in meeting the overall expectations.
The anecdotal evidence from work samples,
as well as from other sources, shows what the
children know and can do, and what they need
to learn next. The documentation provides a rich
context for making judgments and developing
comments, written or verbal, for children,
parents, and others.
Adapting the Program
Take into account children’s stage
of English language development
in evaluating progress. For
children with special needs,
take into account any necessary
modifications when evaluating
As educators observe, they ask themselves some
generic questions that are not necessarily related
to a formal expectation. As educators become
effective observers, these questions become
second nature. (See Appendix 2 for example)
As educators observe incidentally or in planned
ways across learning areas, they look for:
• children’s knowledge and understanding (of
materials and their properties, of language,
of number, of books…);

• children’s ways of constructing and
expressing their knowledge;
• the skills or strategies they are using
(problem-solving, inquiry skills, higher
level thinking, strategies for reading and
writing…); and
• their attitudes (confidence, interest,
Educators keep in mind that the process a child
goes through to solve a problem, organize a play
sequence, or create a complex block structure is
just as important as the final product. Observing
the process can provide valuable insight into a
child’s thinking, his or her ability to sustain an
interest, and to problem-solve. Sometimes, too
much emphasis is placed on the finished work and
not enough on the process behind its evolution.
Where to Observe
Opportunities for observation exist throughout
the teaching day. For example, educators can
observe a child’s cognitive or language skills
in small groups, at specific learning centres, or
during a large group session. Observations can be
focused on children’s physical development in the
gym or outdoors on the playground equipment.
Social and emotional development can be
observed as children interact with their peers
and with other adults while in the library, on
field trips, during free play, or at snack time. The
ability to follow routines can be easily observed
during transition times, such as cleanup and
dismissal. Educators can observe their children
in virtually every daily school activity.
The classroom’s organization can help or hinder
the ‘where to observe’. If educators have clear
sight lines in the classroom, they can sit at one
centre and observe children playing at another.
It is important to be unobtrusive; sitting too
close may disrupt the natural flow of the play.
Knowing the children enables educators to decide
where to position themselves to watch and listen
effectively. That being said, at times educators sit
with the children to understand what they are
observing and to gain further information.
When to Observe
Ideally, children should be observed daily and
throughout the day. Observation is not an ‘add
on’ or ‘one more thing to do’. It is an integral part
of the planning and the schedule. Observations
can take place at different times throughout
the day, and during both regular and unusual
activities in the classroom, for example, during a
special guest’s visit or during assembly.
Observations begin at the start of the school
year. These early observations indicate how the
child is adjusting to school and transitioning into
kindergarten. These early observations are the
beginning of baseline data that shows progress

over time. When observations are kept continu-
ally in all learning areas there is no pressure to
gather information all at once for reporting.
How to Observe
Daily observations of children will be either
incidental or planned. Incidental observations
occur spontaneously and may not have a
predetermined focus. Incidental observation may
include, for example, observing children upon
entry, as they discover a spider in the corner,
and as they discover a new way to use material
at the water table. Incidental observations may
be the stimulus for more planned observations,
such as when there is demonstration of a new
skill, atypical behaviour, problems, or lack of
information. These observations may lead to
a more in-depth assessment and analysis of
particular areas.
Alternatively, planned observations occur when
educators select:
• a particular curriculum expectation
(demonstrate an awareness of themselves as
artists …);
• a developmental skill (control of small muscles);
• a child to observe (either because there is a
lack of information in an area or a need for
more information); or
• a learning centre (the introduction of new
materials, a need to see how children are
applying strategies, or an observed problem).
(See Appendix 2 for examples of observation
questions at learning centres)
Planned observations consider the recognized
stages of play or child development identified by
educators and researchers. For example, one of
the children at the small block centre regularly

tiles a small carpeted area using small blocks.
This type of block play pattern would correspond
to Harriet Johnson’s20 stage two of block play.
(See Appendix 4 for more information.) Sometimes,
children skip some behaviours of a developmental
Incidental Observations could occur:
Planned Observations could occur:
• as children enter and depart;
• as they play outdoors;
• as you circulate and interact;
• during a new experience.
• at a specific centre;
• at a specific activity;
• with specific children;
• at a specific time;
• for a specific purpose.
Thinking It Through
Do you have …
• more information in one area of
development than another?
• more information on some children and
less on others?
• information from all areas of the
classroom or areas of the program?
Plan to observe to address the
stage and sometimes they engage in behaviours
across different stages. To guide observations,
think about, “What does this child do more often
than not?21
The method of recording observations is a
personal choice. Some educators try out different
systems before finding one that works for them.
Some of the tools educators use to record their
daily written observations of children include:
• steno notebooks or note pads;
• class observation sheets (see Appendix 7 for
At-A-Glance sheets – both blank and completed
• mailing labels – jot down notes on a sheet of
white mailing labels; once filled in, peel them
off and stick them in the child’s individual
file folder;22
• sticky notes for brief observations applied to
At-A-Glance sheets;
• binders with sheets that are colour-coded
according to area (e.g., green sheets for
physical development observations,
blue sheets for language development
• index cards for each child taped to a laminated
file folder; once filled with comments, the
cards are easily removed and placed in the
child’s file folder. Using a different colour card
each term helps educators organize their index
card information;23
• electronic tablets that use touch screens
with styluses or digital pens linked to mobile
computers or laptops where notes are stored.
This is a more mobile way to interact with
Educators experiment with a variety of these
methods, or create their own. Whatever method
is chosen, it’s important to keep an organized set
of observation records. Records must be readily
accessible for future report card writing, parent-
educator interviews, student case conferences
and meetings.24 Written observations of children
are highly confidential and should never be left
out for others to view.