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An observations and assessments walkthrough

by Rebecca in Teaching and Learning

This is Aimee; at the time that this observation was made she was 49 months old (4yrs 1 month). These are the notes provided by her key person: “Aimee independently chose to build herself a tower with the Jenga bricks. Although her tower was unstable and fell a few times, she continued to try again until she achieved her goal. She was pleased and gave me a big smile when I told her ‘Well done’” 

When it comes to assessing Aimee’s learning and development in this observation we can go in one of two ways – we can either take this observation in isolation and make assessments of what we saw and heard. Or, we can use what we saw and heard as part of a bigger picture of how Aimee is getting on. As practitioners we should always look for the ‘bigger picture’ taking into account everything we know about the child to help our professional judgement when we are making assessments. I’ll explain why I believe this is the correct way forward through my analysis of Aimee’s observation. Firstly, let’s think about the Characteristics of Effective Learning (CoEL). I know from my conversation with Aimee’s key person that Aimee chose to do this activity herself –it was not planned or adult led in any way. Aimee collected the equipment she wanted from the shelf herself and found a quiet space to play. She then played with the bricks, building towers and adjusting them carefully so that they would stack without falling. When they fell, she showed resilience and perseverance as she worked to make them stand again. The descriptors for CoEL match Aimee’s play thus:

Playing and Exploring: engaging in open ended activity, showing a can do attitude, learning by trial and error.

Active Learning: maintaining focus on their activity for a period of time, not easily distracted, persisting with activity when challenges occur, bouncing back after difficulties.

Creating and thinking critically: Finding ways to solve problems, finding new ways to do things, testing their ideas. (DM p5)

When recording these for your assessment you can select each separate statement as they are not age band related – they are indicators of learning styles and demeanours that will build over time. You should to be able to select several CoEL statements over a period of time so that when you review your observations and assessments you can look for patterns of learning in play. For example, over time I would be looking to see if a child displays the same CoEL when playing alone as when in a group. Does a child play in a particular way within particular EYFS areas? Are they, for example, more adventurous with creative activities than they are with outside, physical activities? Once in possession of this information I would be looking to plan for gaps in their learning and trying to use what I know about their interests and demeanours to ensure that they make good progress across all EYFS areas.

If we look at this observation, we might make the following assessments of what Aimee can do:

Within the personal, social, emotional development (PSED) area the following statements are true within the ‘Self-confidence and Self-awareness’ aspect:

22-36: Expresses own preferences and interests

30-50: Welcomes and values praise for what they have done

ELG:  Will choose the resources they need for their chosen activities

So, we need to make a decision, where is the ‘best fit’ for Aimee? By looking simply at this example I would discount the statement descriptor in the 22-36 age band because my professional knowledge of children (not just Aimee) tells me that Aimee is not operating at the level of a 2-3 year old. So, then I look at other statements which seem to match this observation. I could reflect on two statements here. One statement is about Aimee’s sense of self and her confidence, and the other concerns the level of independence she displays. In order to make my decision, I need to think about how old Aimee is and decide whether what I am seeing in the observation shows a child working within ‘age related expectations’ or whether she is very advanced for her age and I can assign her to an ELG. My professional judgement tells me that this observation does not show Aimee working at ELG. So, I choose the 30 – 50 months option; the best-fit. Let’s assume that I am happy that this age band appropriately represents where I feel Aimee is working. If there is a statement that exemplifies what I have seen I might choose to tick it. If there isn’t a statement that reflects what I have seen, yet my professional knowledge means that I am confident about the age band I have selected, I will assess the observation to an age band but not a statement. Looking across the statements to remind myself of the age-related expectations for a particular age band, I can think about whether or not Aimee is emerging, developing or secure in this age band. It is important to note that we are looking at the age band as a whole and thinking about Aimee’s development within it – we are not looking at an individual statement. If I am confident that Aimee is displaying the appropriate age related expectations I would want to indicate that Aimee is secure in this age band. So, I am going to tick the statement that matches what I have seen (but if there wasn’t one, it wouldn’t matter) and then I will add in a refinement of ‘Secure’ for the age band. 

When working out whether to give a refinement of emerging, developing or secure sometimes it can be helpful to think in this way: If you think about splitting the age band  into 3 roughly equal ranges (one for each refinement) and then the child's age actual age will need to match up with her refinement. So, for 30-50, a child who had been assessed as emerging would need to be between 30 and 37 months old to be on track, a child who had been assessed as developing would need to be between 37 and 43 months old to be on track, and a child who had been assessed as secure, would need to be between 43 and 50 months old to be on track. Therefore, with this method, Aimee would only be seen as on track if she was assessed at 30-50 secure or 40-60 developing. 

I have the same process to go through when evaluating Aimee’s physical development (PD) within the ‘moving and handling’ aspect. She could be:

30-50: Uses one handed tools and equipment,

40-60+: Handles tools, objects, construction and malleable materials safely and with increasing control

I might make the judgement, looking at this observation in isolation, that Aimee wasn’t really needing to use ‘tools’ as such but that she did demonstrate care and precision when placing blocks one handed. So again, I am opting for the 30-50 age band with a secure refinement.

Once more in maths (M), shape, space and measures

30-50: Shows interest in shape by sustained construction activity or by talking about shapes or arrangements

40-60+: Uses familiar objects and common shapes to create and recreate patterns and build models.

In this case, I might assign the higher age band, because looking at what Aimee has built it is a complex shape, she has not simply ‘stacked’ the bricks in a tower. She has thought about what she wants to build and has managed a tricky construction. In this observation I need now to consider where to ‘refine’ this assessment. I know that Aimee is 49 months, I am happy with her progress (I don’t feel that this observation shows her particularly over or underachieving), so if I assign the age band 40-60+ months and a ‘developing’ refinement she will be 'on track' as far as I am concerned.

Again, I need to make a similar judgement when looking at the expressive art and design area (EAD) for using media and materials. Aimee has constructed with a purpose, she has been imaginative and she has managed to incorporate complex balances into her structure. In the first instance I am drawn to the 40-60+ age band simply because of the ‘constructs with purpose in mind, using a variety of resources’. However, Aimee hasn’t used a variety of resources – just one type of construction block. This leaves me to look at the statement in 30-50 months which talks about ‘build and balance’. Using a ‘best fit’ approach I would assess this particular observation as 30 -50, simply because, in isolation I don’t see a ‘range’ of materials or media. I considered these statements:

30-50: Beginning to construct, stacking blocks vertically and horizontally, making enclosures and creating spaces. Joins construction pieces together to build and balance.

40-60+: Constructs with a purpose in mind, using a variety of resources.

My assessment of Aimee, taking this observation as a single example, would be as follows:

PSED, SC+SA, 30-50m, secure

PD, MH, 30-50m, secure

M, SSM, 40-60+m, developing

EAD, UMM, 30-50m, secure

If we look now at another observation of Aimee taken later in the term, when Aimee is 50 months old. The observation notes that came from her key person were as follows: “Aimee had enjoyed making two colour patterns with the teddy bears and camels. She then decided to use the yellow toys and noticed that they were different shades, so she decided to make a pattern and when I asked Aimee to tell me about her pattern she pointed to each "toy" and said "light yellow, dark yellow, light yellow, dark yellow" all the way along the line of toys.”


Having explained my assessment methodology (above) I will assess this observation in the same way. Taking the observation in isolation and not as part of an overview.

Playing and Exploring: showing particular interests, initiating activities

Active Learning: maintaining focus on their activity for a period of time, showing satisfaction in meeting their own goals

Creating and thinking critically: Thinking of ideas, Finding new ways to do things, making links and noticing patterns in their experience, testing their ideas, developing ideas of grouping, sequences, cause and effect. (DM p5)

From the two observations of Aimee I am already getting a picture of how she likes to play when it is child-led: She confidently plays on her own. She uses common resources in unusual and imaginative way. She makes up challenges for herself. She is mathematically minded – shapes, colours and sizes fascinate her. If I were going to plan a CoEL ‘Next Step’, I would be thinking about encouraging her to ‘act out with other people’ [Playing and Exploring], and I would be challenging her with open ended questions such as ‘What do you think will happen?’ rather than continually going for trial and error [Creating and Thinking Critically]. These next steps come from what I know about Aimee and are based on what I have seen. Looking now at the EYFS assessments I might make:

Communication and Language:

Understanding: 30-50 months (secure)

Beginning to understand ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions.

Speaking: 30-50 months (secure)

Uses intonation, rhythm and phrasing to make the meaning clear to others.

Physical Development:

Moving and Handling: 30-50 months (secure)

Uses one-handed tools and equipment.


Shape, space and measure: 30-50 months (secure)

Shows an interest in shape and space making arrangements with objects.

Shows interest in shape by sustained construction activity or by talking about shapes or arrangements. Uses shapes appropriately for tasks.

40-60+ months (emerging)

Uses familiar objects and common shapes to create and recreate patterns

Expressive arts and design:

Exploring and using media and materials: 30-50 months (secure)

Beginning to construct, stacking blocks vertically and horizontally, making enclosures and creating spaces.

My assessment of Aimee therefore would be as follows:

CL, U, 30-50m, secure

CL, S, 30-50m, secure

PD, MH, 30-50m, secure

M, SSM, 30-50m, secure

M, SSM, 40-60+m, developing

EAD, UMM, 30-50m, secure

These two observations on their own give a picture of where Aimee is ‘at’ developmentally. I am happy that by using my refinements carefully I can demosnstarte that she is where she needs to be whilst giving me clear 'pointers' for where to go with her next. In Aimee’s case I am interested to look at the two maths assessments – in which she has shown twice, in two separate assessments that she is secure in this area. So, I might, given the bigger picture, put her as 40-60+months emerging – but that would be where my professional judgement comes in. I might decide to do more observations to secure my professional judgement. In terms of next steps – from these two observations it is Aimee’s sociability that highlights as an area for development – she has shown that she can listen, speak, concentrate, understand, use her fingers, make choices, be interested in shapes and patterns and be confident in what she does – but I haven’t seen her interacting at all with other children.

My next term, next steps, would be all about that. Given what I had seen so far, I would be focusing on the following:

PSED, Making relationships

Looking at the age bands as a whole and thinking of the indicators I might see as described in the statements I would think about where Aimee ‘is’ developmentally:

(I would hope to see) 30-50 months: that Aimee ‘Can play in a group, extending and elaborating play ideas, e.g. building up a role-play activity with other children, initiates play, offering cues to peers to join them, keeps play going by responding to what others are saying or doing, demonstrates friendly behaviour, initiating conversations and forming good relationships with peers and familiar adults.’

Once I knew that I was ‘looking for it’ and ‘planning for it’, I would hope that I would be able to assess Aimee as 40-60+ months: Initiates conversations, attends to and takes account of what others say, explains own knowledge and understanding, and asks appropriate questions of others, takes steps to resolve conflicts with other children, e.g. finding a compromise.

If you have any questions about any aspects of observation or assessment practice, then these forum areas are great places to post your questions:

Reception: Observation, Assessment and Planning

Observation, Assessment and Planning (Pre-school ages)

Rebecca's family hail from Liverpool but she was born and bred in the south of England. She gained a PGCE from Cambridge and an MA in Education researching school improvement. Rebecca taught in the primary sector for several years before setting up her own nursery, gaining EYPS and later working in nurseries and other early years settings helping identify areas for improvement


Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage. Early Education. 2012

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