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The Play Development Branch Map

Whilst Deputy Head teacher at Cherry Garden School, for children aged 2-11 with complex learning needs, I coordinated the creation of a new approach to assessment in the school.  The key to the new concept was that everyone working with the children in the school should have a solid understanding of child development from birth to 5 years (which all of the children in the school were working within).

We produced a one page ‘Branch Map’ for each of our curriculum areas (in line with the areas of learning from the EYFS).  These maps gave our staff an opportunity to quickly assess a child’s current learning level, as well as guide the setting of developmentally appropriate next steps.

They looked like this:




The maps were organised into up to ten branches which corresponded to typically developing ages in months:




The different colours on each map denoted ‘strands’.  So, in our combined CLL map the strands were:

·         Language and Communication

·         Attention and Understanding

·         Reading

·         Writing


The maps took 2 years to develop and we involved the whole school team in tweaking and improving them over this time.  Once introduced, we felt that the maps had a significant impact on the way that we approached planning and assessment in the school, and ultimately the process felt altogether more child centred.  There was no expectation that a child would develop in a typical linear fashion.  Each child’s map could look entirely different from their peers – but the knowledge of early child development would help all our teachers and support staff in their practice.

Once we had completed the six main Maps, we began work on some ‘supplementary’ maps linked to communication books, symbol exchange, transitions, and the MOVE programme.  These were all ideal considering the approaches we used in the school.  Whilst working at Cherry Garden School I had floated the idea of a ‘Play Development’ Branch Map to run alongside the others, but it is only in recent months that I’ve had the opportunity to create it.

The concept of the Play Map isn’t necessarily for assessment or for setting next steps – the intention is more to inform practitioners about the different stages of play and help them to understand what to expect and when, in typically developing children.  It should assist with identifying potential delays in a child’s play skills and support realistic expectations around learning. The branches on the Play Map correspond to the same stages of development as those pictured above.

Play Development Branch Map Final.png


As with most discussions around child development, it is not an exact science.  The typically developing ages have been omitted so that this document can be shared with parents with sensitivity.  I would however advocate all staff being aware of the corresponding age bands, and I would also expect honest conversations with parents if asked.


I would be really interested to hear feedback on this document, as I would like it to be as helpful as possible.  There were several drafts and tweaks made along the way and I’m sure there might be differing opinions on where certain milestones have been placed.  If you do have any suggestions for improvements please email me: stephen@eyfs.info and I will consider any comments!

You can download the pdf of the Play Development Branch Map below:

Play Development Branch Map Final.pdf


Stephen Kilgour
Stephen Kilgour worked at Cherry Garden School, an outstanding special school in London for children with severe and complex learning needs, for 11 years, 7 of those as Deputy Head Teacher.  He is now an SEND Advisor and Outreach Teacher at Tapestry. He lives in Newcastle with his wife and two young children and is very capable of watching any form of sport on TV - in the evenings and at weekends he can often be found doing just that!

Edited by Jules

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