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The Play Development Branch Map

Whilst Deputy Head teacher at Cherry Garden School, for children aged 2-11 with complex support needs, I coordinated the creation of a new approach to assessment in the school.  One of the keys to the new concept was that everyone working with the children in the school should have a solid understanding of early child development. The caveat to this is that when working with children with learning differences, we hold in mind that they don't necessarily learn skills in the same way as neurotypical children - it is very important that we are aware of this. 

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 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 to inform practitioners. Just as a knowledge of early child development supports educators who are working with children with learning differences and disabilities, so an understanding of different stages of play and the order in which play generally develops informs and scaffolds provision. It is crucial to be aware that the milestones in the document may not be appropriate for all learners - not all children play in the same way, and we must ensure that all play is valued and recognised. The branches on the Play Map correspond to the same stages of development as those pictured above.

Play Development Branch Map Final.png

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 - as we know, child development is not an exact science. 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 specialist school in London, for 11 years, 7 of those as Deputy Head Teacher and Early Years Lead. He is now a SEND Advisor and Outreach Teacher at Tapestry. He lives in Newcastle with his wife and two young children.

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