What is Play-based Assessment?
This is a technique for an individualized approach to learning that evaluates what a child can do on his own, can do with some form of help, and can’t do even if help is offered. Children learn best through active, play-based learning. For the assessment of young children to be meaningful, authentic, and useful, it must be closely connected to how young children learn the best. And that’s where play-based learning comes into the picture. Standardized tests often conduct children’s assessments under controlled environments where it’s presumed that each child will be at the same level at the same time. But for children, learning and development aren’t static. Instead, they’re ever-changing.
Additionally, children develop at varying rates in different domains (cognitive, physical, emotional, and social). These are dependent upon and influenced by the opportunities children get. This is why children need diverse experiences and evaluations that aren’t confined to just their academic skills that lead to didactic teaching methods, which are mainly ‘drill and kill.’ Play-based assessment not just evaluates children’s literacy and mathematics but even takes into account their cognitive skills like problem-solving and language; social-emotional skills such as self-regulation, negotiation, empathy, and curiosity; and motor skills.
Play-based assessments are fit for children and young people belonging to a broad age group and possessing a wide range of needs and abilities. Such assessments can be useful for children and young people who:
- Have low language abilities
- Are pre-verbal
- Have gone through a traumatic experience
- Have English as an additional language
- Find it difficult to express feelings in words
- Have emotional, social, and mental health difficulties
Play-based assessment doesn’t need any unusual or special equipment. The materials children use as their common play equipment, such as toys, puzzles, crayons, and dolls, can serve the purpose well and make it convenient to get the evaluation done without much cost. Such assessment can be carried out at any place, but it’s preferable to use a play area or other space that the children are familiar with. Play-based assessment can be successful if an adequate variety of toys and other relevant playing materials are available to elicit the needed range of childhood behaviors.
The diversity in the objects used for play is particularly crucial for play-based assessment, as it helps evaluate how children respond to different environments – be it solo play, role play, or pretend-play with other children. For instance, when children play with blocks, a teacher can ask questions that promote prediction, problem-solving, and hypothesizing. The teacher can also bring the children’s awareness towards science, mathematics, and literacy concepts with questions like
- Can the blocks be blown down?
- How tall can the stack of blocks get?
- How many blocks will they need to make it that taller?
These questions will elevate the simple act of stacking blocks to the application of learning and help assess children on various parameters, such as cognitive and social skills, emotional maturity, and self-confidence, which are necessary for them to engage in new environments and experiences.