Early Childhood Assessment: Observation and Authentic Regular Review


Observation is the key to understanding young children and finding out more about them as individuals. It is a fundamental aspect of the assessment and planning cycle and provides a firm basis for reflection within the Australian Childhood Trauma Group’s new Early Childhood Assessment Framework. The observation process is crucial in helping parents, carers, or allied practitioners address early childhood development needs. It requires all parties to learn and share to understand and meet a child’s needs.

The Importance of Observation in Early Childhood Assessment

Increasingly, our clinical team, other allied health practitioners, and early childhood educators reference the importance of observation as a central tool for gathering evidence about a child’s needs. The pendulum of theory and practice is forever debated amongst those in childhood diagnostics. Theory has little place if you do not understand an infant’s or child’s needs—the process of observation anchors our assessment model.

Observation involves studying children’s actions, expressions, behaviours, and interactions. These observations must occur regularly to provide insights into their development, what they enjoy doing, and what they learn through play and life experiences. Parents and clinicians must share gathered details to determine whether the child’s development is at the expected stage.

What is Observation?

By observing the actions a child chooses and the resources they enjoy playing with, we gather reliable information about who they are as individuals. It can also provide an opportunity to determine the child’s needs and plan the next steps in their learning. Observations in children’s early years are vital, as each child has unique abilities, challenges, and areas to explore.

Key Areas Observed

Our early childhood assessment observations seek to evidence:

  • What children enjoy and their interests
  • Friendships they may have developed
  • The child’s well-being
  • Particular areas of development – physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and behavioural

Accuracy and Variability in Assessments

We know that infants and young children learn and grow at remarkable and unpredictable rates that are unmatched during other age periods. Consequently, a static fixed-form proficiency-based assessment, taken only once during early childhood, will produce skewed results. Fixed assessments result in more significant individual variability in younger children. Some professionals are concerned that these assessments may offer imprecise information for children at lower levels of developmental attainment.

Two key points to consider are:

  1. One-time snapshots are likely less meaningful for younger children, especially those nearing school readiness.
  2. Professional judgment is a critical factor in determining how ready each child is for an approach to assessment. Accurate data drives higher-quality outcomes for children, so we must take the time to navigate these concerns.

The Role of Review and Reflection

To allocate limited resources effectively, knowing who needs what and which efforts succeed in meeting a child’s needs is crucial. When resources go to sound, effective prevention and intervention efforts, early experiences offer massive leverage compared to efforts made as a child ages.

Our early childhood assessment framework is predicated on the notion of “review” — enabling regular reflection and analysis of the changing stages an infant and child experience as they age. Family and environmental factors also change and play an essential role in meeting an infant or child’s needs. We have invested and consciously framed our early childhood assessment framework within the scope of “getting back to basics” and understanding assessment’s significance in early childhood.

“The overall purpose of assessment, regardless of age, is to help make appropriate instructional decisions about best-supporting children” (Early Childhood…, 2005).


The observation and regular review in early childhood assessment provide accurate insights crucial for systematic and sustainable improvement for infants and younger children. By continuously reflecting on and analysing children’s developmental stages and changing needs, we can provide the best support and foster their growth and development.


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