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Whole Child Assessment

Why is whole child assessment important for early childhood educators?

· Assessment

What is whole-child assessment?

Simply assessing a child’s pre-literacy or pre-numeracy skills is not enough to determine whether or not the child is developing the skills they need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. Effective and pedagogically-sound assessment for young children requires considering the full range of developmental skills.

Whole-child assessment, as this type of assessment is commonly called, is a balanced way to measure and track a child’s progress in all developmental domains, including social-emotional, physical, cognitive, and literacy development. Unlike traditional subject-based assessments, whole-child assessments allow teachers to understand the complete picture of a child, including, for example, how children collaborate with peers or how they solve problems.

Why is whole-child assessment important?

Research has repeatedly shown the relationship between non-cognitive skills and school success. Comprehensive, whole-child assessments allow educators to reflect on a broad view of the child they work with. Viewing the child as a complete learner allows educators to reflect on how to best support the child in developing a strong holistic foundation for success in school and beyond.

Non-cognitive skills begin to develop at an early age. Early childhood educators plan activities to help children develop and practice a wide variety of skills, and often multiple skills at one time.

Consider the following example:

A teacher reads the story of the Three Little Pigs aloud to her students. As she reads, she stops to provide opportunities for her students to act out the story and discuss each character’s role in the story. At the end of the story, she asks children what materials they would use to build their own houses if they were a part of the story.

This teacher intends to focus on helping her children develop listening comprehension skills. However, the activity allows her children a chance to develop their gross-motor skills, build peer-relationship skills, reflect on community roles, and consider natural materials in their environment. Early childhood educators are best served by an assessment tool that equips them with the ability to consider connected areas of development for their students and to see a complete picture of how the child is progressing.

Traditional tests often focus on just one skill or one area of learning at a time. By contrast, whole-child assessment tools allow teachers to look at many skills at once, and how skills in different domains are connected to each other. Through using a whole-child assessment tool, teachers focus on supporting each child holistically rather than preparing them for a test in one singular area.

Are arts a part of whole-child assessment?

Within the context of whole-child assessment, music, dance, and visual arts provide excellent opportunities for monitoring and supporting a child’s development. Through arts activities, children grow and develop a wide range of skills. For example, a visual art project could require a child to use the following skills:

  1. Planning
  2. Fine motor skills
  3. Using tools to support their play
  4. Geometry and spatial awareness
  5. Recognizing or creating patterns

When educators use a whole-child assessment tool, they can better understand how a child is progressing on a connected set of developmental skills that children exhibit every day.

About the Author

Anna Marrs is a former early literacy curriculum developer and a former certified 1st grade teacher in North Carolina. She holds a Master's in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and now works on the School Partnerships team at Kaymbu.

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