Chapter 5: Capturing learning: Assessment in a Conceptual PlayWorld

Gloria Quinones

Chapter Goals

By reading and exploring the content of this chapter, you will learn about:

  • what is Intentional Observation of children’s learning
  • how to establish mutual dialogue between colleagues about capturing children’s play
  • what is assessment and its relation to Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorld
  • how do teacher’s assess children’s learning.


In Chapter 3, you were introduced to the importance of your pedagogical role in Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds. In this chapter, we extend your role in relation to assessment and what this might mean when you engage in imaginary Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds with children.

Your new challenge is to think about intentionally observing children’s play in Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds and, making some judgements about children’s learning. This involves understanding what assessment is. Remember that as a student teacher, you can always check with your mentor teacher (like Yuwen), who has more experience making judgements about children’s learning.

Remember that you are making observations of children’s interests in the flow of play during the Conceptual PlayWorld. We will draw upon the story of Rosie’s Walk (you can use another story you like, too) to reflect on the possibilities for assessing children’s play and learning.

It is important to consider what children learn in Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds – in the different moments of interacting with children, to capture children’s learning. Specifically, we will focus on Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorld using visuality – visual tools to support you in capturing different perspectives – your personal learning, children’s individual and collective learning, and the conditions that have been jointly created in the flow of playing.


Practice Reflection 5.1: Brainstorm what you think children are learning in Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds. Record your thoughts in your personalised Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorld thinking book. Note the children’s ideas and your own reflections.


What is Intentional Observation

Observing children in their everyday play is important (Ebbeck, 2016). When observing children’s play, remember the multiple perspectives about play: teacher’s and children’s perspectives. The act of observing involves collaboration with your mentor teacher or peer during placement; they can also add to what you are observing. Before making an assessment, it’s important to ponder what is observed. By observing and wondering during children’s play, you can capture their learning and interests.


Practice Reflection 5.2: When observing children’s learning, use the following questions for reflection and wondering:

  • what is currently happening in this situation?
  • what are the imaginary situations children are co-creating, negotiating and collaborating with each other?
  • how are children relating and discussing ideas (verbally and non-verbally)?
  • what resources in the environment are available for children’s Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds?



When teachers are intentional, they develop a sensitive awareness of children’s interests and intentions (Ridgway, et al., 2021). These are significant for further observation and reflection of ‘what’ is learned in play. Through your observation, you can identify how children are learning so you can further plan and extend in Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds.

Mutual Dialogue

It is important to remember to continue to discuss these ideas with your mentor teacher, to establish mutual dialogue about what children are playing and learning. For example, what would your role be in Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds (Chapter 3)? Mutual dialogue enriches a teacher’s understanding of children’s play (Ridgway, et al., 2021). In this case, imagine how Charlotte wondered with Yuwen about children’s play. Charlotte had many questions about where to begin to observe, and this conversation followed.


Figure 5.1.

Charlotte and Yuwen having a discussion about children’s play.

Charlotte and Yuwen stand facing each other, deep in conversation.


Charlotte: The children are enjoying playing together. What should I do next? I am unsure where to start observing children’s play.

Yuwen: Remember, you’re always observing and thinking about children’s play: at the beginning of the day when they arrive, when we’re joining their play and when children exit the Conceptual PlayWorld.

Charlotte: Thanks, can I ask the children questions while I observe them?

Yuwen: Yes, of course! Like you are having a conversation with me, you can also discuss ideas with the children.


Through observing children’s play you can also discuss, clarify and ask questions to children about what they’re playing. In Chapter 2, a discussion of your pedagogical role was discussed and the multiple positions you take when joining children’s play. For instance, when you observe, you are outside the imaginary situation – and inside the imaginary situation taking a role – in both roles, you continue to observe children’s play. This conversation occurred when Charlotte was asking questions to the children and having a mutual dialogue with them.


Figure 5.2.

Looking at Rosie’s Walk farm book for tools to use to build a farm.

Charlotte smilingly shows the picture book, Rosie's Walk, to a child with a pink hat on.


Charlotte: I really like what you are building with your friend.

Child: Yes, thanks.

Charlotte: I wonder if you need my help?

Child: Yes, you can bring more tools to help us build a farm for the chickens.


Charlotte smiled and continued to observe children’s play, while they were building a farm together for the chickens. She realised that she could observe from the ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ joining them in their play. She continued reflecting and observing children’s interests in the Conceptual PlayWorld.


Practice Reflection 5.2: Think about your current Conceptual PlayWorld. What questions do you have about making observations that you can discuss with your mentor teacher? What new ideas have you learned when asking questions to children when they’re playing (inside and outside their play)? Record your ideas in your Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorld thinking book.

Digital Technologies: Gaining Children’s Voice and Permission

Digital technologies support teacher’s documentation of children’s play (Ridgway et al., 2015). It is very important that before you decide to record images of children, you ask for permission from parents or guardians. You also need the children’s consent when recording an image. For example, when taking a photo of children’s faces, you need to be sensitive so that children feel comfortable with you. Remember that you are developing a relationship with your mentor and children during placement, so you are building ‘trust’. Children will become more comfortable with you recording images of them if this trust is built.

For example, Charlotte had to learn about the early learning centre’s policy about photographing children. Recording images also involved listening to children’s verbal and non-verbal language (e.g. gestures).

Charlotte discussed digital technologies with her mentor, Yuwen.


Figure 5.3.

Charlotte and Yuwen discussing how to use the early learning centre’s iPAD.

Charlotte and Yuwen sit together and look at a tablet. Yuwen is pointing at something on the tablet.


Charlotte: I wanted to check with you if I can record images of children’s play.

Yuwen: Yes, you can take images of children. As part of our early learning centre’s policy, we have asked families permission to take images using our early learning centre’s iPad.

Charlotte: That’s great, thank you. Can I share them on Facebook or Instagram?

Yuwen: Thanks for asking how you can use children’s images. We exclusively use these images for documenting children’s learning in the early learning centre. We don’t use social media to share children’s images. We are protecting children’s and parent’s privacy. Please remember that we use the early learning centre’s iPad to record images, not personal devices like your mobile phone.

Charlotte: Ok, I will record images using the early learning centre’s iPad. Then, I will share them with you.

Yuwen: Yes, remember, when taking photos, you also have to listen to the children.

Charlotte: Do you mean asking them if I can take their photos?

Yuwen: Yes, you can ask them and check how they provide consent to you to record their image at the moment, observing their non-verbal language, for example, face expressions and body language.

Charlotte: Thanks, this is very helpful. I’ll keep this in mind when observing them.


Recording images is important for capturing children’s learning and also for listening to children’s verbal and non-verbal language. As discussed by Charlotte and Yuwen, you might need to check which devices you can use to take photographs or images. In this case, Yuwen told Charlotte to only use the early learning centre’s devices (e.g. iPad). You must make decisions and reflect on your intentions when taking images of children. The images you take of children can support you in ‘capturing’ an important moment of children’s learning. Intentional observation provides a framework for reflecting on your intentions of ‘why’ you (or others in the early learning centre) are capturing a moment in time and ‘why’ it is important in relation to children’s play and learning. Visual images are a resource for teachers to inquire about children’s individual and collective learning.


Practice Reflection 5.3: Discuss with your mentor teacher if you have consent to record images of children. Think about how you will ask children for permission to take record images, and what questions you would ask them. Record your ideas in your Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorld thinking book.


What is Assessment?

We have discussed intentional observation as an important tool for reflecting on children’s engagement in Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds. Fleer (2017) discusses assessment practices to implement in your Conceptual PlayWorlds: assessment through play, assessment of play and assessment for play. The following visual model will help you think about the different moments to assess children’s learning (see Figure 5.4).


Figure 5.4.

Assessment through, of, and for Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds.


There are three interlocking circles. The first circle has the words, Assessment through play: What do children know? The second circle has the words Assessment of play: What is going on in children's play? The third circle says Assessment for Play: How can I support children in extending their play?
Note. Based on concepts from Fleer (2017).

A. Assessment THROUGH PlayFocus on What Children Know

Before planning a Conceptual PlayWorld, you must consider children’s interests in play. Once these different interests appear, assessable moments in play occur when children are fully engaged in Conceptual PlayWorlds. According to Fleer (2017), an assessable moment is a layered process. The teacher observes, captures or documents and analyses children’s learning when they are fully engaged in play activities.

The assessment moment can instigate planning for new problems to solve and help you think, with children, about new concepts to be introduced. While children are playing, you will have possibilities for teachable moments. A teachable moment is a moment for timely instruction where you can offer a new provocation for children to engage in Conceptual PlayWorlds.

Through mutual dialogue with your mentor, discuss the following questions to guide your thinking:

  • what do children know and can do in play? (intentional observation)
  • what is being captured or documented in order to make judgements about children’s play? (assessment moment)
  • what new provocations can I introduce to engage in children’s play? (teachable moments)


Practice Reflection 5.4. Record your answers to these questions in your Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorld thinking book. Discuss with your mentor teacher your thoughts for further reflection.

B. Assessment OF Play Focus on Children’s Play and Learning


In relation to the assessment of play, the focus is on what children are playing, therefore, there is a need to pay attention to children’s individual and collective imaginary situations. You will need to focus awareness on different groups of children, and the resources needed for their play. While doing this, you will also focus on their learning, taking into consideration the following:

  • A detailed account of how children are conceptualising a play problem.
  • How children determine how to solve the play problem and the content of the problem in Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorld.
  • The relationships occurring between peers while children are engaging socially with others.

In the following chapters, you will learn how children can be introduced to different concepts, such as mathematical concepts (Chapter 7). In assessing children’s play and learning, you will need to explain and describe how you capture children’s play in your observations. We now focus on how you assess children’s cognitive-creative and socio-emotional knowledge (Fleer, 2017). A detailed account is explained below.

  • Cognitive-creative knowledge involves:
    • children’s learning of complex and richer vocabulary
    • children’s play involvement with peers
    • children’s longer attention span, being more engrossed in their play
    • children creating imaginary situations, which leads to greater creativity
    • children demonstrating more curiosity and asking more questions and information about something in particular
    • children’s ability to take on another person’s perspective (empathy), for example, on new characters
    • children’s higher forms of problem-solving, providing creative solutions to problems.
  • Socio-emotional knowledge involves:
    • children demonstrating higher levels of cooperation
    • children managing emotions by communicating how they feel in a positive way
    • children communicating effectively their dislikes, leading to reducing aggression
    • more effective teacher management of the group and time runs smoothly.


Practice Reflection 5.5: Charlotte discusses the intentional observations with Yuwen. Yuwen asks her to identify and assess a focus child’s cognitive-creative and socio-emotional knowledge. Record your answers to this in your Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds thinking book. Discuss with your mentor teacher your thoughts for further reflection.

C. Assessment FOR play – Framing, Extending and Supporting Children’s Play

Charlotte has made notes of children’s interests (assessment through play) and shares them with Yuwen and they discuss these together. Then, Charlotte made some notes on the assessment of children’s play in relation to their cognitive-creative and socio-emotional learning. She was surprised about how much she has learned about children’s learning in Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds. For example, children’s knowledge about chickens

Next, she focuses on the assessment for play – to think further about how she can extend children’s learning.

In the assessment for play, you will be thinking of continuous assessment of children’s learning to frame, extend and further support children. You will enter and exit children’s imaginary situations in Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds. For this, you will need to consider ‘what is going on’ at the moment of play, during and at the end of the Conceptual PlayWorlds.

Assessment for play involves:

  • building play complexity and entering children’s play
  • teachers assessing what is going on in children’s play (formative assessment) as well at the end of the Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorlds (summative assessment).

In Conceptual PlayWorlds, children’s and teacher’s interests and ideas are developed, and you will need to see the possibilities and potential of children’s play. Formative assessment is a continuous process occurring through and of play assessment, while summative assessment assesses play at the end of a Conceptual PlayWorld, for example, how children are problem-solving ideas and learning new concepts. Summative assessment celebrates children’s achievements and success in Conceptual PlayWorlds.

Through mutual dialogue with your mentor, discuss the following questions to guide your thinking:

  • what is going on during children’s play that you can further support or extend for children’s learning (think of their cognitive-creative and socio-emotional knowledge)?
  • describe the different problems children are trying to solve in the Conceptual PlayWorld and describe their learning (remember you can use images to support your ideas).
  • in terms of problem-solving, think about the complexity of children creating new problems or if they need your support in creating new problems.
  • celebrate children’s new learning and friendships.
  • think about what other Conceptual PlayWorlds you can think about to support children’s newly developed ideas.



Practice Reflection 5.6: Review your notes and consider your observations of children’s play and learning. Consider how you can further extend children’s learning. Record your answers to this in your Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorld thinking book. Discuss your thoughts for further reflection with your mentor teacher.



In this chapter, for colleagues Charlotte (preservice teacher) and Yuwen (mentor teacher), mutual dialogue is an important pedagogical strategy for assessing children’s play. There are multiple layers for assessing children’s play and learning: assessment through play, of play and for play that involves you and the children.



To find out more about Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorld read the research on the Conceptual PlayLab website.




Ebbeck, M. (2017). Assessing children’s learning through play. In M. Ebbeck and M. Waniganayake (Eds.), Play in early childhood education learning in diverse contexts, (pp. 42 –59). Oxford University Press.

Fleer, M. (2017). Play in the early years. Cambridge University Press.

Ridgway, A., Quinones, G., & Li, L. (2020). Visual methodology processing relational pedagogy. In E. J. White (Ed.), Seeing the world through children’s eyes (pp. 177- 192). Brill.



“Figure 5.1.” by Adriana Alvarez, based on an image by Anne Suryani, is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

“Figure 5.2.” by Adriana Alvarez, based on an image by Anne Suryani, is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

“Figure 5.3” by Adriana Alvarez, based on an image by Anne Suryani, is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

“Figure 5.4.” by Gloria Quinones is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0



About the author

Associate Professor Gloria Quinones’ research is primarily within early childhood education and care.

Her recent reseach has focused on conceptualising infant-toddler affective and play pedagogies, emotional wellbeing of early childhood educators, children’s peer relationships and parenting practices in Nepal.



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Why play works Copyright © 2024 by Gloria Quinones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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