Assessing Nature Play

As we wrap up our last week of LEAP’s winter session, it is a good time to reflect on the nine weeks we have spent together immersed in nature play. The greatest thing about spending nine weeks together is that we can often see a change in the confidence and comfort of our LEAP kids in the spaces we occupy, with the activities, with each other, and with us facilitators. We know there is a lot of learning happening over these nine weeks, but what are some ways to assess this learning? What is the evidence that learning is taking place at LEAP? In a formal preschool setting, the ways children express their learning (and teachers assess the learning) are through drawing, writing, and sharing verbally with another child or adult. Since the format of LEAP is mostly free-play, it can be challenging to determine what learning and development are taking place. It’s important to keep in mind that young children display their learning in a variety of ways, so any  type of assessment should be flexible. Every child processes new information and expresses their learning differently, and the impact of experiences like LEAP may not be evident until after the session  concludes. With that in mind, here are just a few things to watch for this last week of LEAP. Try to think back to our first week back in January (or September if you’ve been with us since fall) and compare your child’s experience at LEAP then and now.

  • Self-directed play.  Does your child direct her own play and is confident choosing which station to explore and for how long? Does he need little encouragement or help getting started?
  • Comfort trying new things.  Is your child interested and excited to discover an unfamiliar substrate in the sensory bin or a new process art project? Does she seek out new sensory experiences outside of LEAP?
  • New vocabulary. Have you noticed your child using new vocabulary words in conversations with other children, with you, and with us facilitators? Are you hearing new adjectives to describe their actions? Is he combining words in new ways to describe what he sees or experiences?
  • Creativity and imagination. Is your child using the materials in innovative and creative ways?  Does she take a fort-building sheet and make it a cape? Does he use the building blocks to make a home for the armadillo? Don’t underestimate the value of imaginary play; remember “make believe” has been shown to strengthen a wide variety of mental abilities.

We’d love to hear your personal assessments of LEAP’s role in your child’s learning and development.  Please share in the comments below or let us know at class this week. Until then, get outside and enjoy the sunshine!


North American Association for Environmental Education. (2010) “Early Childhood Environmental Education Programs: Guidelines for Excellence”. Washington, DC: NAAEE Publications

-Stacey Martin