Developmental Checklists: Pros and Cons

There are a lot of different viewpoints and discussions around developmental checklists and whether they should or shouldn’t be used as a form of documentation and assessment in early childhood services. The purpose of this post is to provide information from both sides of the debate and allow you to reflect on your practices and work out what is right for your service, in your context.

Pros of developmental checklists:

  • They allow for a general understanding of child development and when milestones are expected to be reached. This allows for variances off this “norm” to be noticed and discussed. This may lead to changes in programming or the environment, assessment from medical professionals or other early intervention methods to be accessed.
  • Checklists can provide evidence to demonstrate to the family the need to consider changes to the current practices or to seek out additional assessment from a trained professional if a family is reluctant to work with the service.
  • Checklists can be shared by the family with other professionals to help communicate their concerns.
  • Checklists allow for progress to be demonstrated over a period of time.
  • Checklists can be completed by educators providing holistic and child focused experiences that can draw on their knowledge of each child to assess whether they can achieve a task, and used as a record inside the service. (e.g. “I know Zach knows his shapes as he was talking to me about which one he got the beanbag into when we played the game outside and the shapes were drawn on the floor with chalk).
  • Checklists are often quicker to do than a learning story and parents are more likely to read them.
  • Checklists can demonstrate gaps in the environment or programming if there is a trend of a number of children falling behind in an area it may mean there are not opportunities to develop in this skill/practice.

Cons of developmental checklists:

  • Checklists are not inclusive of children with additional needs who may not be able to succeed at completing tasks. They also do not take on board children’s home life and cultural differences which may affect different aspects of development.
  • Checklists may be done in an adult focused way where children are expected to demonstrate their skills in ways chosen by the adult and when instructed by the adult, which can cause anxiety and/or a misrepresentation of the true skills (e.g. Asking a child to name the shapes that are drawn on a piece of paper on a clipboard and recording what they say in front of them.)
  • Checklists often do not allow for skills or traits that are not associated with the milestones such as respect, empathy, leadership, curiosity.
  • Providing checklists to families as a form of assessment can create a deficit view of the child, as they are seen as not yet achieving against societal norms, instead of demonstrating how each child has progressed on their own developmental journey. Also families can use the checklists to compare with other families.
  • Checklists may not contribute towards planning for child focused experiences as it is difficult to record children’s voices and interests into developmental checklists.

As I said this is not going to be a post where I tell you whether to use developmental checklists, or how to use them, as that is not what I am about. I created RARE as a way to help educators reflect on their practices and how they aligned with compliance and best practice within their context. Therefore some tools to use to help reflect on this within your service could include:

  • The Guide to the National Quality Framework, because it goes into so much more detail than just the National Quality Standard
  • The approved learning framework (e.g. EYLF) and not just the learning outcomes, but the practices and principles too.
  • The ECA Code of Ethics which helps develop and understanding of protecting the rights of the child and working in a professional manner.
  • Your own service philosophy which should outline your values and be used to align practices to these.

Finally… if you are not using developmental checklists please consider how you and your team are aware of developmental milestones and address early intervention needs of children.


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