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Clinical and Special Education Early Childhood

Play-based Learning during COVID-19 and Why it's More Important than Ever Before

Rachael Storey
Written By Rachael Storey
On Oct 26, 2020
6 minute read

Part 1


While I am an educator, I am first and foremost, a parent. My toddler and how she will be affected by COVID-19 is always on my mind. We used to have so much fun attending different community activities and programs, and I felt she was social with other children her age. Of course, all of this interaction stopped this past spring, and I find myself worrying into the night that she is not getting the same exposure to different experiences.


As these identities of teacher and parent intersect, I often wonder about the impact of the pandemic on early childhood developmental milestones. Are young children still progressing, even with remote school or sometimes no access to early childhood programs? Will my daughter be okay without social interaction from her peers? Will she fall behind?


COVID-19 had significantly impacted early childhood development

While we cannot see the full impact of the pandemic on early childhood development while we are still in the midst of it, one thing is already clear: the impact on children is not evenly distributed. I’ve read a range of articles referencing how the pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities that were already evident in our country, and this affects each child differently based on the individual context. While some children are able to enjoy seeing more of their parents while they work from home, others are experiencing housing and food instability as one or both of their parents may have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.


Preschool and daycare closures have left many families scrambling for childcare that they cannot afford, leaving children to deal with the shuffle of many different caregiver situations. According to a recent Harvard Article, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people of color and people living in poverty across America, and children can see the tensions and violence stemming from systemic racism simply by overhearing the news. All of these conditions can compound to cause students and families to experience toxic stress or even trauma from their current situation. Dr. Pamela Cantor stated in her article about COVID-19 stress and child development:


“When children have persistently high levels of stress, and that stress is not buffered by the presence of a trusted and calm adult, something else can happen: children can get locked in that fight or flight feeling. This is toxic stress. And it helps explain why some students have difficulty paying attention and remembering things and are easily triggered by emotions. It is our emotions that drive our cognitive and learning skills, that engage us or shut us down."


With increasing evidence of the toxic stress and trauma’s impact on students, education professionals are looking for solutions to help reach young learners.


The BDI-3 helps flag developmental strengths and weaknesses to ensure early learners get the interventions they need

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Now more than ever, we need efficient assessments in order to provide early intervention to students with delays or skill deficits magnified by the pandemic. This is where the Battelle Developmental Inventory, Third Edition (BDI-3) enters as an updated tool to help us reach early learners, and especially those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The BDI-3 is the only holistic, comprehensive test that measures childhood developmental milestone progress from birth through age seven years, eleven months. It is norm, curriculum, and criterion reference-based, and has been tested with students with many different disabilities in comprehensive studies.


The assessment has five comprehensive milestone domains, which are further split into subdomains:

Communication: includes receptive communication, expressive communication, and articulation
Social-Emotional: includes adult, peer, self-concept and social role
Adaptive: includes self-care and personal responsibility
Motor: includes gross motor, fine motor, and perceptual
Cognitive: includes attention and memory, reasoning and academic skills, perception and concept


You can find assessment samples of each component here. The test is fun, quick, and easy to administer and score, involving both asking the student questions and administrator observation. All categories can be given or each category can be its own stand-alone assessment. Each section takes only approximately ten minutes to administer, which is helpful as we all know young children like to be on the move!


The assessment can be used by all special education professionals for:

  • IDEA eligibility
  • Planning and intervention
  • Progress monitoring
  • Program evaluation
  • Developmental milestone screening assessments


While the Battelle Developmental Inventory has been a part of education assessment since the 1970s, the third edition includes these relevant updates that will make assessing children an easier, more child-friendly process:


  • Both paper and online assessment options, thanks to the
    BDI-3 Mobile Data Solution (BDI-3 MDS). Administrators can even test students offline, in locations without internet access, and compute basic scores immediately and more robust reporting later when able to access internet, making it easier for administration.
  • Clear and fast scoring, either by hand or online, with a new developmental proficiency index to make writing IEPs and screening testing straightforward.
  • New and updated assessment items that incorporate up-to-date pictures and technology, ensuring better accessibility for today’s children.
  • The addition of the Battelle Early Academic Survey (BEAS) , a measure of foundational literacy and math skills for children ages three years, six months through seven years, eleven months. The math assessment is composed of numbers and counting sets, geometry, measurement and data, and operations and algebraic thinking. The literacy component includes print concepts, phonemic awareness, phonics and word recognition, listening comprehension, and fluency assessments. This can be done together with the rest of the BDI-3 or separately. The BEAS also has performance level scoring and results that show if students need to be supported, monitored, or they are on track in the different components.

Educators can use the BDI-3 to determine how students are progressing remotely and target needed areas.


Look for part two for ways to incorporate developmental milestones education in play-based learning.

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