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Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale: How to Use It

Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale: How to Use It

Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale: how to use it

The learning environment is an important part of early-years pedagogy. Teachers’ Standards and DevelopmentGuidance outlines its importance clearly: “A well planned learning environment, indoors or out, is an important aspect in pedagogy.”

How can early educators create learning environments of high quality? This is a highly specialized area of pedagogy that requires a lot of thought. The environments should be rich in language and have organising principles that children can understand. They should also contain numerals that are connected with nature and offer appropriate risk. We need colour, but we don’t need too much. They must be well-planned and allow for creativity as well as agency.

It is possible to navigate this area with the help of well-researched guidance. The Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS-3).It was created by three University of Carolina academics: Thelma Harms and Richard M. Clifford in 2005. It’s a great tool that simplifies everything.


The ECERS-3 is a revised version that was first published in 2005. A 2015 update included new features and an updated early childhood research section. It was modified for global use with the help of Professor Kathy Sylva from Oxford University.

It encourages reflection on play and cognitive and metacognitive development, instructional practice, and is a research-backed tool to evaluate settings. It also identifies priorities for child-focused improvement.

ECERS-3 – How to assess your space

How does it work in practice?

The scale measures 35 categories in six areas (see below) and is very easy to use. Clear descriptors can be accompanied with examples. For example, the descriptor “space to gross motor play” is accompanied with: “Gross motor spaces(s) have at least two types (one hard and one soft), so that different types are possible.”

This scale also includes clear guidelines on how to conduct a three-hour observation of the environment. The idea behind the scale is that descriptors can be observed or not. Each one that is observed gets a rating from one (inadequate), to seven (excellent).

In our setting, the entire team conducted separate observations before comparing the results.

What is the effectiveness of the scale? Considering that EYFS practice often requires observing, observing, and reflecting, the ECERS-3 facilitates this.

The power of the Scale is what it measures: interactions among adults, children, and the physical space. It helps teachers understand how space is used to create learning environments.

Reflective observational tools can have a positive effect on my practice, according to me. The ECERS-3 goes beyond that. The systematic, detailed approach to evaluation provides a clear structure and links between what works and what doesn’t.

The scale can also help with prioritisation: We can see the whole picture or zoom in on the actionable details.

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Improving spaces: ECERS-3 in action

The scale was instrumental in achieving three things in my setting. First, it allowed me to identify improvement priorities based upon children’s needs. Second, it encouraged experimentation and varied complexity of materials.

It also gave the team a common language for our learning environment goals. Finally, it helped us create a long-term plan we could all agree on with senior leadership.

This plan was based on the children’s interactions with their environment and their progress. It is possible to refer to it at every “mocksted”, inspection, learning walk, and drop-in session.

Leaders and team members eventually came to a common understanding of the importance of the environment.

ECERS-3 encouraged us to take thoughtful steps towards meaningful interactions and consistent solutions. We were empowered to prioritize the children’s use and, as in EYFS, it was the interactions that were most important.

Polly Crowther, an English lead in Kent, is co-founder of Early Insights.

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