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Gesell Screening & Assessment System

Learn more about the Gesell Screening & Assessment System


The Gesell Assessment System is a research validated and kid-reported “fun” set of screening and assessment tools for educators, parents, pediatricians and other early childhood professionals. Both the Gesell Developmental Observation - Revised (GDO-R) and the Gesell Early Screener (GES) ask children to complete a set of tasks such as an interview, drawing, as well as counting and language activities. Through a few enjoyable exercises we can gather much information about a child's overall development. These tools help us to understand the ages and stages of child development, and how they relate to the individual learning and development needs of children.

At the Gesell Program in Early Childhood we assist parents and educators in finding the best match between what individual children need and what educators and parents can offer using our Gesell Developmental Assessment system. Assessment should be intentional and potentially have some benefit to the child. For example, assessment results can help:

  • Identify what children know
  • Identify children’s special needs
  • Determine appropriate placement
  • Select appropriate curricula to meet children’s individual needs
  • Refer children and, as appropriate, their families for additional services to programs and agencies
  • Do you need more information about assessing young children?

Choosing the Right Assessment Tools

Gesell Developmental Observation - Revised

The Gesell Developmental Observation-Revised (GDO-R) is a comprehensive, multi-dimensional assessment that assists educators and other professionals in understanding characteristics of child behavior in relation to typical growth patterns between 2½ and 9 years of age. It uses direct observation to evaluate a child’s cognitive, language, motor, and social-emotional responses. A child’s natural behavior will be assessed against three levels of age appropriate norms (Age Appropriate, Emerging or Concern) and result in a Developmental Age.

Gesell Early Screener

The Gesell Early Screener (GES) is a short screening instrument for children 3 to 6 years old. Using direct observation, the GES evaluates four domains of a child’s development: Cognitive, Language, Motor, and Social-Emotional Development and Adaptive Skills.

Supplemental Tools

The Teacher Questionnaire (TQ) and Parent/Guardian Questionnaire (PQ) complement both the GDO-R and the GES by providing valuable insight from the individuals who know the growing child best. Parents and educators can work together to understand appropriate expectations to meet the individual needs of each child. The TQ and PQ are intended to supplement the use of the GDO-R or the GES, and are not intended as stand alone instruments.

Do you need more information about assessing young children?

For more information about how to chose the right tool, read Assessment and Young Children: What's Really Important.

Gesell’s experienced staff can also help with communicating the need for and results of these tools with families and the community, through seminars with our trained experts, as recommended by the National Education Goals Panel (L. Shepard, S. L. Kagan, and E. Wurtz, Principles and Recommendations for Early Childhood Assessments (Washington, DC: National Education Goals Panel, December 14, 1998), 5-6.).

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do Gesell assessments take?
For the GDO-R, plan an hour for the full assessment for 2.5 - 6 year old children, and about 20 minutes for 6-9 year olds. For the GES, 30 minutes is likely sufficient
What should we expect?
Both assessments ask children to complete a set of tasks such as an interview, drawing, as well as counting and language activities. Through a few enjoyable exercises we can gather much information about a child's overall development.
How do I prepare my child for a Gesell Assessment?
A good night sleep along with some time to play and a healthy snack beforehand is plenty preparation. There is no way to “practice” or “get better” at the tasks administered. Children will always show us their authentic developmental stage through the assessment, regardless.
What is developmental observation or assessment, and why is it important?

Developmental assessment is used to determine whether a child has reached developmental milestones and can accomplish the major associated tasks. Individual children’s responses are matched with normative patterns of behavior for each age. The responses yield a description of the child’s Developmental Age in contrast to chronological age.

An important aspect of developmental observation or assessment is that it can highlight areas of concern, and administered over time, can monitor consistency among developmental domains. When developmental assessment reveals signs of difficulty, re-screening should follow after a short interval. Persistent signs of difficulty indicate the need for a referral for diagnostic assessment.

Understanding children in light of their developmental age can help to adjust expectations, inform curricula, design spaces, and establish practices that are developmentally appropriate and supportive of the natural unfolding of the growth and development process.

For more information regarding the role of assessment or screening, we recommend Gesell’s Guide for Parents and Teachers: Understanding the Relationship Between Families and Schools booklet from our online bookstore.

I teach/study developmental theory but I'm not that familiar with Dr. Arnold Gesell. Why is Gesell theory important?

Arnold Gesell, PhD, MD was a pioneer in child development, beginning his groundbreaking work in the early 20th century. He developed a set of norms illustrating sequential and predictable patterns of growth and development, used as the basis of the Gesell Developmental Observation. Dr. Gesell was the first director of the Yale University Clinic now known as the Yale Child Study Center, as well as the nation’s first school psychologist. He was also a founding member of the National Association for Nursing and Education, now known as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Working at Yale from 1911 to 1948, Gesell used innovative methods of observation and cinematography to delineate the process of the ages and stages of normative development. Gesell was the first to recognize these stages, which have since become well established in modern day pediatrics and psychology. Gesell sought to document the process of growth for the whole child, believing, as we do today, that “a child is more than a score.” Additional details about Gesell’s maturational theory are provided in the updated GDO-R Examiner’s Manual, along with how this theory ties into the work of other well-known theorists such as Piaget and Vygotsky.