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Child Observation

Learn more about observations in childcare and why it's important in early childhood

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What is Child Observation?

Child Observation is the method of watching, listening, asking questions, documenting, and analyzing the observed words and actions of children as they interact with their surroundings and other people. Proper observation in childcare is crucial in helping educators and parents address the needs of early childhood development.

This article will briefly discuss the purpose of child observation and provide some examples of child observation methods. We’ll also recommend some helpful tools that educators in daycares or preschools can use for their daily child observation reports that parents are only too happy to see when they pick up their children.

What is the Purpose of Child Observation?

The intention should be clear before you begin with child observation: is it to come up with an action plan with the parents to help improve their child’s behavior? Is it to document a child’s milestone or learning progress? Do you want the parents to see their child’s new skill as demonstrated in the creation of an artwork? Is it to closely track a child’s language development?

When you begin with the end in mind, you can better prepare for the child observation and choose the most helpful observation method/s.

Why is Observation Important in Early Childhood?

Observation in childcare is vital in discovering and better understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each child. It’s an important element in the creation of an accurate and actionable child observation report, which will, in turn, help tailor the childcare environment to further facilitate learning.

Exploration and learning are the cornerstones of early childhood education, and a child observation report will help in meeting the developmental requirements of preschool children and other young learners. For child educators and care providers, child observation may be the simplest and most effective way tro assess young children’s development. Observation in child care begins with observing child behavior, learning progress, and interaction with others and to unfamiliar situations. This information is later used to determine ways to improve the learning environment.

What are the Different Child Observation Methods?

A child observation report should be based on what was actually seen and heard and should be as detailed as possible. Here are some child development observation examples to help you document and meet the purpose for observing the child:

  • Anecdotal Records – this method involves factual accounts of events that should answer the possible what, when, and where questions of parents or guardians. Anecdotal Records are written in the past tense and includes what the child had said and done during an event. The documentation should also include other non verbal cues like body language and facial expressions. It should also describe the child’s reaction and behavior during an event.
  • Running Records – you note down what you see and what the child says while it is happening. This method of observation should be written in the present tense and include as much detail as possible.
  • Learning Stories – this is the method of telling a story about the child (or a group of children) and the child’s decisions and the events or scenarios that followed because of those decisions. Can be one short paragraph or more than a whole page depending on the story.
  • Time Samples – a method of recording observations on the child’s behavior and what the child is doing at specific times. This can be done at regular intervals and can be a useful method to help identify and reduce the child’s negative behavior by understanding the context surrounding the situation.
  • Jottings – literally jotting down brief sentences detailing important events, behaviors, or conversations. This can be done together with other observation methods in childcare: Work Samples and Photographs.
  • Work Samples – these are the child’s paintings, clay figures, drawings, cutouts, writings, and other creations. Educators can provide descriptions based on jotted down notes narrating what the child may have said or done surrounding these work samples.
  • Photographs – parents love seeing pictures of their children so how best to describe what’s going on while they’re away than with images of their child in action. Add annotations on photographs to give a description about what was taking place when the image was taken.

When documenting child observations be careful to note what you actually observe, what you see and hear exactly. Be objective and always be factual. The information gathered during child observation should serve the intended purpose you have set from the beginning and can help with the needs of early childhood development.

How Do I Create Child Observation Forms?

To aid you with documentation and child observation reports, you can use iAuditor on your iPad, tablet, computer, or mobile device to capture photos of fleeting moments and quickly annotate to describe what you saw and heard. You can use iAuditor’s scheduling feature to time your observations with scheduled events like playtime and art sessions. With iAuditor’s cloud-based storage (unlimited use if you subscribe to Premium), you can be sure that child observations are secure and only accessible to educators who are given permission to access.

Educators can use our collection of carefully created childcare forms and templates for their observations and generate reports on the spot. Reports can easily be sent to parents with the touch of a button, saving time and effort that could be better spent on interacting with children.


Erick Brent Francisco

SafetyCulture staff writer

As a staff writer for SafetyCulture, Erick is interested in learning and sharing how technology can improve work processes and workplace safety. Prior to SafetyCulture, Erick worked in logistics, banking and financial services, and retail.