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Dear Debi,
What is observation and why is it important that I implement it with my kids?
Nikki, Westlake, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Observation is a necessary part of child care.
  • Observation helps you understand a child’s progress & behavior.
  • Observations should be documented.
  • Documentation should be shared with parents.
Expert Advice
Patricia Lamonte Greene
Patricia Lamonte Greene
USC Early Childhood Education
Observation is a very valuable tool. It’s an excellent way to track children’s progress, measure their growth and development, and it should be embedded into every child care program.

Observation should always be followed by documentation. You should take anecdotal notes free of opinions to record behavior and activities. For example, “At 2:50 pm, child was observed holding doll in right hand and pointing it’s head down into the toilet.” This is a simple, straight forward recording of facts. These notes should be taken on each child to measure their progress so that they can be reported to parents.

Child Care providers can also do checklists that guide them to look for predetermined behaviors and activities. You can find published checklists, or the child care provider can create their own. Observation enables child care providers to understand more about the factors that cause certain behaviors. If you observe a problem over and over again, these patterns should be noted so that parents can be informed about their child.

Observations can also help providers get to know each child’s strengths and weaknesses and help them adjust their programs and child care environments to better facilitate the children’s learning and behavior.

For example if you have your dramatic play area set up next to your quiet reading area, you’ll notice conflicts arising from this setup in the way that kids interact with each other. This can help you rearrange your area to avoid problems and facilitate learning.

When you practice regular observation and documenting, you will begin to see the kids as unique individual people. You will learn their strengths and also areas to focus on to help them progress. It will help you structure your program to better suit all the children in your care.

Being consistent is important to document patterns and also necessary for assessment. Remember to do the observations at different times of the day for each child. For example, if you observe a child only during drop-off time and he has a hard time every day during drop-off, you will get a very skewed view of his pattern of behavior. So try taking anecdotal notes at varying times throughout the day to get a complete picture of the child’s behavior.
Child Care provider Comments
Family child care provider for 5 years
I have a 2 year old boy who is normally an excellent eater and sleeper. I have never had a problem with him in the entire time I’ve had him. All of a sudden, one day he decided he didn’t want to take a nap and cried nonstop. This went on for a few days and nap time became so distressing for him that I would have to hold him and soothe him just to get him to calm down. I made note of this for several days and then talked to his mom about it.

It turns out his dad had a shift change at work so he was working nights. His car had broken down recently so his mom was waking the little boy up in the middle of the night to go and pick up his father after work. It was completely messing up his sleep routine. His mom had no idea that this had such a major effect on the child. We were able to modify his nap schedule during the day so he took his nap earlier until the family was able to go back to their regular routine.
Family child care provider for 2 years
Observation is good because it helps you adjust the program to suit the needs of the children. For example, one day I was working on letter recognition but none of the kids seemed interested in doing it. They started acting out so I decided to go out for a walk. I knew we needed to work on letter recognition anyway, so I incorporated it as part of the walk.
Provider for 10 years
Observation is important because it serves as a prevention tool. By observing kids, you can help curb a potentially bad situation. For example, if a child is biting or hitting or having a particularly bad day, you can take note of that and keep an eye on him so that he doesn’t hurt others. Also, if this behavior continues over several days, then I know that it’s a matter that needs to be documented and talked about with the parents. It is the only way in order to find out what may be causing the child’s behavioral change.

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Observation and Documentation
Topic: Child Care Management
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