Improving Observation Skills

Writing the Observation

Observation is not the same as being observant.

Observing is like being a video camera focusing on the child, recording the details of the child and of the setting.


Observing children is a skill.

  1. You can observe children playing by sitting close to them and trying not to distract them, or influence their play.
  2. You can be a 'participant' observer and observe what happens when you join in the children's play and extend their ideas.
  3. You can observe spontaneous incidents in the placement. You will need a notebook and pen ready, or you will miss vital details. Spontaneous observations are interesting but they can also be unpredictable.
  4. You can set up a specific activity for the children and plan the observation carefully. This allows time to prepare and to read about the area of development before you begin. The advantage is you will know what details to look for.

The process of observing a child

  • Whenever you observe them, children must be carefully supervised by observant adults at all times to ensure their safety.
  • Discuss with the Placement Supervisor which child should be observed and the purpose of the observation.
  • Ensure that you, or the work setting, have permission from the parent to observe the child.
  • Ensure sufficient, appropriate supervision is provided so that all the children's needs are met before you begin the observation.
  • Position yourself so that you can see and hear the child but are not within his/her play areas or personal space.
  • Avoid staring at the child as it may make him/her feel uncomfortable.
  • Make detailed notes during the observation.
  • Avoid making eye contact or facial expressions that encourages the child to come and talk to you.
  • Make detailed notes as soon as possible after the observation has taken place.
  • Write a detailed account of the observation and evaluate the information before you forget.

An observation of a child's physical development.

This observation is deliberately incomplete and requires improvement.
Please read it.
Decide what further information you need to gain a detailed picture of the child's physical development and what information is irrelevant.

To observe a child's physical development.


I observed Jason today. I decided to observe Jason. I collected my pen and paper and tried to stay close to Jason while I observed him. This was not easy because of the other children. Tom asked me what I was doing so I told him it was special work for college. I observed Jason walking. Jason can also run. I enjoyed this observation and felt I had learned a lot about child development that I did not know before. Jason can also play with a ball. His physical skills are very good for his age. He runs and climbs.


I observed Jason today. Where and when did you observe him? Who is Jason? What age is he?
I decided to observe Jason. Why?
I collected my paper and pen. This is irrelevant. Focus on the child.
He runs and climbs. How?

What do you think?

Click for the improved observation.

Now have the confidence to practice your observation skills.

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