Observation notes need to be accurate as well as objective and factual. Accurate observation notes include facts that are written in the order in which they occur.1 Consider the following story about 33-month-old Gabriel, which takes place during a socialization experience. A home visitor observes the entire exchange:
Gabriel and his mom are next to each other. Each one is building a tower using large plastic blocks. Gabriel builds his tower as tall as he is. He bumps into the tower with his arm. The tower falls over and knocks down the block tower that his mother built. Gabriel laughs and jumps up and down while clapping his hands. His mom laughs, claps her hands, and hugs Gabriel.
Here is the home visitor's observation note:
Gabriel builds a tower as tall as he is using large plastic blocks. He starts to laugh, jump up and down, clap his hands, and bumps into his tower, knocking it down and his mom's tower down, too.
This observation note is not accurate. It contains facts that are out of order (e.g., laughs, jumps up and down, claps his hands, and bumps into his tower). It is also missing information (e.g., Gabriel and his mother are next to each other; each one is building a tower; Gabriel's mom laughs, claps her hands, and hugs Gabriel). Accuracy matters. Over time, inaccurate observation notes may lead to inaccurate interpretations or misunderstandings of what a child knows and can do, how the child interacts with others, and so on.
Here are additional tips for writing observation notes:
- Note the child's name and the observer's name
- Note the date and time of the observation, setting (e.g., indoor or outdoor, routine, play experience), and other children or adults involved
- Use abbreviations, short phrases, symbols, drawn pictures, and other shorthand inventions to quickly capture information
- Use phonetic spellings to capture children's vocalizations (e.g., buh-buh-buh-mmmm) and word attempts (e.g., "peez" for "please")
- When possible, observe with a partner (e.g., co-teacher, professional colleague, education coordinator, family member) and compare notes to see if the same information was recorded and if it was recorded using similar language
Writing accurate, objective, factual observation notes takes time and practice. However, staff can plan for opportunities during the day to write notes intentionally and thoughtfully.
1Koralek, Dombro, and Dodge, Caring for Infants & Toddlers, 373.
National Centers:Early Childhood Development, Teaching and Learning
Last Updated: November 13, 2019