Why Observe Young Children?

Amy and Duane have begun to feel like referees in their young toddler classroom. It seems as if every time they turn around, they see toys thrown across the room. Lately, they have been spending a lot of time redirecting several children who are doing most of the throwing and trying to keep the other children safe.

One day during planning time, Amy and Duane decide to take turns observing the "throwers." Over the next few days, their observations reveal that the children are not throwing toys to hurt anyone on purpose. Rather, the children have created a "game" of throwing toys at other toys. The teachers decide to dedicate an area of their classroom to this game. They provide soft balls, soft blocks, and a large paper target. They model stacking the blocks, knocking them down, and throwing blocks and balls at the target paper.

After several days, the number of toy-throwing incidents goes way down, as does the number of times Amy and Duane redirect children to safer activities. Through observation, the teachers gained a better understanding of what the children were doing and why. And they found a successful way to respect children's interests while keeping them safe.

There are important reasons why education staff observe infants and toddlers. For example, they observe to:

  • Learn about children to individualize care and the curriculum, including interactions, teaching practices, learning experiences, routines, and schedules
  • Measure and track children's progress in acquiring skills and concepts over time as part of the ongoing assessment cycle

Amy and Duane's story shows that, when staff are intentional about observing children, they are better able to understand how children think, feel, and learn about the world around them. In turn, this helps them make good decisions about how to provide responsive, informed care.

Individualizing care and the curriculum and tracking children's progress make observation a powerful and informative learning tool. However, there are other reasons to observe that are also powerful and informative.