OBSERVING, RECORDING, AND UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN’S BEHAVIORS
You need to write the Parts 1, 2, and 3 as presented in the last 4 pages of the Observation handout. This observation paper should have 45 minute to observe the children. Your paper format should like the example. It needs to include the time.
An example of the running record:
Name: Laura Observer______________________
Age: 4 Instructor______________________
Place: Claremont Church Preschool CD Class Hour_________ Day____
When: March 10, 2005
Observation No. 1
Laura is a dark hair, brown eyed child. Her bright red slacks are contrasted by a
navy blue sweater and tennis shoes, while her curly brown hair is softly brushed
back from her face, securely held by a few clips. She and the rest of the preschool
children are seated around two small tables, enjoyably drinking their juice and
munching on banana chips. Laura is sitting at the end of a table of eight; the five
remaining children occupy the table behind Laura. The teacher is busy handing
out the snack and answering many questions which the children ask her, while at
the opposite end of the room the mothers of two of the children are seated,
drinking coffee and watching the children enjoy their snack.
11:00 Laura is sitting quietly with both feet on the floor, her head slouched down over
the table. With her right hand she tediously picks up a banana chip and drops it
in her juice, watches it there a second, then using a pincer grasp, thumb, and
forefinger of right hand, she lifts it out and puts the chip into her mouth. She
chews slowly and excessive jaw movements, her wide eyes looking around at the
other children, who are eating and talking at once. Then, using her right hand,
she picks up her juice, brings it slowly to her mouth, and washes the chip down.
She holds the cup to her mouth with both hands, her elbows resting on the table.
Her wide-open eyes peer over the top of the cup as she silently looks into space.
When Tim, the little boy sitting on her right, jabs her left arm with a chip, Laura
Momentarily looks down at her arm, slowly she pulls her elbow against her side,
But continues to hold the cup to her mouth with both hands.
11:04 Suddenly she bangs her cup down on the table but continues to hold on with
both hands. Looking down, determinedly murmurs softly to herself, “I want
some more juice.” The teacher, ready to refill the cups, asks those children
who want more juice to please raise their hands. Laura does not raise her hand
but lips pouting she looks sadly down at the empty cup, which she holds on the
table and turns around with her fingers.
“Did you want some, Laura?” the teacher asks. With a sad look, Laura nods her
head in circles slowly and slides her hands on the table away from the cup.
Then, picking her cup up in both her hands, she drinks and silently with a vacant
stare looks around the table at the other children, who are busily talking and
waving their arms. Slowly she puts her cup down, but as she turns her body
around to watch the teacher fill the cups at the table behind her, her right
forearm hits the cup and the juice spills. Laura jerks back to look at the
puddle on the table top, with a wide eyed, open-mouthed, terrified look.
Then, without raising her head and still staring at the spilled juice, she quietly
murmurs to Pat, a blond girl to her left, “Call the teacher. Call the teacher.” She
continued to look down sadly, her eyes expressing fear and withdrawal and she
watches the teacher wipe up the juice, then her eyes sparkle with satisfaction
when the clean-up job is completed. Sliding her right arm across the table, slowly
she picks up a banana chip, pivoting her forearm from the elbow (on the table) she
slides the chip into her mouth, starts to chew, her half-closed eyes turned down.
The observation continues until 11:45. The time in the left-hand margin is a MUST! Do not deviate from the format. Each time the child’s activity changes or a new significant incident happens change the time in the left-hand margin.
11:07 Laura moves with the other children toward the carpeted circle time area……
11:10 Laura is singing quietly, “If you’re happy and you know it…”
SUMMARY OF CHILD’S BEHAVIOR AND DEVELOPMENT
Use paragraphs throughout this summary pulling your references from the observation and then after your paragraph use a theory or theorists to support your findings. Remember the various theorists you studied or are studying currently in your Principles of Child Development class.
Use the following format:
I. Physical (one to three paragraphs of summary for this section)
a. Motor competence (Gross and Fine Motor Skills):
b. Did you notice handedness (left or right)? What led you to that conclusion?
c. Tension of Child (Refer to pages 8-10 of this handout)
II. Cognitive Development (two to five paragraphs of summary for this section)
a. Did the child show any knowledge of cause and effect while engaged in activities?
b. Examples of symbolic play.
c. Child’s use of language.
3. Verbal communication
d. Based on the observation how long was the child’s ability to focus on an activity?
e. Based on the observation if child was doing any task-oriented activities was the child able to complete them to his/her satisfaction?
f. What stage of cognitive development is this child at according to Piaget? What is your justification for that stage based on the observation?
g. Did you observe any scaffolding? Give example. (Remember scaffolding does not always have to be a teacher/child interaction, it can sometimes be a peer that has mastered whatever is being scaffolded.)
II. Social Emotional Status: (Two to five paragraphs of summary)
a. Interaction with peers/adults: (Same as above)
b. Aggression or response to aggression.
c. Compliance with rules and routines
d. What categories (Parten) of play did you observe? What is your justification based on the observation.
e. According to Erickson’s psychosocial theory; what stage of development is this child at? Justify based on observation.
Your own interpretations, subjective feelings about the child, concerns, recommendations for child, etc.
Levels of Inference
We have pointed out that objectivity is relative and depends upon the kind of selectivity used in observing. For the present purposes your observations should concentrate upon describing and relating behavior in a continuous account of all that child expresses.
In observing, describing and relating various aspects of behavior, there are at least three levels of abstraction.
1. The first level is a statement of “fact” or a sequence of “facts”.
“John picked up a block in his right hand using a dexterous thumb and index finger grasp. He stretched across the widespread base of his tower balancing by stretching his left hand behind himself and placed the block on top of his tower. The block was not put far enough onto the supporting blocks. The block fell to the floor barely missing the base of the tower.” John tried four more times to place the block on the tower. Each time the block fell, he set his jaw more tightly. He knitted his brow more deeply and his facial muscles became more tense. The fourth time he failed; he seized the block and threw it against the base of the tower, which crashed to the ground. His tense facial muscles relaxed, his arms flailed about, and he ran from the block tower, which crashed to the ground.
2. The second level includes the context or the atmosphere.
Try to write expressive cues to describe emotions as often as possible.
“John had a scowl on his face, his body had a tense posture, and his fists were clenched and he began yelling. No teachers have come to assist. The other children are listening to one of the teachers reading a story across the room.”
Now I also understand that it is difficult for some people not to use inferences such as “John appears to be angry”. For many people it is difficult to describe emotion in terms of facial expression, bodily posture and gestures in such detail that there would be no question concerning the exact emotion being described. Therefore, your evaluation of these outward concomitants of the child’s feeling must be added to the facts themselves in order to clarify the meaning of the numerous expressive clues to the child’s feeling.
3. The third level is interpretation or generalization. (This appears in the summary of the report.)
“John seems to respond to failure by anger and his anger takes the form of aggression toward things. This inference is drawn on the basis of his behavior in trying to put the block on his tower. The buildup in frustration over his failure to make the block stay on the tower is shown by his increased facial tenseness. An important point to note is that the aggression was not toward himself—the cause of the block’s falling—but toward the block. The aggression was displaced.”
We are implying here a cause and effect relationship. Failure leads to frustration which in turn leads to aggression. Sometimes the effect or the response is quite delayed in time from an observable cause and sometimes it is very subtle. You will need to watch carefully to trace the cause and effect relationships.
All three of these levels are absolutely necessary to the understanding of any behavior. If levels 1 and/or 2 are not clearly and meticulously documented, then any statement at level 3 becomes a guessing game with generalizations based upon too little data. On the other hand if you enumerate facts without context or interpretations, the list becomes a meaningless sequence of unrelated minutiae. Your job is to see (or look for) the related and meaningful facts.
In writing the observation and recording these three levels of abstraction, you should be careful to keep these three levels separate. Particularly level 3 should appear in the interpretation and be clearly labeled so that the inference as to the relationships between behaviors and the causes behind behaviors will not be confused with the behaviors themselves.
Guideposts for Observing
In observing and recording the behavior of a child over a period of time, your observing will be continuous and your record should clearly indicate this continuity. One way to maintain continuity of behavior in your report is to orient the behavior in a time relation. This means that during the observation one checks his watch at the beginning and end of activities and records the time in ongoing sequence of activity. Keeping the time reference stable will not insure continuity of behavioral description, but it will help orient the reader.
Notice the out-of-focus crazy quilt picture given in this sample observation:
Example of poor observation –
9:20 When I entered, Timmy and Fritz were building blocks beside each other. Timmy who is slightly older and a little bigger is obviously the aggressive one of the two. He tells Fritz what to do. Fritz plays sick or dead and Timmy covers him with a blanket. They seem to be playing house. Timmy says he is the father and tells Fritz he must be the baby. Timmy knocks down the blocks and blames Fritz. Fritz says he didn’t do it. He says it was the mother who did it. The two boys play that they are sleeping yet Timmy keeps one eye open to watch his companion.
9: 30 Pretty soon they get up and start playing with the blocks again. All of a sudden, Timmy knocks the blocks down—picks some up and waves them. Fritz follows suit. They continue to play but no longer with each other. Timmy talks all the time but mostly to himself. Fritz tries to get Timmy’s attention but cannot. Fritz tells Timmy he is going to paste. Timmy says, “I’m not.” Fritz tries again to attract Timmy’s attention by telling him that he is going to tidy up. Timmy looks a little hurt but says, “I don’t care.”
This observation sounds as though the person had selected every tenth sentence from a report, carefully avoiding all statements relating activities, and strung these unrelated statements together. The children do not seem to maintain continuous activity, but seem as if by magic to skip from one activity to another. A good observation maintains continuity of events.
Example of continuity of events—
Jimmy has been playing with a ball and a board.
10:12 Jimmy hoists the wide, 3 foot long board to his shoulder; hands spread wide apart. He cocks his shoulder to the right and slashes the ball.
The right corner of his mouth pulls up as a grin of success spreads across his face. He hits the ball solidly and the momentum of his swing pulls him around to his left—off balance. He pushes the board against the ground trying to catch his balance but stumbles forward and over the board. Wide-eyed with surprise and consternation he lands on his knees, the board between his legs still held in his left hand and his right stiff against the ground, supporting his weight. He turns his head to watch the ball as it rolls under the table across the play yard. He smiles again with his right corner of his mouth. Jimmy sits back on his heels, then stands straight up, dropping the board, shouting, “Famous hit, famous hit, famous hit.” He gallops toward the ball nodding his head and swinging his arms up and down.
10:15 As he reaches the table under which the ball rolled. Jimmy in one motion drops to his knees, left arm held stiff to support his weight as he reaches under the table. His eyes squirt in a frown as he can’t quite reach the ball with his right hand. He transfers his weight to his right arm and reaches under with his left hand. He grasps the ball tight against the palm of his left hand and sits back on his heels.
Jimmy places the ball in his right hand, then puts it back in his left, and begins to squeeze the ball in both hands. As he squeezes the ball, he looks without interest around the room. His face lights up in “his” grin as his gaze follows Eric who is strutting around the room dressed up in a costume. Jimmy shouts to Doris, who is standing to his left, “Boy is he dressed up. Isn’t he dressed up?” The ball is clutched against his stomach with his right hand. Doris does not answer. Grasping the ball in his left hand, Jimmy takes another half step toward Eric putting his right foot in front and throws the ball in the direction of Eric. AS part of the follow-through in his throw he swaggers after the ball with elbows held high and away from his body. The ball misses.
10:18 As he reaches the ball, he kicks it with his right foot and, paying no attention to where it goes, commands, “Stay back there.”
An important factor in the greater continuity of the second example is the
use of relevant detail. This relevant detail includes much more than just what
Jimmy did. It includes how Jimmy holds the ball, who he watches, what he
says, as well as spatial movement around the room. Perhaps a few more
descriptive adjectives, adverbs or more phrases and descriptive nouns or verbs
would add interesting detail and make Jimmy more real. One must be careful,
however, to have in the report only detail which one perceives. In learning to
observe, you are learning to see these details. Do not invent them to put in
What kind of detail is relevant?
Frequently it is absolutely necessary that the observation include minute
description of facial expression, gesture, and bodily posture so that the
Implications of the behavior can be adequately evaluated. Often the
implication will not be immediately apparent as you are engrossed in
observing and recording. The implications may become clear only when you
review your notes immediately after observing and filling in from your
memory the points you were unable to write down. In many cases the
behavior can be adequately evaluated only when several instances of the
behavior are available to be compared simultaneously. It is important that the
observation include relevant detail in areas where the immediate impression
may need revision in light of subsequent behavior.
Some important aspects of behavior and areas of personality dynamics to
observe carefully and to report fully are: motor control, emotion, tension,
responses to aggression and to restriction, conformity to rules, regulation
and routines as well as social interaction with peer groups and adults.
Notice the following examples:
1. Motor Competence. The observation should certainly include description of gross
and fine motor coordination. Is the child as competent in motor skills as are the other children his age? Is he as competent as those with whom he is playing? Are there times when his/her motor control is not as good as at other times, such as after frustration or when the child is emotionally upset? The answers to these questions, of course, depend upon inferences made on the basis of observing and recording numerous instances of motor skills. It is important that the observation should contain detailed descriptions of the child’s motor skills in different situations.
Albert is standing beside the bars, intently watching two boys who are laboriously crawling in and out of the bars. He stands with his feet slightly apart and his hands in his back pockets; his lips are parted and he frowns slightly as if contemplating whether he too should join them.
After exchanging a few words with the boys, Albert turns with a jerk, his eyes focus on a big rubber ball a few yards away then leaves the boys and casually walks over to the ball. Reaching down, he picks it up and begins to bounce it lightly with two hands, holding it every other bounce…He drops the ball and it goes rolling a few feet away from him; his chin is pushed out and his brow slightly knit; his lips are drawn together in a thin line as if he were perturbed by his inability to hold the ball. He stoops over, reaches down, and picking up the ball with both hands, proceeds to carry it over to a group of nearby bushes. With both hands firmly grasping the ball, he thrusts it into the bushes with all the force of his body. His body is tense and his facial expression remains the same—as he stands for a moment looking at the bushes. Then, very abruptly, he darts into the bushes, gets the ball, and with the ball held tightly in his arms, he runs off to the bars.
2. Emotion: feeling, expression, control, and recovery. It is sometimes difficult to
infer the emotion the child is experiencing. However, deliberately looking for facial and body expression will often give a clue.
The teacher comes in and tells them both to go sit down for their juice. “You sit by me,” directs Jane as she and the little girl enter the room. Jane pulls the chair from the table but is confronted by a boy who also wants the chair. Turning away from the boy she utters a shrill scream and stamps her foot as if deeply disturbed by this incident. Her eyes are large and glassy and her lips are drawn in a thin line. Her body is tense, fists clenched, and arms held tightly to her body. She stands rigidly straight as if angered. This emotional outburst lasts for a only a few seconds.
The boy returns the chair, and Jane collects herself, sits down, and begins to read her book. She giggles and laughs, saying, “da dee da da”as she turns the pages of the book. Her body is somewhat relaxed, arms resting on the table, eyes wide open but still a little glassy, brows slightly knit, facial muscles partially tense.
Notice in the example above the manner in which the observer documents all the aspects of emotions, feeling, expression, control, and recovery. For another child, the reaction would probably be entirely different. Careful observation of clues to the feeling of the child will not only clarify the emotion being felt by the child but will also sensitize the observer to the kind of clues to be considered and the situations in which these clues may be expected. How the child expresses his/her emotion, how she controls it and how she recovers, is equally as important as the inferences that the child experiences emotion.
3. Tension. Some children when nervous or tense have definite mannerisms just as
some adults doodle or bite their nails when nervous. W. Cl Olson, in a book on the Measurement of Nervous Habits in Normal Children, lists some of these nervous mannerisms.
AN INVENTORY OF TICS AND STEREOTYPED MOVEMENTS
A. Face and Head
Blinking eyelids, winking
Biting lips and other parts
Sucking thumbs or fingers
Nodding, jerking, shaking head
Twisting neck, looking sideways
B. Arms and Hands
See above under Face and Head
Jerking arms, swinging arms
Plucking fingers, writhing fingers
Striking head or body
C. Body and Lower Extremities
Shaking feet, knee, or toes
Peculiarities of gait
Olson reports that “among the commoner are sucking the thumb and fingers; biting nails; protruding tongue; picking, scratching or wrinkling nose; pulling and twisting the hair; scratching the head; rubbing and blinking the eyes; and pulling and picking at the ears.” The nervous mannerisms seem to be primarily methods of dispelling tension. These mannerisms are most frequent when the activity of the child is restricted either physically or by a psychological barrier and seems to be the outlet for energy which has been inhibited. Rather than the energy finding outlet in a goal directed activity or finding outlets in large muscle movements, the energy is displaced into repetitive, energy-dispelling activities. Such repetitive mannerisms are exaggerated when the child is in the situation involving conflict, pressure, frustration, or tension. A good observer is sensitive to the situations in which such mannerisms are likely to occur and can describe fully and accurately the repetitive movements.
4. Response to Aggression. Children differ appreciably in their aggressiveness toward others and their response to aggression by others. Jane responded to the competition over the chair by an immediate outburst and then withdrawal. A different response to aggression is found in the three incidents which occurred one morning to one girl, Ann. Notice the similarity of response to each of the three different situations.
Another little girl had brought some flowers and says quite loudly as she walks across
the room, “I have to get some water.” Ann turns and follows her and says quietly,
“Get some water.” As the girl puts her flowers down on the table to get the water she
says to Ann in a very commanding voice, “Don’t touch my flowers!” Ann says
nothing and simply stands and watches as the girl puts them in a glass. One flower
drops to the floor and the girl says, “oops” as she reaches down to pick it up, Ann
repeats quietly, “oops.”
There is only one other child in the room at the time, a little boy. He suddenly runs
over and hits Ann with a bag that he has in his hand. She whimpers a little but stops
quite soon, and as the teacher speaks to the boy Ann picks up her bear, an old hat, and
a ribbon and takes them quietly to the corner and puts them under her as she lays
down on the floor.
One of the teachers is playing with some of the children in the doll house corner. Ann
goes over and knocks on the wall of the house. The teacher inside says, “Hi Ann.” As
Ann peeks over the top of what would be the wall of the house she says, “I’m coming
in!” Then she says to one of the girls in the house, “Peek-a-boo.” Ann says, “Here I
come in.” and is told by the girl, “Yes, you can come in.” She comes in and the
teacher suggests that Ann have some tea. She signifies that she doesn’t want any
by shaking her head, and just stands there. The teacher says to her, “I’m terribly
hungry, Ann, will you make me an egg?” Ann nodes her head, but one of the boys
takes over the stove and the cooking utensils. So she puts her finger in her mouth,
hesitates for a moment, and then, seeing a block of wood with rope attached to it,
picks it up and walks out.
Ann certainly is not aggressive, nor competitive. She withdraws either physically
or emotionally from any such situation.
5. Rules, Regulations, and Routines. Some children are so conforming that they
seem to never be tempted to break or resist rules or regulations. Other children
are constantly testing the limits to discover the extent of the rules, when and if the rules will be enforced, and how they will be enforced.
Preschool teachers are very skillful in handling children and a careful observer can learn a great deal from teachers about guiding children’s behavior. Although preschool teachers are skillful, they are fallible in their technique of handling children. Consider, for example, this observation of Sam.
Sam stood up on the large box the slide was attached to and threw a shovel to the ground. The insistence that the teacher notice it: and finally the “forgetting” to flush the toilet. Is not the toilet routine teaching the child these resistances as well as establishing some regularity? Considering the possible complexity of response to rules, routines, and discipline, an observer should be watching and carefully recording how the teacher handles rules and discipline, and what the child’s response is, and what is the effect.
6. Social Interaction with Peers and Adults. A great deal of the behavior one observes in the preschool is social interaction of the children with each other and with adults. The child’s acceptance by other children can be evaluated; his status as onlooker or leader can be determined. Her attitude toward other children, her independence and her desires for acceptance should be explicitly noted. The child’s behavior toward adults and their attitudes toward him should be observed.
Here is an example of an unaggressive and submissive child who is generally ignored by other children.
A group had gathered around the teacher and she was beginning to read from a book. Victor joined the group. All were on the floor, and he sat down as close to the teacher as possible, legs out to the side, leaning against her. He really seemed intent on the story and pictures, though he intermittently got to his knees, sat down, and wiggled generally, and then cuddled up to the teacher again. His thumb was in and out of his mouth. Occasionally he would turn and look at one of the playing children, or even at me; but his attention was primarily on the story, and after each movement, he would again cuddle against the teacher, his thumb in his mouth.
Another teacher offered to continue reading to the children and a group followed her into the other room. Victor did too, slowly at the end of the line, rather isolated and ignored by the others. Again he was sucking his thumb.
The children arranged themselves around the teacher, sitting on the floor. Victor arrived last and chose a place next to the reader. First he balanced on his knees and then sat, leaning with his hands on the teacher’s knees. She began the story and in the course of it, asked Victor if he had a tricycle. His answer was lost in the louder and quicker replies of the others. He looked at them and smiled, appearing happier than usual. His thumb was in and out of his mouth. When out, he stared at the others, mouth open. He was leaning against the teacher most of the time.
Here is an isolated child, ignored by other children, who is very dependent upon adults and upon his thumb.
General Considerations on the Written Report of the Observation
The report of your observation should organize the material for your reader. There should be some kind of heading containing the pertinent data about the name and age of the child observed, when observed, where observed, length of time observed, and the name of the person who made the observation. A paragraph should precede the observation itself, giving the general setting in which the child is playing, with whom he/she is playing, and what they are doing in their play. (In the college student observation it will be important to fictionalize the name of the child for confidentiality purposes).
The body of the report should contain description of behavior in the six areas discussed above as an integrated part of the running account of what the child did and said. The body of the report should concentrate upon documenting abstraction levels 1 and 2. Any statements on level 3 should appear in the interpretation and should clearly be indicated as inference, not observed fact.
The final section of the report should be the summary and interpretation. In this section you should summarize and interpret the behavior and point out the conclusions you feel are justified from the observation. Pull your justification or evidence from the observation. It should be a summary of the child’s general skills. It should also contain any inferences about personality dynamics and temperament you feel are warranted. Each of your inference and conclusions should documented by reference to some behavior(s) reported in the running account of behavior. You will be surprised how much you will know about a child if you observe carefully. You may not have observed behavior in all the areas we have discussed. But in order to have as satisfactory summary as possible, it is necessary to observe carefully and accurately and to record completely.
Part I of the observation is your running account or record of behavior.
Part II is more of your clinical summary or interpretation based on the observation. This will also include your summary of the child’s developmental level based on a theory that is relevant to child development. You will include your summary of where you believe the child is developmentally in all 3 domains of child development and will support your summary by using the running record documentation and theoretical concepts from your textbook.
Part III is your own personal inferences, your concerns about the child, your hypothesis concerning this child’s future growth and development, and even your own suggestions for strategies to use with this child in the classroom. Here is your opportunity to use critical thinking and state your reactions.