Types of Observations for Children in Daycare Centers

According to Basics of Assessment: A Primer for Early Childhood Educators, “Observation is a method of gathering information by systematically watching and noting what children do and say.” Observations are important in order to assess child development from infancy through preschool age 1. Physical, behavioral and cognitive assessment is critical to ensure children are meeting targeted goals and helps care-givers, early educators and parents meet the individual needs and address any concerns of a child’s development.

Anecdotal Records

This type of observation is used to record behavioral and verbal responses of children during specifics times. Anecdotal records can help a care-giver understand why a child reacts a certain way, how they react, and interact within a specific time frame. Collected over a period of time, these observations can provide a picture of specific behaviors in the social or intellectual context and as they attain new learning skills. You record time, place, activity and a child’s conversation and actions. Most observations are written in narrative note form, about anything significant.


Many times you will want to assess a child’s overall development using a checklist of developmental milestones. A checklist is utilized based upon observations of the child in their day-to-day activities within the childcare setting. Items observed can include such things as social development, such as interaction and sharing. Physical development can be gauged in such areas as gross and fine motor skills, and cognitive development in areas such as vocabulary knowledge and usage. Checkpoint rubric values may include: age appropriate, awkward, problems with.

Time Samples

This type of observation follows a child over a period of time throughout a day. The time is written and a care provider will observe and record the task at hand and what a child is doing and saying at five-minute intervals. Does a child stay on task, or does his attention wander? You can compare a child’s behavior taking time samples at different points of the day. Is he more attentive in the morning and gets more frustrated as the day progresses? This observation can help you assess the engagement of a child and what might affect this engagement.

Event Observations

Event observations are used to study cause and effect behaviors. You will find these particularly useful when looking at a child’s social skill development. As an example, when two children are at play you will watch and record the time, the antecedent event -- Johnny and Hannah playing in the block center; the behavior -- Johnny claps two blocks together near Hannah’s ear; and the consequence of the behavior -- Hannah pushes him away. Event observations provide examples of children’s behaviors in order to see developing patterns and to best address these behaviors.