Utilizing Observation Practices

As a child care provider, one of the ways you gain knowledge about the interests, strengths, and challenges of the children in your care is through observation. Observing can give insight about how each child thinks, hears, and learns. Observations can also help you plan lessons and activities or select materials that will encourage each child’s development and growth.

What practices does your program use to observe the children in your care?

Here are several useful tools and techniques:

Anecdotal Records:

Anecdotal records are detailed notes about the children in your program. You only need a pen, paper, sticky notes, or an electronic device to record the information. These notes should include the child’s name, date/time/setting, what the child said, what the child did, and how they interacted with materials or other people. Simply record what you see and hear while the child is involved in different activities. It’s important to keep personal feelings and opinions out of your notes—focus on being objective.


Developmental checklists focus on specific skills or behaviors and are a good tool to record development and growth. Checklists offer insight into which skills a child can or cannot complete. Checklists are also a great resource to help providers plan lessons, choose appropriate materials, and set goals for each child. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a free Developmental Milestone Checklist for providers.

Work Sampling/Portfolios:

Work sampling involves collecting examples of children’s writing, drawing, artwork, dictated stories, and language samples. Photographs or videos of children creating work and audio recordings of children talking and discussing what they are creating can also be part of work sampling.

These examples can then be organized into a binder, electronic file, or other collection as a portfolio of the child’s progress. Portfolios offer providers and families a physical timeline of a child’s work and can be used in determining strengths and challenges for each child.

More information on work sampling can be found on the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center website.

Conversations and Interviews:

Showing interest, listening, asking open-ended questions, and putting the focus on the child and their thinking helps you can gain valuable information and insight.

To make the most of observations, combine being a participating observer and an observer who stands back. Conduct ongoing observations to gain the most insight. The more you watch, listen and talk to children, the more you learn about them.  Use the information gained from observation to create a nurturing environment that encourages learning and development. By using observation tools and techniques and sharing information with families, you are supporting children’s success, learning, and development.