• children’s ways of constructing and
expressing their knowledge;
• the skills or strategies they are using
(problem-solving, inquiry skills, higher
level thinking, strategies for reading and
writing…); and
• their attitudes (confidence, interest,
Educators keep in mind that the process a child
goes through to solve a problem, organize a play
sequence, or create a complex block structure is
just as important as the final product. Observing
the process can provide valuable insight into a
child’s thinking, his or her ability to sustain an
interest, and to problem-solve. Sometimes, too
much emphasis is placed on the finished work and
not enough on the process behind its evolution.
Where to Observe
Opportunities for observation exist throughout
the teaching day. For example, educators can
observe a child’s cognitive or language skills
in small groups, at specific learning centres, or
during a large group session. Observations can be
focused on children’s physical development in the
gym or outdoors on the playground equipment.
Social and emotional development can be
observed as children interact with their peers
and with other adults while in the library, on
field trips, during free play, or at snack time. The
ability to follow routines can be easily observed
during transition times, such as cleanup and
dismissal. Educators can observe their children
in virtually every daily school activity.
The classroom’s organization can help or hinder
the ‘where to observe’. If educators have clear
sight lines in the classroom, they can sit at one
centre and observe children playing at another.
It is important to be unobtrusive; sitting too
close may disrupt the natural flow of the play.
Knowing the children enables educators to decide
where to position themselves to watch and listen
effectively. That being said, at times educators sit
with the children to understand what they are
observing and to gain further information.
When to Observe
Ideally, children should be observed daily and
throughout the day. Observation is not an ‘add
on’ or ‘one more thing to do’. It is an integral part
of the planning and the schedule. Observations
can take place at different times throughout
the day, and during both regular and unusual
activities in the classroom, for example, during a
special guest’s visit or during assembly.
Observations begin at the start of the school
year. These early observations indicate how the
child is adjusting to school and transitioning into
kindergarten. These early observations are the
beginning of baseline data that shows progress

over time. When observations are kept continu-
ally in all learning areas there is no pressure to
gather information all at once for reporting.
How to Observe
Daily observations of children will be either
incidental or planned. Incidental observations
occur spontaneously and may not have a
predetermined focus. Incidental observation may
include, for example, observing children upon
entry, as they discover a spider in the corner,
and as they discover a new way to use material
at the water table. Incidental observations may
be the stimulus for more planned observations,
such as when there is demonstration of a new
skill, atypical behaviour, problems, or lack of
information. These observations may lead to
a more in-depth assessment and analysis of
particular areas.
Alternatively, planned observations occur when
educators select:
• a particular curriculum expectation
(demonstrate an awareness of themselves as
artists …);
• a developmental skill (control of small muscles);
• a child to observe (either because there is a
lack of information in an area or a need for
more information); or
• a learning centre (the introduction of new
materials, a need to see how children are
applying strategies, or an observed problem).
(See Appendix 2 for examples of observation
questions at learning centres)
Planned observations consider the recognized
stages of play or child development identified by
educators and researchers. For example, one of
the children at the small block centre regularly

tiles a small carpeted area using small blocks.
This type of block play pattern would correspond
to Harriet Johnson’s20 stage two of block play.
(See Appendix 4 for more information.) Sometimes,
children skip some behaviours of a developmental
Incidental Observations could occur:
Planned Observations could occur:
• as children enter and depart;
• as they play outdoors;
• as you circulate and interact;
• during a new experience.
• at a specific centre;
• at a specific activity;
• with specific children;
• at a specific time;
• for a specific purpose.
Thinking It Through
Do you have …
• more information in one area of
development than another?
• more information on some children and
less on others?
• information from all areas of the
classroom or areas of the program?
Plan to observe to address the
stage and sometimes they engage in behaviours
across different stages. To guide observations,
think about, “What does this child do more often
than not?21
The method of recording observations is a
personal choice. Some educators try out different
systems before finding one that works for them.
Some of the tools educators use to record their
daily written observations of children include:
• steno notebooks or note pads;
• class observation sheets (see Appendix 7 for
At-A-Glance sheets – both blank and completed
• mailing labels – jot down notes on a sheet of
white mailing labels; once filled in, peel them
off and stick them in the child’s individual
file folder;22
• sticky notes for brief observations applied to
At-A-Glance sheets;
• binders with sheets that are colour-coded
according to area (e.g., green sheets for
physical development observations,
blue sheets for language development
• index cards for each child taped to a laminated
file folder; once filled with comments, the
cards are easily removed and placed in the
child’s file folder. Using a different colour card
each term helps educators organize their index
card information;23
• electronic tablets that use touch screens
with styluses or digital pens linked to mobile
computers or laptops where notes are stored.
This is a more mobile way to interact with
Educators experiment with a variety of these
methods, or create their own. Whatever method
is chosen, it’s important to keep an organized set
of observation records. Records must be readily
accessible for future report card writing, parent-
educator interviews, student case conferences
and meetings.24 Written observations of children
are highly confidential and should never be left
out for others to view.