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Observing Children Play Essay

For this assignment, I observed my six year old niece, Faustine Bui who was born on August 16, , at the park where I was babysitting her with her mom for approximately thirty minutes. The park I observed her at is packed with children and dogs are allowed. There is a large play area with jungle-jims and slide and it includes a sandy area which has a variety of playing equipment as well. I first observed Faustine’s biosocial development such as physical growth, gross motor and fine motor skills. Faustine is 3 feet tall and she weighs 41 pounds according to my Aunt. She is a little shorter than a lot of the six year old that she hangs out with and the ones in the park but I think that her height is in the normal range for kids her age and considering that her parents are already short to begin with, I am not surprised that she is a little shorter than all the other kids. Faustine used to look like a very chubby baby with a large head and stubby limbs but she’s grown up now to be very lean. She is not chubby nor way too skinny. According to our textbook, “The Developing Person Through the Lifespan”, Faustine’s physical growth is normal.

By the age of six, the average child weighs between forty and fifty pounds and is at least 3 ½ feet tall. They have adult like body proportions which means that their legs constitute about half their total height and they are usually lean considering children around ages five and six have the lowest body fat compared to all the other ages. I believe that Faustine’s lean figure isn&#;t just due to the normal growth pattern around her age but that shes lean because of her eating habits at home. Fat isn’t really common in her diet at home and vegetables and fruits are mandatory for three meals a day, everyday. I can also tell she eats healthy because for our trip to the park today, my aunt brought a container of fruits and a couple bottles of homemade fruit juice. Faustine’s gross and motor skills are up to par with the skills of children her age. I observed her running across the park many times with the other children and even beating them in the race that they were holding. She had a hard time conquering the jugle-jim though. She kept waddling back and forth every time she tried to get her feet up on the next bar and she eventually gave up and refused to return to the jungle jim again.

She threw a few balls here and there but she was unable to throw it very far or accurate. By the age of three, children can already kick, throw, jump and climb things such as ladder. By the age of six, children can skip, climb trees and over things, and catch a ball (woaknb.wz.sk). I was unable to observe a lot of fine motor skills from Faustine but she did pick up a stick from the ground, hold it like a normal adult would hold a pencil, and started drawing in the sand. By the age of 2, children can scribble, fold paper, draw vertical lines and manage semi-large object with their hands. By the age of six, children can copy letters, grasp pencils like a grown adult, and copy complex shapes (woaknb.wz.sk). I then observed her cognitive skills which included her language, memory, and perception. When observing Faustine, I realized that she is one extremely talkative child. She would talk about everything and anything sometimes she’d just sit in front of us and talk to us and to herself while playing in the sand. According to Lev Vygotsky and his social learning theory, children use private speech (“The internal dialogue that occurs when people talk to themselves, either silently or out loud” (The Developing Person Through the Lifespan)) to review, decidem and explain events to themselves.

Lev Vygotsky’s theories “stress the fundamental role of social interaction in the development of cognition, as he believed strongly that community plays a central role in the process of ‘making meaning’” (woaknb.wz.sk). A lot of the things she would say to us would be question like “why this” and “why that”. Other times she would run up to us just to blabber out a very nonsensical sentences and run off and other times she would just run up to the other children and make conversation with them. Her vocabulary has almost fully developed and all her sentences made sense even though what she was say were so silly and wild. She is a balanced bilingual and can speak Vietnamese and English fluently. All of this is normal for a child her age. A the age of 3 children can babble and pretend to read, by the age of five, children begin to read, talk, and write and by the age of six, a child has almost developed their language skills full (woaknb.wz.sk). I was unable to observe Faustine’s memory during my day at the park with her but according to Baddeley&#;s model of working memory, children ages 4 and up have gained skills in working memory. Memory of children under age 7 is very weak but over seven, children memory have improved to the point where they can remember not only what happened, but where and when these things happened (woaknb.wz.sk).

Faustine was very aware of her surrounding. She liked to dig in the sand to find pebbles and other small objects. She was very curious about things around the park and would go exploring with the other children. I then observed Faustine’s psychosocial skills. Faustine is not a shy girl. She ran through the park making friends with everyone she bumped into and she even went up to an extremely shy little girl and talked to her as if they have been best friends forever. She hardly came up to ask us to play with her and sometimes acted like we weren’t even there. According to our textbook, children “prefer to play with peers rather than alone or with parents”. It also states that young children like to play with kids their age and of same social status. In the case of Faustine, she just liked to befriend any kid that was there at the park and willing to play with her. Faustine and the other children did a lot of sociodramatic playing where they would stand on top of the play equipment and pretend to be pirate by scoping out the “sea” and using the slide when they want other children to “walk the plank”.

She was very friendly to everybody and didn’t cause any trouble with the other children. She was eager to get back to the playground to play with the other children every time we called her back to adjust her clothes or have her eat her snacks. According to Erik Erikson and his stages of psychosocial development, which are eight “ stages through which a healthily developing human should pass from infancy to late adulthood” (woaknb.wz.sk), Faustine is in the Competence Stage (Industry vs. Inferiority). The age range for this stage is five to twelve years and this is the stage where Children become more aware of themselves as woaknb.wz.sk work hard at being responsible, being good and doing it right (woaknb.wz.sk). I saw this in Faustine because she rarely needed us for anything while she was at the park and she liked to explore and learn things on her own like how to work the equipment. I think that Faustine still need to learn about the feeling of other people. She loved to make friends and talk to all the children at the park but she did not realise that some of the children just wanted to be left alone of didn&#;t like and but she kept persisting on making friends with them anyways.

She also needs to be more aware of her surrounding. Although Faustine loved to explore the park and things around her, she didn&#;t realize what was going on around her with the other children. For example, she kept jumping from kids to kids not realizing that they were in the middle of play with her. She would jump from one area to the next and forget where she had previously left her toys, and on some occasions, she even forgot that we were still watching her because she was to entranced in her own activities. During my observation. I observed that Faustine is a very healthy and fit child. Her biosocial, cognitive, and psychosocial development is up to par compared to children of the same age as her. She is very athletic and her social skills are very strong.

Marilyn R. Rice, woaknb.wz.sk

Authentic assessment can be used in the early childhood classroom each day as children interact with one another in play scenarios and learning center areas. Opportunities are abundant for teachers to capture learning as it takes place in the context of a young child’s typical daily routine. By interacting with their peers through role play and using open-ended materials and props, children begin to demonstrate many of the skills and concepts they have mastered. In our last Innovations and Perspectives publication, we explored the value of children’s play and the rich learning that takes place. In this article, we will explore how, when, and what to focus on to capture children’s developmental progress.

Observing and documenting children&#;s play provides a teacher with an understanding of how children in the classroom construct knowledge.

What is authentic assessment and what are the benefits?

Assessment has long been defined as the process of observing, recording, and documenting what, how and when children demonstrate skills and concepts. When teachers are observing children to learn more about their development, the best context is somewhere familiar and authentic such as the children’s classroom within their daily routine (McAffee & Leong, ). Authentic assessment allows teachers to “capture” what developmental checklists, rubrics, and some assessments do not – the children’s thinking and learning processes. By using authentic assessment, we are able to observe children as they function in their regular daily routine and identify their strengths as well and their weaknesses (Bagnato, Neisworth & Pretti-Frontczak, ). Authentic assessment includes the many tools that provide a more accurate representation of development and learning, including work samples with teacher narratives, child portfolios, photographs, learning stories that capture learning through photographs, videotapes, and anecdotal documentation.

One important benefit of authentic assessment is that is does not disrupt children’s learning because it is completed throughout the children’s regular daily routine. This type of assessment serves to inform the teaching and learning process in a way that allows teachers to also give feedback to children on their learning that is individualized. For example, when teachers participate in and facilitate children’s play, they ask open-ended questions related to what the child is currently doing. This questioning requires critical thinking on the part of the child that may not be captured in a traditional assessment. Children demonstrate learning at this stage of their development by experimenting with manipulatives and other hands-on materials in a very concrete manner. An additional benefit of authentic assessment is that it allows teachers to be sensitive to individual differences, including children with disabilities, cultural differences, and children with different background experiences (McAfee & Leong, ).

When should we plan to use authentic assessment?

Teachers should use it daily. When I was a teacher of four and five year olds, I intentionally tried to observe children every day. This method (direct observation) followed by anecdotal record-keeping, allowed me to see the children “in process” instead of just looking at pre and post learning outcomes. It allowed me to examine how a child was processing and making connections to previous knowledge and background experiences. I reflected on the various parts of the day where children were “demonstrating” what they were learning and how they were thinking. This led me to focus on observing the children when they are participating in learning centers – a time when they were free to select materials, peers, and methods for play. I wanted to use multiple sources of information when assessing children, so I began with anecdotal notes. From there I moved to audio and video taping, collecting work samples for their portfolios, and lastly creating documentation and display panel boards that could serve as “evidence” to the families of the learning that occurred over time in our classroom.

What can we look for when taking anecdotal notes during children’s play?

I began by taking anecdotal notes that were factual, objective descriptions of what a child has done. This strategy allows teachers to review progress over time (by denoting the date), the context (when it occurs within the daily routine), and peer involvement. Persistence to task, attention span, use of trial and error, taking risks, language use between peers, and the use of symbolic representation are some competencies that can be observed when children play in learning centers.

The block center is a popular choice in classrooms where much learning across the content areas can be found. Children feel comfortable representing what they know when using blocks and can often demonstrate their thinking process as well. They talk to peers, plan and incorporate literacy tools (e.g., traffic signs, building storefronts), and may create or draw additional accessories to enhance their play. Skills to look for in the block center are the children’s persistence to task, involvement level, risk taking, use of trial and error techniques and the roles that children assume during play. When playing with blocks, teachers may also observe the child’s understanding of shapes, measurement, sorting/categorizing, quantity, gravity, weight, balance and momentum (Gronlund, ). Additional skills to observe as they build and create include children’s use of fine and gross motor skills, creative skills and thinking skills.

How can we structure the learning center areas to heighten opportunities for concept and skill development during play?

In the dramatic play center, children may attempt to recreate a “train station” after they listened to the teacher read a book on trains. The teacher can put dress-up materials (train hats and clothes) in the dramatic play center. The teacher might suggest additional ideas to extend their learning. If the children limited their role play solely to conductor and passengers, the teacher can suggest additional roles for the train workers such as the engineer, stocker and café’ attendant, and stoker. With these additional roles, children could be challenged with math problems such as measuring luggage to see if it will fit on the train compartment, how much they would have to pay for a ticket, how many people can fit on the train, and how long will it take to get to their destination. The teacher may also add some open-materials to the dramatic play and block area such as cardboard boxes of different sizes, paper towel tubes, and large sheets of paper for making luggage and conductor hats. Literacy skills might include drawing and labeling routes, writing tickets, and developing menus for the café. When using multipurpose props, children must also use more language to explain to the other children in the group what the prop is and how it will be used. All of these activities lead to more complex play with greater opportunities for developing math and literacy skills. Teachers may n utilize the information collected to plan future experiences that utilize open-ended props in the dramatic play and block areas, expand on the number of roles associated with the children’s play, and to help children “plan” before they select a learning center (Bodrova & Leong, ).

The work of Sara Smilansky (Isbell, ) offers teachers a way to observe children in the dramatic play center. She suggests observing individual children for ten minutes at a time and recording the following: role play, using props, make believe, time, verbal communication, and interaction with peers. Within each of these categories, she developed a continuum along which children demonstrate their abilities. For example, during “verbal communication”, teachers would record if children displayed “little verbalization” “talk focused on props,” or “conversation with others about play and roles”. This allows teachers to easily denote where children currently are in their verbal communication instead of using other methods of observation which were more laborious.

How can we use video and recordings?

Current technology (e.g., I-phones, I-pads, flip cameras,) allows us to record “replay” the observation, with a specific focus for detail that other methods do not provide. This method also supplies the teacher with additional information that may be missed when observing and making anecdotal notes. While filming children’s play, their conversations can provide insight into children’s social skills and turn taking abilities (Bodrova & Leong, ). Teachers may also reflect on their involvement level in the play scenario and what they might do differently the next time they engage in play scenarios with the children. Some ideas for planning could be to incorporate more “how” and “why” questions with the children, extending the children’s length of time in the play area by suggesting new roles, or changing out the materials in the center because children have lost interest.

How can we use work samples and portfolios?

Work samples and portfolios offer another look into children’s progress. Decisions must be made on what to collect. Work samples may demonstrate the length of time a child was on task to complete an activity, the range and variety of materials used, and significant work products of the child. All three of these examples will provide information about the child. They can be collected over time and placed in an individual portfolio for each child. A variety of materials that can be collected include photographs, writing samples, cutting attempts, dictated stories, and drawings. After reviewing the work samples, teachers may plan for play and determine the need to rotate the art materials to include a greater variety of collage materials and provide puzzles of a greater difficulty for this particular child.

How can we use photography and documentation panels?

Although a picture may be worth a thousand words, the narrative descriptions that accompany pictures can help us to see the learning that takes place – and specifically what took place before and after the picture was taken. The Reggio Emilia approach focuses on using documentation panels and learning stories to highlight children’s thoughts and experiences in the course of the child’s “research” about a particular topic (Scheinfield, Haigh, & Scheinfeld, ). Children’s work is recorded at several different stages, including comments the children made after viewing the pictures that were taken. This process allows teachers to see how children “interpret” their own experiences. Regardless of the curriculum used, by focusing on documenting what the children are doing when they play, this helps teachers to tune in to each child’s thought process as they make decisions, problem solve, and create during their play (McAfee & Leong, ).

What about observing and planning for children with disabilities and other special needs in my classroom?

Just as with typically developing children, teachers must first observe to see which learning center areas and activities interest the child. We know children with disabilities and children who are learning English as a second language may have difficulty participating in play activities (Bagnato, et al., ). During play, children may use non-verbal cues and gestures to communicate with their peers (Nell & Drew, ). Teachers may need to create additional environmental supports (e.g., photographs, pictures, visual tools) and adapt materials (using Velcro straps for dress up clothes and wrist straps for musical instruments). By starting with children’s preferences, the teacher may simplify a play activity by breaking it down into smaller steps. Engaging the child with familiar toys and materials (e.g., trains, balls, dinosaurs) throughout learning center areas in the classroom is a planning strategy that teachers may use. Teachers may join in more frequently in the play scenario for a child with a disability and also use peer-to-peer modeling to help the child join in the play scenario.

How do I get started with authentic assessment?

To get started with authentic assessment, teachers must have a system in place for observing, documenting, organizing, reflecting, analyzing and utilizing the information collected (Jablon, Dombro & Dichtelmiller, ). This plan should be shared with other adults working in the classroom. Initially, teachers must determine how frequently observations will take place. The teacher may begin with small timeframes (such as 10 minutes) to become comfortable with the process of observation and documentation. The teacher will need to determine where to position herself in the learning center areas to hear the children without distracting them. Beginning with small timeframes daily and then increasing the amount of time allows teachers to develop a regular routine habit of observing children. Materials for documentation can be index cards, sticky notes, or computer labels. A notebook for individual documentations for each child can be readily available in the classroom. By having a page in the notebook for each child, teachers can quickly identify children they have not observed in a current week to ensure they observe that child during the upcoming week.

An initial focus for observation can be something open-ended such as the purposeful use of materials in the different learning center areas in the classroom. This can let a teacher know if children are not using certain materials which might indicate a need for teacher facilitation of the materials. By indicating this focus in lesson plans, teachers will be intentional in their participation during learning center time. If children are misusing materials (e.g., throwing play food in the dramatic play center), it may indicate a need for rotation of materials as the children may be bored with the existing materials. There will also be times when teachers observe behaviors or skills/concepts spontaneously which include important information to document. By reviewing documentation weekly, teachers can reflect and make any necessary adjustments in their lesson plans, including areas for individualization and accommodations needed for individual children (Gronlund, ).

The Milestones of Child Development: Virginia’s Early Childhood Development Project () and Virginia’s Foundation Blocks for Early Learning Comprehensive Standards for Four Year Olds () are resources that provide teachers with valuable knowledge of what children should be learning in the early years. These resources cover major growth and developmental domains including content areas. Before conducting authentic assessments, teachers should be familiar with these resources and refer to them regularly throughout the year to remain grounded in realistic expectations for the young children in their classroom.

How can authentic assessment inform our teaching practices?

Documentation of children’s play provides teachers with rich information and an understanding of how each child in their classroom constructs knowledge. No single source of information will produce an accurate portrayal of a child’s growth and development (McAfee & Leong, ). Authentic assessment is based on multiple sources of information that have taken place within the context of the child’s natural routine and learning center environment over time. By collecting and reflecting on multiple sources of information, teachers can accurately capture the development of the whole child who is growing and changing rapidly.

Authentic assessment provides teachers with information for planning and facilitating children’s play to include content specific experiences for math, literacy and social studies. Teachers should consider placing materials (such as writing materials and books) in all of the learning center areas to stimulate literacy activities. Materials can provide flexibility of play (open-ended) and promote creativity. Teachers must remain aware of children’s active engagement in their play in order to determine timeframes for changing materials and developing new ideas that appeal to children. Teachers can look closely to find ways to plan and support children in problem solving activities.

With authentic assessment, teachers view individual children from a strengths- based perspective, incorporating their individual interests and unique qualities. These observations assist teachers to design and develop classroom environments and select activities to scaffold each child’s learning. When done with intentionality, authentic assessment helps teachers create the link between assessment and developmentally appropriate curriculum.


Bagnato, S., Neisworth, J., & Pretti-Frontczak, K. (). Linking: Authentic assessment and early childhood intervention. (2nd ed.) Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

Bodrova E. & Leong, D. (). Tools of the mind: The vygotskain approach to early childhood education. (2nd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Gronlund, G. (). Planning for play, observation, and learning in preschool and kindergarten. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

McAfee, O. & Leong, D. (). Assessing and guiding young children’s development and learning. (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Jablon, R., & Dombro, A., & Dichtelmiller, M. (). The power of observation: Birth to age 8. (2nd ed.) Washington, DC: Teaching Strategies.

Nell, M., & Drew, W. (). From play to practice: Connecting children’s play to children’s learning. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Scheinfeld, D., & Haigh, K., & Scheinfeld, K. (). We are all explorers: Learning and teaching with reggio principles in urban schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

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