If you feel that your child, or a child in your care, may not be developing at the same rate as other children of the same age, it may be time to take a closer look. As a parent, this is a good time to mention your concerns to your child’s caregiver or physician. As a provider, this is your opportunity to start a conversation with the parent about doing some informal observing. Parents and providers can work together to start an observation plan to record the child’s behaviour over time and in a variety of settings.
If you are a childcare provider observing a child, be clear that this is an observation, not a diagnosis. This observation can help plan activities that the child will enjoy, match activities to the child’s skills and abilities, and may serve to signal that a referral for formal assessment is needed. Whatever the family decides, you as a provider have planted the seeds that will help them observe their child more carefully and think about what you have said.
Here are some general suggestions to keep in mind when you’re observing:
- Try to be as objective as possible.
- Date all observations so you can better look for changes and patterns.
- Write down exactly what the child does or says.
- Observe each activity more than once.
- Be sure to look for both strengths and weaknesses.
Tracking Your Observations
Paper or note cards method:
Write down notes right after something happens. Collect the child’s drawings and other creations. Jot down stories about the child shared by others: the parents or other staff if you are a provider and the caregivers if you are the child’s parents. Be sure to keep the notes in one place, such as a folder, envelope, or plastic bag.
Write something down about the child every day in a special notebook so you have an ongoing picture of what she does.
Make up a list of categories and watch the child’s behaviour or reaction in each category. Some categories might be; general health, speech and language, social or behaviour, vision, hearing or a child’s first smile or roll over. Be objective when you are observing. Objectivity means writing down only what the child actually does or says, not your interpretation of the behaviour.
Following are some examples of observations you can make about a child:
1/2/05: Madonna played with the ball alone, not interacting with others.
1/3/05: Madonna ate sand while outside and didn’t respond to my attempts to redirect her activity.
1/3/05: Madonna pulled on my leg when she needed me, but wouldn’t make eye contact to tell me what she needed when asked. She pulled me to the refrigerator.
Some things to think about
Now that you have collected some specific information about your child, use the following questions to help you put your observations into perspective. They will help you decide whether a child is just developing at his or her own pace, or is a child who may need outside help.
- Has the child made progress over time, or is he or she “stuck”?
- Is the child ignored by other children because he or she can’t keep up with them, doesn’t get their jokes, or doesn’t understand the rules of the game?
- Are your expectations for the child realistic, given everything you know?
- Does the child have trouble at specific times of the day, such as meal times, nap time or bedtime,
or during a specific activity?
- Is the child able to concentrate and become involved with an activity?
- Is the child creative when playing with toys and games, or does he or she always play with them in the same way?
- Does the child have a good energy level, or does he or she always seem tired?
- Does the child have a lot of allergic symptoms, such as coughing or sneezing, rashes or itchy eyes?
- Is the child able to make choices about activities, and act independently?
- Does the child seem confused in a childcare or school environment?
After answering these questions, you may find that a change in the child’s schedule or environment will help address these concerns. You may also find that at this point you will want to seek help from a qualified service provider or your health care professional. Remember, the observations of childcare providers are to be shared with the parents. It is up to the parents to seek professional help for their child.