When you drop your little one off at day care, most likely you don't just cross your fingers and hope that she's actually learning something or at least headed on a positive developmental path. If you, or your child's teacher, have questions about her progress, an elaborate series of standardized tests and essay questions aren't the way to go. Often, observations take the place of "evaluations" in the early education environment.
Reasons for Observations
Hearing the words "We are planning to observe your toddler" shouldn't bring fear to your heart or tears to your eyes. There are an array of reasons why children are observed in day care centers -- and they aren't all negative or stemming from problems. Yes, some early childhood observations do come from a problematic place, such as failing to meet developmental milestones or suffering social difficulties, but others are done simply to understand how your child learns or what her strengths are. Unlike the elementary, middle and high school years where kids work on assignments, take tests and earn grades to show their progress, a toddler or preschooler may take part in an observation process to show how she is doing during her day care years.
One type of observation is a documentation of the child's growth and development. This can help you to see how your child is progressing and help the day care staff to plan for the child's needs and play to her abilities. In documentation-type observations, the teacher, an early childhood expert or consultant will make factual, descriptive statements about what she sees in terms of the child's actions, use of language, non-verbal gestures and expressions. Instead of using adjectives that she feels are appropriate, the expert relies on facts. For example, the observer wouldn't say, "Janey is acting fussy at lunch-time" but she might say, "Janey cried and told her teacher that she hates eating green beans."
Anecdotal notes are typically an ongoing form of observation that teachers take to note the child's progress over the course of the day care school year. The day care teacher will put aside a specific time to observe your child at different tasks, such as during small group art time, meal time or outdoor play. She will then write notes on what your child is doing, things that your child says and how your child interacts with the other children. Some day care centers may even have a form that the teacher must fill out every day or week to document each child's progress as the year moves on.
Some observations in the day care setting help to assess the child in one specific developmental domain. This can include a broad category such as social skills or something more streamlined, such as verbal language use. These observations may come in the form of a pre-packaged assessment tool. For example, the Individual Growth and Development Indicators for Infants and Toddlers tool is an observation-based process that early childhood professionals can use to assess a toddler's communication abilities or movement.