Observation, documentation, and reflection are important skills for high-quality infant and toddler care. Developing these skills can help teachers with the following activities:
| View the video example, Exploring Dirt and Grass|
Access the Video Clip Series. In the following video clip, a teacher gently engages with toddlers as they explore outside. What are some ways the teacher was responsive to the toddlers? Did you notice how she waits to see how they will explore and follows their lead, asks questions, and repeats some of their words? In what ways does the teacher encourage the toddlers as they discover dirt and grass? What do you think each child might be experiencing?Please note: All programs filmed in this project are in full compliance with licensing regulations at the time of filming. In each video, the required adult-to-child ratio is met and all children are supervised, even if other adults are not visible on the screen.
Resources for Screening and Assessment
Infant/Toddler Development, Screening, and Assessment: Use information from this module to support an understanding of what screening and assessment looks like in child care settings. Developed by the National Training for Child Care Health Consultants.
Screening Dual Language Learners: Explore this guide for program leaders from Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (ECLKC) for suggestions on working with all dual-language-learners and their families.
Observation starts with being present and mindful as you watch how infants and toddlers explore their environment and interact with others (California Department of Education, 2012). Just watch an infant or toddler during care routines, while playing, and during interactions, and allow yourself to wonder about that child’s development and behavior. You can learn a lot about an individual child and about development this way. You can ask yourself: What is the infant doing? How does she react to materials and other children? How does he respond to you and other care teachers? What are her emerging skills, interests, and needs?
Observation usually happens while you are caring for infants and toddlers. So you may not have uninterrupted time to record your observations. Often teachers record their observations (also called documentation) when children are sleeping, at the end of the day after children leave, or during planning time. If you are unable to write a full observation while you are with children, consider writing down a reminder note (for example, “Jay and stacking cups” or “Elie does not like peas”) that will jog your memory when you do find time to record the observation in more detail. You may find it is helpful to begin with short documentations of your observations until you become more skilled at the process.
Through ongoing practice, you can build your observation skills and develop different ways to document and interpret your observations. With practice, you can find the easiest and most comfortable way to fit it into your daily work with infants and toddlers. Just as you individualize care for infants, toddlers, and their families, it is important to consider what works best for you as you collect observations and documentations throughout the day. Different documentation styles work for different teachers, child care settings, and times of day. Try different approaches to see what feels right and does not interfere with your interactions with infants and toddlers.
Try these ideas for documenting observations. Share methods that work for you with a colleague.
Keep in mind that you can use more than one method. Each type of documentation captures a snapshot of the child in a certain way, and using more than one method of observation may help you create a more complete picture of each infant and toddler in your care (California Department of Education, 2012). It is helpful to have places you can put notes, pens, cameras, or smart phones that infants and toddlers cannot reach, such as small shelves installed at adult eye level in different parts of the room and play yard.
|The Coaching Companion: A Tool for Videotaping PracticeA critical part of the Know, See, Do, Improve framework is that it can be difficult to measure “Do” without being side by side with a teacher in her program. The Coaching Companion, an online digital observation tool, available on Early Educator Central makes it easier for teachers to receive feedback on “Do.” As part of professional development, teachers can record their teaching practices. After filming their own practices, teachers can share the videos with their coaches, trainers, and peer group as appropriate. The observation tool can be used as part of training, practice-based coaching, and communities of practice. The Coaching Companion is available for child care programs to use with their teaching staff, so a program would sign up for access rather than an individual teacher. Programs can sign up to access the tool at this link: https://earlyeducatorcentral.acf.hhs.gov/online-digital-observation-tool|
You may work in a program or a system that provides tools and guidance for observation and documentation. Here are some suggestions to consider:
Observation is an important skill for infant and toddler teachers to learn. Improving your observation skills and reflecting on what you see throughout the day can become an important and useful tool for individualizing care, adjusting the daily schedule, documenting each child’s learning, and planning meaningful curriculum.
Clearing Your View: Staying Objective in Observation (2017): This podcast from the Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (ECLKC) explains how to observe children and write down what you see in an objective way that will help you understand the meaning of the infant’s or toddler’s behavior.
Look at Me! Using Focused Child Observation with Infant and Toddlers: Watch this video podcast from the Head Start ECLKC to explore focused observation techniques.
|Video Example: Teachers Reflect Together and Document Their ObservationsAccess the Video Clip SeriesIn this video clip, two teachers sit together, discuss, and document their observations of infants and toddlers in their care.What did you notice about the two teachers in the video?How did the two teachers work together to document their observations?What were some ways the teachers encouraged each other to say more about their observations?What are some examples of the observations the teachers made of individual children during the day?After watching this video, what comes to mind for you about the importance of documenting observations of individual children?How might observations about individual children be useful to you as a teacher?Please note: All programs filmed in this project are in full compliance with licensing regulations at the time of filming. In each video, the required adult-to-child ratio is met and all children are supervised, even if other adults are not visible on the screen.|
For early care professionals, reflection is an important tool. In this context, reflection means the process of thinking deeply, either alone or with other professionals, about your work. Reflection, also called reflective practice, helps you to consider your caregiving practices and develop greater self-awareness so you can be more sensitive and responsive with children.
In Becoming a Reflective Teacher, early childhood experts Margie Carter, Wendy Cividanes, Deb Curtis, and Debbie Lebo created the following characteristics of reflective preschool teachers. Infant and toddler teachers can use this list to set professional goals, keeping in mind the developmental differences between infants/toddlers and preschoolers. As you read each of the characteristics, reflect on your own practice and ask yourself in what ways you do or could do these things in your work. Also consider the ways would it look a little different with an infant or a toddler.
“Reflection is a time to slow down, to see what can be learned if we take the time to carefully look at and listen to ourselves, and those with whom we work.” (Parlakian, 2001, p. 16)
All teachers can benefit from spending time in thoughtful, critical reflection. However, finding time for this practice can be a challenge. A good starting point is to consider times that already exist within your day. Here are some examples: