Observation tools for early childhood development

Updated April 17, 2017

Observation of young children is the starting point for understanding and supporting their individual development needs. It is a key assessment tool in the UK government's Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum. All professionals involved in the care and education of young children, from childminders and nannies to preschool teachers, are expected to make and record observations.

Sticky notes

The standard observation tool since the EYFS curriculum was introduced in 2008 was a stack of post-it notes and a pen. Teachers watching children absorbed in play would scribble down notes about what they were doing, and stick the notes on pages in the children's files. The small sizes of post-it notes means that they were not cumbersome. Observations could be recorded easily during the course of the day and reviewed later.

Talking to parents

Listening to parents during parent-teacher meetings and asking them to tell you what their child does at home is also an important observation tool. It is particularly important if the behaviour and skills demonstrated at home differ markedly from those shown in nursery or school. It is helpful to encourage parents to bring in examples of what their children have drawn or written at home.

Observation form

Many local authorities and educational institutions have created observation forms to make recording and analysing observations easier. The early years practitioner fills in the date and time at which the observation takes place, and states the context in which the child is playing. The form gives prompts for the things that the practitioner should be looking for, organised according to the themes in the EYFS framework, such as "A Unique Child" and "Positive Relationships."


A number of specific software tools have been developed to help teachers and other early years practitioners record their observations. One of the best known, Evernote, synthesises observations recorded via different media, such as photographs, audio recordings, and notes made on a smartphone.


In a number of schools, teachers have experimented with using iPads and other tablets as observation tools. You tag the children you are observing by taking photographs of them and labelling them. You can take photographs of experiences and activities, and record anything the children say by clicking on the tablet's yellow post-it device and typing in the information.

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About the Author

Lalla Scotter has been writing professionally since 1988, covering topics ranging from leadership to agriculture. Her work has appeared in publications such as the "Financial Times" and "Oxford Today." Scotter holds an honors Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Bristol.