Observation techniques for preschoolers

Updated April 17, 2017

Preschool educators utilise various observational and recording techniques to identify behaviour patterns, learning disorders or disabilities in at-risk children. Observation enables teachers to develop an understanding of how children progress in a formal classroom setting. Observation and recording can also help a teacher assess the learning environment she has created for the class and make changes or improvements as needed. Observation can aid in devising a curriculum that is specifically designed for the individual growth and learning of every child in the classroom.

Timed Observation

Timed observation is recording the behaviour of one child, or a group of children, at set intervals. This technique gives the teacher insight to behaviour patterns and how frequently they occur over time. For example, during free-play time, the teacher may decide to record the interactions, activities and overall mood of the class every five minutes for half an hour, every day for a week. At the end of five days, the teacher has a complete record of activity. He can now compare day to day positive and negative fluctuations that occur among the group. Questions can be answered such as, which activities does the majority of the class engage in most frequently and which activities get little or no attention?

Timed observation can also bring to light a repeated negative behaviour of a child, what happened each time prior to the negative behaviour and what resulted from the negative behaviour. The teacher can now address the child's needs accordingly.


One of the simplest ways to document the developmental growth of a child is by way of a checklist. The list consists of a number of traits and behaviours that can be checked-off as they are observed such as, speaks in complete sentences, completes simple puzzles and counts to ten. Checklists enable the teacher to track the individual development of each child and plan a curriculum with strategies for encouragement of growth and learning.

Journal Recording

A narrative recording is a written, objective summary of accounts and observations of the day's events after they have happened. These observations are usually written in a journal format. They are brief descriptions of each child within the class. The main focus is a general mapping of each child's progress over time. Journal recording is done at the close of each day.

Diary Recording

Diary recording is a detailed narrative description of behaviours and activities of individual children, the purpose of which is to gain an understanding of when, why and how the child's behaviours occur. These recordings are usually taken from journal recordings and notes throughout the week. Diary recordings are usually written one or two times per week.

Running Record

Running records are observations that are recorded as the events are taking place. These observations are used for planning curriculums for the class or individual children and are also used to aid in weekly diary recordings. A running record differs from timed observation in that the observations are more situational. The teacher will divide the class into groups and assign specific activities for them to engage. The focus is mainly social interaction observations and levels of academic abilities. Teachers can plan activities specifically designed to address the dynamics of the group.

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About the Author

CJ Callen is a work-from-home mother, living in New Jersey. Her articles cover a wide variety of subjects, from DIY and motivation, to vacation and local dining guides. After graduating from Atlantic Cape Community College in 1989, she put her writing career on hold. In 2007 she returned to freelance writing full time.