Child Observation Assignment Instructions
to critically analyze how the information we learn from the text and other course materials relates to children and parenting in the community by collecting and recording information on child behaviors and parenting practices through a series of naturalistic observations, community interviews, and reflective writing.
- Classify the physical, emotional, cultural, social and cognitive characteristics of children within various general stages of development spanning conception through middle childhood.
- Examine the complex relationship between biological and environmental factors (including culture) and their impacts on the development of children, the learning process, and developmental parenting dynamics.
- Apply major theoretical models, historical perspectives, and social and legal components that organize our understanding of child development and parenting norms.
- Generate observations, records and reports of information on similarities and differences in development patterns and behaviors of children.
- Contribute meaningfully to discourse/debate about challenges and solutions currently facing families in our world.
Over this course you will complete 4 of these assignments. Each observation assignment is worth 75 points. Maximum points will be earned by those meeting the criteria outlined in the following document. Please review the Formatting Guide for essential formatting details. Evaluation/grading information can be found in the rubric located directly in the Canvas assignments.
Each individual student will complete their own observation/activity/interview about the topic. Everyone should submit a copy of your notes to receive credit for the assignment. Any student not completing their own observation will NOT receive credit for the group paper. Please contact your instructor with questions.
As a group, each person will be responsible for a different part of the paper. Every group member should review the other group members’ notes to be able to accurately complete their portion of the paper. Notes must be submitted to the instructor via the assignment in Canvas AND shared with the group via the group homepage in Canvas (details in assignment instructions).
The Formatting Guide gives details about all of the parts of the Group Paper. Please use it as a reference guide when completing and submitting the assignment.
There are 4 group member submissions to be completed throughout the course. The topics are in order as follows:
- Physical development
- Cognitive development
- Psychosocial development
- Discipline and parenting
Details for each topic and options for completion are provided later in this document.
Options for Activities
You may complete the individual portion for each activity in several different ways. You may complete a Naturalistic Observation or an Observational Activity for each assignment. However, you MUST complete at least 2 of the 4 as naturalistic observations. You may complete all 4 as that type, but you may not do all interviews, for example.
Activity options by topic
- Physical development
- Cognitive development
- Psychosocial development
- Discipline and parenting
Reminders to Avoid Common Problems with Notes
- Include background information/observations about participants
- This is extremely helpful for the group papers. Without it, we have very little context for analysis and reflection.
- Include race/ethnicity, age, gender, SES indicators (like clothing, location, activity), and a general description of each person (tall/short/overweight/underweight, etc)
- Notes need to be very detailed! Do not summarize behaviors
- Instead of “keeps going up and down slide”
- Better is “runs over to slide, climbs stairs alternating feet, sits at top of slide waiting for mother to look at her, slides down on her bottom while smiling, lands with both feet on the ground”
- Note what you observe, not what you assume
- Instead of “child is mad at mom”
- Better is “child yells at mom, looks down at feet with frown on her face, stomps feet, sits down and folds legs and arms together”
- Topic of the paper must align with topic of activity chosen
- See the Activity options by topic list
Your assignment is to observe children in a naturalistic setting for the required observation topic. You should observe in a setting appropriate for the topic (ie choose a setting where you can watch parents and children interact for the Discipline topic, rather than one where the children are largely undisturbed by adults). Good choices include: parks, playgrounds, sports practices/games, grocery stores (example: Kroger has cafe-type tables off to the side of the entrance where you might be able to see parents and kids interact), the public library, etc.
Plan to spend about 1 hour completing your observation. You may have some breaks when you don’t have many people to observe, but you should still pay attention. During that time, take note of the general surroundings, environment, resources, overall demographics of those in attendance, etc. When you have the opportunity, take notes on specific child behaviors in detail. For this reason, it is best if you select a location where lots of children are present and you have a place to sit.
Shorthand observation notes must be attached to each observation. Shorthand field notes are notes that are taken continuously while observing. You should be able to complete your observational exercise based on your field notes from that week. Your field notes may be turned in typed or scanned, provided that they are legible. Points deducted for any observation consisting of weak note taking. Please review the guidelines provided on the next page for necessary formatting and detail required in your field notes.
NOTE: If you have no notes, you have no proof that you that you have done the observations.
Field Notes (Pre-Work in Formatting Guide)
Aim to write 10 minutes of field notes on EACH child’s behaviors and social interactions (as setting allows). If you can’t observe one child continuously, try to observe more children. As you prepare to make these notes, remember to record the following:
- Time – note the exact time the movements occur.
- Fact, child’s actual behavior – these notes should be strictly factual accounts of activities. Your objective is to “paint a picture” of the child’s every action, every move, and every word with your notes. Write down conversation the best you can. Avoid conclusive statements such as, “Kim is a happy child.” Instead, write down the observable behavior depicting the child’s happiness. For example, “ Kim smiled at her teacher.”
NOTE: To maintain confidentiality, do not use names of the children in your notes or report. Please give each child a fictitious name or number such as “child 1”, etc.
Shorthand/abbreviations and choppy phrases are expected when you are taking notes in the field. Do not expect to be able to have full, flowing sentences in your field notes. You’ll have to work diligently to be able to write down as much detail as possible.
- Consider the HOW of the behaviors you observe. A child is painting, but HOW is she painting? Describe in enough detail that someone else who isn’t there could imagine the scenario exactly.
Repeat the process for child # 2
Remember, the remainder of the hour you are observing outside of the two 10-minute intense observations should focus on overall environment, interaction with adults, understanding the context of the situation, etc.
Example field notes are available on the next page for your reference.
Example Field Notes
Field notes such as the following partial examplewill not receive full credit. They are not adequately detailed.
2:10 S. is at the painting table; she paints a circle.
2:11 She continues to paint; sometimes talking to K. who is next to her.
2:12 S. paints with a different color; she says, “I’m done.”
2:13 Teacher tells S. to put her painting in her locker. S. washes her hands
2:15 S. goes outside….Etc.
An improved version:
2:10 S. is standing at the painting table. S. uses her left hand to hold the paintbrush. After Dipping it in the blue paint, she makes small circles on her large sheet of paper.
2:11 S. again dips brush into the paint; while painting “lines” on her paper she says to K., “I’m making a house.”
2:12 S. uses green to paint; she moves her whole arm as she moves her brush back and forth on her paper; she looks over to the teacher and says, “I’m done.”
2:13 S. walks over to her locker and puts her painting into it. (the teacher suggested that she do so). S. runs over to the sink, turns on faucet, carefully pulls up her sleeves, picks up bar of soap w/ left hand, wets her hands and begins to wash them; makes silly faces to herself in the mirror as she slowly rotates the bar of soap in her hands.
2:15 S. runs from the sink to the door, opens the door, and runs outside….Etc.
…continuing for the full 10-minutes per child.
You may complete up to 2 activities instead of naturalistic observations. Options for these are categorized by topic for easy reference, and some may be applicable to more than one topic (but you may not re-use an activity from a prior submission).
Intergenerational Discipline & Parenting
Topic: Discipline & Parenting (group paper #4)
Interview two adults in the same family but of different generations (and currently in different households, like your paternal grandmother and your father) about family rituals.
Ask about how they address each of the following topics:
- What do they remember from their own childhood?
- Get details about punishment, frequency, severity, etc.
- What did they do as parents themselves (if applicable)
- Was this the same or different from their childhood? Why/why not?
- What do they remember from their own childhood?
- House rules – What were the rules/guidelines about:
- Other items?
After the interview, make note of the following for use in the group paper:
- What differences were noted between the two generations?
- How do you think these differences/similarities contributed to the development of children in this family?
- How would you characterize the style of parenting in the different generations?
Television and Video Games
Topic: All could be related! (group paper #1, #2, #3, or #4)
This exercise addresses the use of television and video games for children under the age of 5. Since media and technology are rapidly changing, their effects on child development are also changing. This is especially true for increasingly busy parents and families looking for ways to keep their children occupied.
- You should interview AT LEAST 2 parents (in different families) who have 1 or more children under the age of 5
- Interviews should be conducted separately so that they do not influence each other’s answers
- Interview questions: (feel free to add any of your own that may result in relevant information)
- Do you allow your child to watch TV? If so, how many minutes or hours do they watch per day? What shows are they allowed to watch and at what time of day?
- Do you allow your child to play video games? This includes tablet/phone games, handheld games, and traditional TV console games. What games are allowed? What games are not allowed?
- What are the rules in your household about watching TV and playing video games?
- Do you believe your child learns anything from these TV shows or video games?
- Does your child watch the TV shows you watch? Does he/she play the games you play? If not, do you explain the reasoning to them?
- In general, what place (if any) do you believe TV and video games should have in the lives of children under 5 years of age?
- Given these responses, make note of the following for use in the group paper:
- Compare the responses of the parents you interviewed
- What was surprising or expected in the responses you received?
- How may these answers be different in different family structures and various socioeconomic statuses?
- Relate the responses you receive to the information you have encountered so far in class (reference text as needed regarding media exposure, look ahead in the book if needed)
Gender and culture
Topic: Psychosocial development (group paper #3)
In this activity, you will attempt to confirm some of the empirical findings presented in the text regarding gender and cultural expectations.
- First, find a non-gender specific picture of a baby. It should not have any of the traditional gender markers that we have discussed (pink, blue, dolls, trucks, etc.).
- Conduct interviews separately and at different times with AT LEAST 10 people
- Tell half of the people that the baby is a boy and the other half that the baby is a girl.
- Then, ask them to describe the boy/girl in the picture using these questions:
- What would you say about this baby?
- What do you think about him/her?
- How would you describe him/her?
- What do you hope that this baby will do/experience during his/her childhood?
- What would you imagine this baby would do for a profession in his/her adult life?
Record the comments of the interviewees, and then share your opinion on why differences were found (or not found) in the way boys and girls are described. You should also record the gender and approximate age of those that you interview for use in your analysis.
Finally, make note about how the influence of gender can shape a child’s development for use in the group paper. Briefly discuss how gender expression and expectations can affect how a child sees and is seen in the world.
Topic: Discipline and parenting, psychosocial development (group paper #3 or #4)
Interview at least 2 parents from different families about their views on disciplining their children. These interviews may be conducted together or separately, but keep in mind the following pros/cons:
- you may get more honest answers separately since they wouldn’t be influencing each other
- you may start an interesting dialog between the parents if you interview together
In your interviews, make sure to address the following questions:
- Prior to having children, how did you envision your discipline strategy? Did you consider using spanking and/or time outs?
- Now that you are a parent, how would you describe your discipline habits? What methods do you use? Do you change your strategies as children get older?
- If you use time outs, how long do you put your children in time out? Do you think time outs are effective?
- Do you think spanking is effective? Why or why not? Are there scenarios where you think it is appropriate or inappropriate?
- Do you consider spanking to be child abuse? Why or why not?
- How do you think the cultural environment you live in influences the type of discipline methods you use? Are you more likely to use one method over another when you are in public situations?
Make note of information about the parents that you interview (social class, education if known, etc.) to help in the analysis and reflection for the group paper.
Topic: Discipline and parenting, cognitive development (group paper #2 or #4)
Spend some time in a public place- a shopping mall, fast food restaurant with play area, or community place where children and parents are likely to be seen. Focus your attention on children who are between the ages of 2 –10 years old. DO NOT OBSERVE SOMEONE YOU KNOW.
Observe a clear behavior change (i.e. discipline) attempt made by the parent.
- Note the situation and behaviors leading up to the discipline (who, what, where, why, when).
- Note the discipline strategy being used by the parent (be specific – parent yelled and threatened, parent spanked on bottom, parenting got a eye level and talked about the issue).
- Note the reactions of the child and the parent AFTER the interaction. Note the reactions of others in the area, if any.
- What style of parenting did you observe? Describe why you assessed it this way
For use in the various sections of the group paper:
- Analyze the effectiveness of the discipline
- Did the parent get their intended results?
- Was their method developmentally appropriate?
- Were they TEACHING or PUNISHING or both?
- What do you think the parent could have done anything earlier in the situation to prevent discipline from being needed?
- Overall, do you think they handled the situation as best as they could?
- Cite two different pieces of research-based literature related to the discipline you observed. They can either confirm the appropriateness or dispute it.
- Include a brief summary and share what you learned from the interaction.
A new sibling
Topic: Psychosocial development, Parenting and discipline (group paper #3 or #4)
Interview at least 2 parents from different families that have 2 or more children. You may interview them together or separately.
Ask the following questions:
1) How did you expect a second child to change your home environment?
2) Once your second child was born, did you find it easier or harder than when you had your first child? Please explain.
3) How did your first child react to the second child? Did you notice any behavior changes or have any discipline/conduct problems?
4) What was the biggest difference between care of your first child and care of your second child?
5) Did you receive more or less help from family and friends when your second child was born?
Include relevant background information about the parents you interview for use in the group paper
Topic: Psychosocial development (group paper # 3)
Interview at least 2 parents from different families that have at least 1 child in school between the ages of 6 and 12. You may interview them together or separately.
Please address the following questions in your interview:
- What was your relationship with your child like before he/she began attending school?
- What has been the biggest change in your relationship since they started attending school?
- How has your child starting school changed your family dynamic?
- What would you say has changed the most about your child since he/she started attending school?
- What changes have you seen in his/her social life and what effect has that had on your family?
- How well do you know your child’s friends?
- Do you approve of them? Why/why not?
- What do you see as your role in regulating these friendships?
- How important do you think friendships are to your child?
- Do you have any concerns about current or future friendships and their effect on your child’s personality, future, etc? Please explain.
Consider the middle childhood module (look ahead if needed) to help in your contributions to the group paper.
Topic: Physical development (group paper #1)
Interview at least 2 parents from different families that have 1 or more children. You may interview them together or separately.
- Formula or breastmilk
- When your child/children were infants, did you use formula or did you breastfeed?
- What factors in your life influenced this decision?
- Did anyone persuade you into your final decision?
- Overall, do you think breastfeeding or formula is better for the baby? Why?
- What pros/cons are you aware of for the use of breastmilk vs. formula for infants?
- If you were to make the decision again, would your choice change? Why or why not?
- Overall development
- How did your child develop (from what you know) in relation to others his/her age? Larger or smaller than peers? Early, on-time, or delayed milestones?
- What factors in your child’s life or your family’s may have contributed to his/her physical development?
Consider the age and other background factors of the parents you interview for use in the group paper.
Create your own
Topic: all have opportunities for this!
Is there a topic related to one of the areas of child development (physical, cognitive, psychosocial, parenting/discipline) that you want to explore? Is there something you have observed that you would like to investigate further?
Put together a description of this exercise along with your proposed questions and submit it to the instructor for approval prior to completing it. We will work together to create the activity details (interview questions, survey options, etc).