PSY 221 TTh


Writeup due:  Thursday, November 2

Rationale: Accurately observing the behavior of children is an important skill for anyone interested in working with children.  Observation may be used used by psychologists, teachers, counselors, child care providers, parents, and many others. In this assignment, I will ask you to look at several aspects of behavior that may escape your attention on more casual observation. We will be using the technique of ad libitum NATURALISTIC OBSERVATION--carefully and accurately describe everything you see a child do, in as much detail as possible, during the time you are observing. The brief period of time is similar to what you might have if you were working in a school system. In addition, for the written assignment, I will ask you to interpret your child's pattern of behavior based on the research literature.

Please note that you may not be able to answer all of the questions listed, as your child may not be participating in those activities. In particular, since there are so many children, the language development questions may be difficult to answer if you cannot hear your child--simply do the best you can. If your child leaves before the 15 minute time period is up, you may choose another child to observe, and compare them.

Assignment: Observe one child for 15 minutes.  Use the questions listed below as a guide to describing your child.  The instructions for writing up your assignment are given after the questions.


 1.  How is the child dressed?  What is the child's gender?  General demeanor?  (This question will tell us something about gender differences.)


 1.  What is the child's pattern of activity?  Is the tempo fast, or slow?  Does the child stay at one activity for a long period of time, or switch between various activities?

 2.  How developed is the child's motor coordination?  Which is more developed, fine motor skills, or gross motor skills?

 3.  Does the child use physical actions a means of communication? Describe.


 1.  How long are the sentences the child uses?  Does the child make any grammatical errors?  How similar is the child's speech to adult speech?

 2.  Is the child's language directed more toward adults or children, or is it equally distributed?

 3.  Does the child use language for social purposes?, to express needs?, to share feelings?, to complain?, for other purposes?


 1.  What is the range of facial expressions on the child's face?

 2.  How and when does s/he exhibit happiness, anger, sadness, doubt, enthusiasm, surprise, distress, disgust?

 3.  Does the child ever become upset?  How does s/he react?


 1.  Does the child seek out other children?  Stay with the teacher?  Play alone?

 2.  If the child plays with other children, who initiates the play?  How and when?

 3.  Is the child a "follower", or a "leader", or sometimes one and sometimes another?

 4.  Does the child play mainly with one child, or does s/he seek out the company of several children?

 5.  Does s/he spend time watching other children or activities? Which ones?


 1.  What type of play activities does the child engage in?

 2.  How does the play get started?  Who initiates it, the teacher, the child, or another child?

 3.  Where does the play activity take place?  In which area of the Preschool Lab?

 4.  Does the tempo of the play remain even, or does it speed up or slow down?  When?

 5.  Does the child play with other children, or seem to prefer to play alone?

 6.  Describe the sequence(s) of play in detail.

 7.  Does the child express fantasy in his/her play verbally, or using other creative materials?  What roles do s/he play?

 8.  Are there times when s/he abruptly stops playing?  When and why?  What does s/he do then?

 9.  Does the play show any relation to sex roles?  How?

10.  What does the child seem to be getting out of the activity? the sociability of being with other children?  Sensory pleasure?  A sense of mastery or problem-solving?  A sense of creative expression of ideas and feelings?  What aspects of an activity seem especially frustrating or especially pleasurable to him?


 1.  Does the child seem to need to be physically close to the teacher at all times, does s/he need him/her in sight, or is the child indifferent?

 2.  Does s/he seem comfortable and friendly with adults?  clinging?  demanding?  anxious?  defiant?; different at different times and/or with different people?

 3.  Does s/he seem to seek adults out for comfort?  Does s/he ask for their help?  When and how?  How does s/he react to being limited?  Does s/he spend a lot of time watching adults?


 1.  Note any other interesting observations that occur during your time at the preschool.

 WRITE-UP (25 points)

 Darwin was one of the first scientists to describe children's behavior and interpret it based on the information that was available at the time on child development.  For this exercise, you will be doing a similar summary.  Your write-up should be 3-5 pages, typed, double-spaced, due Thursday, November 2.  You should include the following information in your summary.

 1.  Title page:  Your name, class, date.

 2.  Description:  For each subheading that is appropriate,(i.e., physical activity, language development), write a narrative describing your child's behavior, answering the questions listed above.  Here I will be looking for the descriptive detail of your observations.  15 points

 3.  Interpretation:  How do your findings compare with the information found in the textbook/class/lectures?  What models can you apply to the interpretation of your findings (i.e. attachment, self-esteem, play, etc.)? 5 points

 4.  Reflection:  What observations were particularly interesting to you, and why?  How might they relate to other work you have done with children, or other experiences that you have had (classes/work with children)?  How did this exercise enhance your understanding of the development of preschool children?  2 points

 5.  Form:  Spelling - 1 point; Grammar - 1 point; Organization - 1 point