Anecdotal Observation in Childcare

Anecdotes are stories that are told to illustrate behaviour or a situation. Storytelling is a powerful means of communication and anecdotal observation in childcare can be a powerful mechanism in observing and recording a child’s development.

What is anecdotal observation?

An anecdotal observation is a story about a child’s behaviour. It is told in the past tense and like any story has a beginning and a conclusion. Anecdotal observations can be recorded quickly and on the spot.

Why is observation so important?

Observation is critical in childcare as it allows the carer or teacher to observe and record the child’s development, notice any road blocks along the way and format and structure sessions accordingly.  This observation can be applied on both an individual and group level, much like reflective practices in childcare.  There may be occasions where a particular group demonstrates and interest in a certain subject that can be utilised for learning and development.

Proper observation of children’s behaviour will allow the carer or teacher to fine tune  the delivery of their learning sessions.

Examples of anecdotal observation in childcare

two girls are observed while using building blocks at childcare

Observations can take many forms ranging from a simple standalone anecdotal observation through to running records and diary observations. Several of the more common anecdotal observation techniques are provided below.

Example of single child observation

Observation for Amanda, age 3 years, 6 months: Amanda approached the dress-up area with Debbie. Amanda chose the pink dress and matching high heels. After putting these clothes on she looked at herself in the mirror and smiled. She touched Debbie’s arm and said, “Look at me Debbie I am a princess!”

Example of a biased single child observation

Observation for Amanda age 3 years 6 months. Amanda happily approached the dress-up area with Debbie She was excited when she chose a pink dress, and matching shoes. She put them on. She looked at her appearance in the mirror and liked what she saw. Then she said to Debbie: “I am a princess”.

This observation is biased because it presumes to know the feelings of happiness and excitement experienced by Amanda. Observations should not include such presumptions but simply record the observable facts.

Example of a running observational record

a happy young boy at childcare looks towards his carer having played with building blocks

Running records are not kept as often as single child anecdotal  observations; they are usually written in the present tense and can resemble a running commentary. A running record might look something like this

Background Information: Kerry aged 2 years is the middle child  with a younger sister at home and an older brother in care. Her play is centered on dramatic play.

11:34 am – Kerry places her right hand upon the door and looks about the room. As she turns to her left she lets go of the door and walks to the home area. She picks up a doll with her right hand and says Baby.’ Kerry continues to hold the doll in her right hand as she walks towards the toy trolley.

11:35 am – Kerry stops in front of the building blocks, drops the doll onto the cushion beside her and kneels down before the blocks. She begins to pull blocks out of the box and stacks one on top of the other.

11:36 am – Kerry stops playing with the blocks and watches another child who walks past pushing a doll’s pram. She uses both hands to push herself to her feet Kerry grabs the doll with both hands and runs to another pram. She drops the doll into the pram then uses her right hand to grab the handle of the pram and pull it towards her. Gripping the pram handle with both hands, while pushing the pram, she walks quickly across the room, saying, ‘Baby, baby,’

Summing Up

Anecdotal observations are a great way to keep a record of a child’s development and can give the carer or teacher valuable insights into the child’s progress over time.