Field Observation of a Child or Adolescent

This project requires you to do a one hour observation of a child (ages 0-12) or

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adolescent (ages 12-18) in a natural setting, and then write a 3-4 page typewritten report

about your observations. You should be as unobtrusive as possible and use a notebook to

write down the activities, behaviors, and interactions that you are observing during that

time. The types of observations you will be making will vary greatly depending on the

age of the child you are observing, the setting the child is in, and the activities occurring

within the setting.


1. IDENTIFY A SUBJECT. If you have friends or relatives who have children

whom you could observe, contact them. When setting a time to observe, keep in

mind that you want the child to be awake, alert, and active. Do not observe your own children; your own pre-knowledge of them, there behaviors and the reasons why they act the way the do will filter and bias your observation and make this a useless learning activity.

Do not “babysit” in order to observe. You want to be free to see things you would not normally notice, and you want to be an “observer” and not a caretaker. If you need assistance locating a subject, I recommend visiting a local park, or play area, asking to observe in a classroom at a school you may have connections with, a youth group at a church, etc.Finally, if you wish to observe in a public

place (ie: the mall, the ice cream shop), you may do so, however, DO NOT FOLLOWAN UNKNOWN CHILD.. Observe and record the behaviors and

interactions of the individuals you see without judgment or analyzing.Act like a martian who has never seen children on planet earth.

2. If you have permission from a friend or relative to do the observation, make it clear that you are not provding any assessment, treatment, or clinical impressions, and that this is simply a learning experience for you.Assure confidentialilty when writing up your obvservation.Do not identify individuals by name or other identifying features Explain that you will simply be writing down

the activities and interactions that you observe for about an hour, and you will be

reacting to that material with respect to what you have learned in class. Also,

ASSURE CONFIDENTIALITY. Explain that nobody will be identified by name

or identifiable characteristics in your report.

3. After observing the child, research developmentally expected behaviors for a child of this age.IF you do not know the child, estimate the age range you are observing, and not in your write-up that the age was an estimate.

Focus on: language, cognition, social interaction, motor abilities,

socialization, emotional development and gender roles.

4. OBSERVE and RECORD. Give the child a pseudonym to preserve

confidentiality. Note the following: date, time, setting, age, sex, distinguishing

characteristics (dress, appearance, etc.). Take notes on the activities the child

engages in, the objects used (and how), the quality and quantity of social

interactions (Does the child initiate? Is the child seeking attention? If so, positive

or negative? Is the child seeking play? Comfort? Assistance?) How about the

interactions with other children? Is the child playing? If so, is it cooperative,

interactive, parallel, independent, structured, creative…? Take notes on the

content of language, motor development and coordination, and indications of use

of concepts or cognitive stages of development (ie: what cognitive concept must

be mastered to play Hide-and-Go-Seek?). Write down, verbatim, some of the

language interactions or vocalizations. What stage of language development is

the child exhibiting?

This gives you an idea of how to make detailed observations of several

developmental issues. There is LOTS more you can observe and report!

Remember, areas you can focus on include language, cognition, social

interactions, emotional development, motor and perceptual competence,

socialization, and gender role development.

Remember, they may be wanting to know “what you found.” Remind them that

this is just an observation, not a test or clinical/diagnostic session.

5. WRITING THE REPORT. Read your notes carefully and think about how to

organize the information for your report. Organize the top of your report as


Subject: Pseudonym Date:

Age: Time:

Sex: Setting:

General Description:

Behavioral Observation:

In the General Description section describe the setting, the child’s presentation, the other people in the setting, etc. Don’t go too crazy here, because you will probably find you are short on space.

The major body of your paper will be the Behavioral Observation in which you are reporting your observations and interpreting through the lens of a developmental psychologist. Whenever possible, you should relate observations to what you have learned in class, in readings and in outside readings of typical and pathological behaviors of a child of this age. Do not simply describe or list what you

observed. Interpret or explain what your observations illustrate about the child’s

stage of development. This is the most important part of this assignment. These

interpretations should be thoughtful and should be applied to as many of the

observations as possible. If you wish you may end the report with a personal

reaction to the experience.