Guidelines for Observing Children

Chapter 1 Handouts: Guidelines for Observing Children

The observation of children allows us the chance to better understand children and ourselves. The first example we took a look at was The Marshmallow Test.

“In this popular test, several kids wrestle with waiting to eat a marshmallow in hopes of a bigger prize. This video is a good illustration of temptation and the hope in future rewards. This experiment is based on many previous and similar scientific tests.” (YouTube description; Oct 6th, 2014)

This test shows us not only the behaviours of children when faced with a tempting treat but is also an observation piece that can look at delayed vs instant gratification.

The second video we viewed was The Mature Marshmallow Test.

This video is performed by actors; each assigned one of the children-characters from the first video. It is meant to be funny, but is also us the opportunity to observe (subjectively) how adults interpret childhood behaviours. This gives us an insight into adults and their relationship with children, but also reminds us that when we are working with young children, we need to stay current on what is important to them. [Example: as a parent I’ve watched more Max and Ruby episodes than I ever care to, but my son loved them, so I watched them too.]

Today, we also took a look at subjective versus objective observations. “Subjective information or writing is based on personal opinions, interpretations, points of view, emotions and judgment. It is often considered ill-suited for scenarios like news reporting or decision making in business or politics. Objective information or analysis is fact-based, measurable and observable.” While both are useful, it is important to know the difference because there are times when one is more appropriate than the other.


Overall, you need to consider what is the purpose of your observation and what is your role as the observer. If you are conducting research, for example, you’ll probably need to make objective observations. If you are evaluating learning outcomes as a teacher does, subjective may be more appropriate (but not always). Know your purpose before you begin your observation, and you’ll be more likely to choose the correct method. If in doubt, make objective observations.

The final video we took a look at was of children playing on a slide (1 minute long):

Think about how you can make observations that are objective vs subjective.


Childhood: A Time for Development

Chapter 1: Section 2: (Childhood) A Time for Development

Childhood is not a new concept, but the childhood experience has changed greatly over the past 125-ish years. One way we can see this is by their clothing.

  • In the 1900s, children dressed in what we would now call a “Sunday-best” or “Going to Dinner” sort of outfit.
  • In the 1800s, and earlier, children were dressed like tiny adults. A study in the history of fashion will actually tell you a lot about how people lived.
  • Today, clothing is bright, colourful, comfortable, and easy to clean. And what you see children wearing typically is not what you’d see on an adult, or even an older child.

Children in 2000s: Notice how the girls are wearing outfits that would allow them to run, jump and play. The legwarmers, which have been the fashion in children’s clothing for the last 10-ish years, can be added on a cool morning, removed as the day warms, and then added again in the evening; they also work as a cute accessory. Bright colours that children are naturally attracted to seem to make up the bulk of children’s fashion these days. Boys clothing is equally fun and functional.


Children in 1900: (Flicker image) In this photo, notice how the clothing is not as considerate of children playing. In this era, children did run and jump, climb trees and sit on the ground. But there were also social restrictions around being seen and not heard when around adults. The technology didn’t exist to make clothing that was easy care and comfortable. And children would have had only a handful of outfits at most.

1900 children (flicker)

Children in 1700s: (source: Notice how the children in this painting are dress like little adults. There is very little difference between the mother’s outfit (blue) and the toddler’s outfit. Due to this being a painting instead of a photo, we are unable to accurately determine the age of the middle children. In today’s society, clothing would give a hint as to whether they are teenaged or pre-teens. In the 1700s fashions were nearly the same for all ages, and the differences in styles, colours and fabrics were due to class distinction.

1700s children

Children and You

Chapter 1, Section 1: Children and You

Think about the children in your life. Perhaps you have younger siblings, cousins or are an aunt/uncle. Maybe you’re a youth leader, or do volunteer work, and let’s not forget babysitting little ones. Part of this course will require you to think like a child. Remember some of those things you did as a child that were wonderful, as well as those that were challenging. What stands out most? Also think about how you used to see the world differently.

There are many different reasons why people study children. Students in Human Services 11 are often interested in taking the course for the “Baby Think It Over” Program (BTIO/Babies/Dolls). In addition to that, most students are thinking of working with children some day in fields such as child care, education, social services, pediatrics, or law. Certainly studying child development can help you better understand any of these careers. But this course will also help prepare you for one day becoming a parent yourself.

One of the most important things to do when you are working with, or parenting, children is to come down to their level. This is both physical and emotional.

You should physically bring yourself down to a level that allows you to look them in the eye. That may mean that you are kneeling on the floor, sitting on small chairs in a classroom or daycare, crouching down, or whatever else you need to do to physically meet them where they are. This helps children feel less intimidated, and more like they can relate to you (though they won’t put it in these terms).

Emotionally, you should remind yourself what it was like to be a child that age. What did you like? Fear? Understand? People working with children do not need to baby-talk, but they may need to bring their vocabulary down a level or two. Adults should also be considerate of big emotions and little attention spans, young children are still learning how to manage emotions, and their bodies and minds are designed for short bursts of activity.

Additional Assignment: Sometime during this week, play like a child. This could be going to a play-ground, jumping in puddles or a pile of leaves. Think of some activity that children do with complete abandon and give yourself a chance to not only do it, but (hopefully) enjoy it. We’ll have a class discussion around this at the beginning of next week.

Textbook Assignment: The Developing Child

Chapter 1, Section 1, page 23

  • Check Your Understanding # 1-6
  • Discuss and Discover #1.