Observations in Family Child Care (Part 3)

This is the third and final installment of our discussion of observations in family child care. We hope you have been practicing and perhaps enjoying taking a more focused look at your program, your children in care, and your environment. This final month we will visit three more types of observation.

Three More Types of Observation

Skills Checklist

The first type and the subject of much discussion in the early childhood field these days is a Skills Checklist. There are many types of checklists for assessing and evaluating skills in young children. It is our opinion that most of these are better left for professionals who have been trained in their use and interpretation. But that is not to say that it is not a good practice to stop and take stock of what your children in care can do and where they might be lagging behind. Our thought is that as providers, we must be cautious when relaying this type of information to parents in such a manner that the parent starts to worry or obsess about what their child can or cannot do at a certain point in their development. We all know that children develop according to their own timelines and one child may be advanced physically while another is developing cognitive skills at a more rapid pace. You do not want to get involved in the “comparison” game!

Observing the children for developmentally appropriate skills and making notes as they develop can be done in such a way that it does not become a basis for competition or anxiety. Using a Developmental Checklist and allowing for a generous leeway in age to observe and recognize skills will help you to plan your program to enhance and encourage skills that may be lagging behind or to see skills that are well-developed in areas that are unexpected. Shifting the focus of your program’s activities to both build skills that are less than what is expected and to support skills already mastered gives the children a feeling of success and challenge.


Portfolios are an excellent tool for observation. They do not have to be complicated or fancy, although nicely done portfolios can become treasured ways of remembering and recording your program’s growth and development as well as that of the children. The first type of portfolio that we will talk about is a Skills Portfolio.

This differs from a skills checklist in that in a Skills Portfolio, documentation is collected that supports and verifies that a child has mastered a particular skill. This can be through anecdotal writings, a collection of the child’s work, or photographs. The storage of these observations can be as simple as a shoebox or as elaborate as a scrapbook – it is the info collected that is the important part. Being able to look back and see what the child has mastered can give a very clear picture of where the child needs to go from there and can be invaluable in program planning.

The second type of portfolio is a Photo Portfolio.  Just as the name implies, this documentation is done through collecting photos of the child as he/she works to become more advanced in physical, intellectual, emotional, and social realms of development. Capturing moments in time to support the child can reveal growth and development in a way that words cannot. Photo portfolios can also range from dated photos in a shoebox to elaborate scrapbooks that will become treasured by the child in years to come. It all depends on your own particular preferences!

Environmental Observation

The final type of observation that we will cover is an Environmental Observation. As the name implies, this is an observation of your family child care facility. Often as providers, we become oblivious to how our environment might look to the clients and others who come into our homes. It is a good idea to step back and take an objective look at what others see when they enter your child care space.

Another reason for an Environmental Observation is to remain vigilant about any hazardous elements that may have become accessible to the children. It is advisable to use your licensing standards, the family child care accreditation standards, or other checklists to remind you of what constitutes a safe and worry-free environment for your children.

A third and important use of Environmental Observation will also serve to shape and drive your program. It is important to take some time each day (or week or month) to observe what toys, games, and materials are being utilized by the children and which are not. Are some of the items not being used because the ages of the children in care have changed? Have the children just gotten tired of a certain object and quit playing with it? Using observation to systematically pay attention to the usage enjoyed by children in care will help you to know when to add or subtract items from your play environment and will alert you as to when it is important to add more complicated items to your program.

As we said in the beginning of this series, Observation is what we as human beings do all the time. Making it focused and purposeful is a skill that must be developed to be useful. So stop and smell the roses – and take time to count the petals, notice the beautiful color and avoid the thorns! Observation finely honed will help you with that.

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About Child Care Consulting & Training Services, Inc. CATS, Inc. We are a national not-for-profit training consortium with a 501(c)3 designation from the U. S. Internal Revenue Service. CATS, Inc. is governed by an appointed Board of Directors. Training and consulting for CATS, Inc. is designed and presented by the four active training partners of the organization: Elaine Piper, MA.ED. Nashville, TN Barbara Sawyer, MA Arvada, CO Susan Eckelt Tulsa, OK Deborah Eaton-Keeling San Diego, CA CATS, Inc. specializes in customized early childhood education services with an emphasis on professional development of the field and a particular expertise in family child care. Each active training partner has direct experience as a family child care provider. In addition, all partners have been actively involved in early childhood professional organizations at the local, state, and national levels and are considered leaders in the field of early care and education.