Child Psychology
PSYC 2308.WB   SPRING 2006

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Lab Pack: Child Observation and Case Study

Case Study and all handwritten lab notes are Due Tuesday, April 11, no later than 9:00 p.m., in my office. If you are mailing them to me, you should get them in the mail by April 7 so they won't be late.

All lab hours must be completed, totaled, and the lab sheet signed by 5:00 p.m., on Friday, April 7. You will keep your lab notes to turn in with your case study.

General Information

Students will observe a preschool child who is 2 1/2, 3, 4, or 5 years old. Students who live in the Odessa area will observe a child at the Odessa College Children's Center (OCCC). You may select from older children in the Toddlers room, or any students in the Youngers or Olders rooms. An active child may provide more material for your notes and case study, so take this into account when choosing your lab child. Students who live outside the Odessa area will observe a child at a preschool in his/her own community. This school must be licensed by the Texas Department of Human Services, Child Care Licensing Division, and approved by the instructor. Call your local DHS and ask for recommendations for a school with a good-quality program. Or you can go online to then click on "Search for a Day Care."  You can type in the name of a center, or the name of your town, or the name of your county.  A list of facilities will come up with information about that facility. Contact the director or principal of the school, explain what you will be doing, and ask permission to observe one of their children. Ask for their help in selecting a child who might be especially interesting to observe. E-mail information concerning the school to the instructor to get final approval. Students who observe away from the OC campus will obtain a copy of a parental permission form and must have the form signed by a parent or guardian before observation begins. (See Parental Permission Form in the Handouts section.) If you need help in locating a facility, contact Mrs. Wells.

ODESSA COLLEGE CHILDREN'S CENTER is located in the north end of Sedate Hall, east of the Sports Center, one building away from West University Avenue. The phone number is (432) 335-6480. You may call ahead to see if your lab child is present before you make a special trip to observe. The Children's Center is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. However, the children nap from 12:30 or 1:00 until 3:00 p.m. and these times cannot be counted for observation time. You may, however, count up to 30 min. (no more) when your child is absent or down for a nap if you use that time to describe the room or copy information from the developmental questionnaire. STAFF: The following staff members will be glad to help you if you have any questions or concerns regarding the operation of the center: Secretary, front office; Assistant Director, Susan Daniel; Director, Lucinda Hurlbut (also Child Dev. Dept. Chair.) Students observing off-campus will ask about that center's rules and schedules and follow them.

OBSERVATIONS: You are to spend no less than 10 HOURS observing a selected child and writing anecdotal notes (lab notes) about what you see and hear your lab child and the other children and adults around him/her doing and saying. Ten hours of observations should result in approximately 25 - 35 handwritten pages of notes to use for writing your case study. There must be a dated entry in your anecdotal notes corresponding with every dated entry on your sign-in sheet. There should be at least 1-4 pages of notes for each hour of observation, depending on the activity level of the child at the time.

OBSERVATION PROCEDURES: Each time you come into the OCCC, write down the exact time of your arrival on your sign-in sheet in the three-ring binder on the small table at the front entrance to the center. (A sample sheet is included in this lab pack) Go directly to the observation room if your lab child is in the classroom, or go into the child's room and watch from the window if the child is playing outside. In extreme weather children may play inside in the hallway where you may observe from the front in an area away from the children. [Do not have physical contact with the children except in an emergency situation in which only you can prevent an injury to a child.] Do not stay in the observation room if your child is outside. It is extremely important that you use all of your time observing and writing. This time is not to be spent on any other activities. When you complete your observation, write down the exact time of your departure on your sign-in sheet, add up your hours and minutes for that day, then add the current day's total to the semester's running total. Write down what activities were observed that day--arrival, departure, free play, art, circle time, language activity, drama center, transitions, outdoor play, big room play, lunch, snacks, music, learning centers, etc. (There should be several.) Initial each entry. By the last day that observations can be done, BE SURE TO PUT YOUR FINAL TOTAL OF HOURS (ex. "10 hours 15 minutes") AND PUT YOUR COMPLETE SIGNATURE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SHEET. At OCCC, leave your sheet in the notebook and I will pick up all the sheets when due. At any other school, follow basically the same procedures, then have the classroom teacher sign your sign-in sheet when your hours are complete. Include the sign-in sheet with your case study and mail or hand deliver to me.

Sign in for yourself and no one else. Creating false observation notes and making false entries on sign-in sheets are violations of OC ethics guidelines. These policies will be strictly enforced. Students are responsible for knowing and following these procedures.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you come to the OC campus, you are strongly encouraged to come to my office and read at least one good case study that has been done by previous students--and the sooner the better. This lets you know what I expect from you. The format of older papers may be slightly different, so be sure you follow instructions in this Lab Pack.

CONFIDENTIALITY: Information learned about any child and any family during the process of observing in the center and reading the developmental charts will be held in strictest confidence and will not be discussed outside the center nor with the parents. (For this reason I will keep your case study.) Parents often come into the observation booth and you are unlikely to be able to distinguish them from the other lab students. If a parent sees you observing their child or hears you discussing the child with other students (positively or negatively), they may become defensive or curious and may question you or ask your opinions about the child's behavior or development. Discourage any discussion by explaining that you are only there to observe and learn, that you are not an expert and are not qualified to make judgments. If you have a concern or opinion about the child's behavior or treatment by teachers or other children, discuss it with the center staff--not with the parents.

LAB NOTES: These notes are the basis for your typewritten case study. Put your name and the page number in the top right corner of each page. Your final sheet will show your total number of pages. Put the day and date at the the beginning of each observation [such as "Mon., Jan 23"] in the upper left corner. Note the time when your child changes locations, activities, moods, or other significant changes. [3:15, 3:22] This will help you analyze your child's areas of interest, disinterest, abilities, attention span, etc. Refer to your child, as well as the other children in the room, by the initial of his/her first name. In both your notes and your case study, teachers may be referred to as "T.", and "ta" may be used for teacher aides.

Begin each observation by noting the curriculum topic or theme of the week (available from the OCCC bulletin boards). Survey the setting and note distinguishing factors for the day--especially unusual weather resulting in a change in routine, holiday or birthday celebrations, special visitors (people or animals), field trips, class picture day, vision screening, etc. Note new materials, equipment or activities set up for the day/week. Your child does not exist in a vacuum, so describe the people and things around him/her so that the interactions are clear.

Try to capture as much as possible of exactly what the child does and says and how it is done or said. Include descriptions of body language--gestures, facial expressions, and movements. Instead of just writing, "B. said..." your might write, "B. whispered..." or "B. shouted..." Describe the rhythm and tempo of body movements (jerky, smooth, easy, jumpy, rapid, quick, slow, leisurely). Your observations should be strictly objective and should include only the actual behaviors you observe. If your child cries, indicate that he/she whimpered, sniffled, sobbed, wept, bawled, or simply looked sad. GIVE LOTS OF DETAILS AND BE SPECIFIC AND DESCRIPTIVE. Use direct quotations to help you analyze your child's language development. Observations should be made in a variety of situations and activities because children show different behaviors under different circumstances. Try to be present at least once when the parent brings or picks up the child so you can observe parent-child interaction. Observe indoor and outdoor play, snack or lunchtime, and structured group activities. Free play offers the child an opportunity for social interactions with adults and children and the chance to choose activities and materials. Each entry should contain some statement of the situation (or context) in which the incident occurred so that it can be properly interpreted. If a child is shouting loudly and excitedly during outdoor play, this would be interpreted quite differently from the same type of shouting during circle time.

Your lab notes do not have to be pretty or neat. You don't have to use complete sentences, or even complete words if you need to abbreviate at times. Spelling and grammar aren't important here. You have to write quickly to get all the information down about a very active child. (Your actual case study, however, should be as close to prefect as you can make it.)

Entries should be professional, objective reporting of facts as far as possible. A generalized statement or tentative interpretation may be necessary to make the picture clearer, but should be based upon adequate facts. (Interpretations and generalizations should be placed in parentheses to differentiate them from factual data.)

Generalizations: "chatters all the time; never takes turns; refuses to share; tends to be messy; is always showing off."
Evaluations: "is insecure; is afraid of heights; doesn't like men; is lazy; is very sensitive, has no friends.
"Personal reaction to child instead of objective reporting of behavior:
" such a good, cute, sweet, pretty/handsome, smart, funny, charming, delightful, adorable angel" (These descriptive adjectives are reserved for doting grandparents!), or " a mischievous, plain, homely, sloppy, clumsy, stupid, slow, silly, rude, obnoxious, irritating, trouble-making brat."
Entries of incidents showing desirable, passive, inconspicuous, or non-participating behavior are as important in giving a true picture of the child as are incidents of undesirable, loud, or dramatic behavior. A child who at first glance is "not doing anything" is actually doing something. It may just be sitting quietly and watching others, but it is something. Guard against recording primarily negative, dramatic incidents. Your notes must not become a report of the child's misdeeds and failure to conform. It should be a fair, objective, balanced, well-rounded picture of the child.

Your notes will be handwritten as you observe and will be mailed or hand delivered to me.)

p. 26

Name of Child Psych Student

Mon., Mar. 8. CIRCUS WEEK {curriculum topic or theme for week}

(Today is a very cold day, so the children have to stay inside. There are some new circus posters up showing circus animals, clowns, and trapeze artists. One mother here with son's clown-shape birthday cake.)
9:15 The Olders were playing in their room. A. was walking along a row of cabinets and drawers, pulling the doors and drawers open and shutting them. At the end of the row was a toy school bus. A. got on her knees and pushed the toy back to the other end, making bus sounds--went around the kids who were watching cartoons. --tried to take the bus back to her cubby but the teacher took it away from her. A. cried about 5 seconds then skipped along with the other children. A. said, "Let's hurry. I want to go outside."
9:30 Next, A. went to art--fingerpaints. She chose red and blue paint. covered half the paper with blue--half with red. made slow, circular movements --kept colors separated. A. looked over and saw her friend J. playing with puzzles, but kept doing her art. A. suddenly made swift, large, jerky movements with both hands, mixed the two colors together all over the paper. Said, "Look, Teacher. I got purple!" The teacher replied that A. had made a pretty purple. A. smiled (seemed proud of her work and pleased with the recognition).

The details in the sample notes above provide information that can be used in the case study in the sections on gross and fine motor skills, language development, creativity, imagination, emotions, attention (ability to attend, or focus), self-esteem, and teacher-child interaction.


TURN IN YOUR CASE STUDY ON TIME-- by 9 p.m. on the due date. You can hand deliver it to my office, or mail it to me a few days earlier so that I receive it on or before the due date.


A penalty will also be assessed for insufficient lab hours.

Your case study must be typed (or word processed) and stapled together. Your handwritten lab notes must be stapled together and turned in with the case study in a 2-pocket, heavy-paper folder (no plastic folders, no brads.) If you mail your paper, use a large manilla envelope--no folder. Ragged edges of lab note pages torn from spiral notebooks must be cut off.

I will collect your lab sign-in sheets (with your hours totaled and your complete signature) from the Children's Center, or you can mail them or bring them to me if you're observing off campus.

Use many specific examples from your notes indicating your child's behaviors and developmental level in various areas. Remember, it is extremely important that the conclusions you draw in this paper be richly supported by your observations.

Supplementary materials needed for your case study:

*Available in the navigational links to the left on this page.
*Erikson's Theory of Personality Development (Psychosocial Stages), text & handout
*Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development, text & handout
*Section on
play from your text Children, by Santrock

Your case study will have a cover sheet with the following information:

Your Name
Odessa College
Child Psychology 2308.WB
                Odessa College Children's Center
(put Toddlers, Youngers, or Olders)
or Name of School and Name of Children's Room, or Age Group
( Your lab child's first and last initials; male or female; age of child in years and months when you began and when you finished observing him/her.)
K. L., male; 3 yr. 4 mo. -- 3 yr. 7 mo.
Date case study is turned in

Put your name and the page number in the top, right corner of every page. Do not count the cover page when numbering.

Your case study will follow an outline form. You will copy every number, letter, and underlined topic onto your paper, followed by your own material. (Double space between the six major categories. Single space the information within that topic.) EACH SECTION HAS SEVERAL TOPICS AND QUESTIONS LISTED. YOU SHOULD INCLUDE ALL OF THEM. Give specific examples and details of what you saw and heard your child do and say that let you know about his/her developmental level, skills, personality, etc. If you were unable to observe certain behaviors or skills during your 10 hours, indicate this on that item. Most areas will be easily observed during this time.

USE ONLY THE FIRST INITIAL OF YOUR LAB CHILD & OTHER CHILDREN IN YOUR PAPER. Do not include names or initials of family members.

USE COLLEGE-QUALITY WRITING SKILLS. Use complete sentences, proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Proofread your work for typographical and spelling errors. Use a dictionary. Use Spell Check and Grammar Check if using a word processor. Poorly-written papers are more difficult to grade than well-written papers.

Note: You need to print the following outline for guidance. You can highlight and copy the outline , then paste it in a word processing document. Then you can remove the spaces and use less paper to print it out. 



A. Developmental information. Give information about your lab child taken from the gold Developmental Questionnaire available from the files in the child's room. DO NOT TAKE THIS FILE FROM THE LAB. (Ask at other schools to see if this type of information is available.)DO NOT PHOTOCOPY IT. Write down the information you need (only what is asked for here). Do not include precise identifying information such as the child's exact birthdate, names of family members, or exact occupations of parents. Include developmental information such as delivery, ages baby began sitting, crawling, walking, speaking words and sentences. Also include unusual information noted by the parent (health problem, etc.). Look for items that may explain your child's behavior, reinforce what you've seen, or contradict what you've noticed. The child may act one way at home, another way at school or may be growing out of a stage, maturing, developing, or changing. It may have been a year since the parent filled out the form. Look at this early in the semester. If any requested info is missing from the form or it is more than a year old, ask a staff member if the parents could update it. If you still can't get the info, state this in your paper.
B. Physical description. Give a complete physical description of the child. Discuss height and body build in comparison to other children the same age, hair color and style, and any other distinguishing features.
C. Selection of child. State your reasons for selecting this particular child.
D. Lab setting. Give a complete description of your child's room--arrangement, equipment, decorations, etc. List and describe each interest center--materials and equipment, activities performed there.

II. MOTOR DEVELOPMENT (List and discuss every skill listed here. Use specific examples to describe each skill you observe--how, where, how well. Then list all the remaining skills you were unable to observe. The fewer skills you see, the more details you need to indluce about the ones you did see.)

A. Gross (large) motor skills [13]. Describe the types of gross motor skills the child engaged in and how his/her performance compared to other childrenthe same age. Include walking, running, jumping, climbing, throwing, catching, riding a tricycle, swinging, hopping, galloping, skipping, dancing, gymnastics skills (balancing, etc.), and any other skills observed.
B. Fine (small) motor skills [15]. Describe the types of fine motor activities your child engaged in and tell how his/her performance compared to other children the same age. Include handling small objects, pincer grasp (using the thumb and index finger to pick up objects), eating, buttoning, zipping, tying shoelaces,dressing, undressing, working puzzles, cutting, pasting, coloring, painting, manipulating blocks, hand motions to songs, and any other skills observed.

III. COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT (Use specific examples for each area.)

A. Number concepts. Discuss the child's ability to count with comprehension and tell what the child counted (plates, blocks, etc.). How high can he/she count? Tell if the child used pre-math words such as "more", "less", "bigger", "longer", "shorter", indicating understanding of quantity or size.

B. Attention and problem-solving style. Discuss the child's ability (or inability) to attend (pay attention, focus or concentrate) to various activities or projects. Tell how many minutes he/she stays at each major area or activity. [Example, "She often spent from three to fifteen minutes on art activities."] What did your child seem to enjoy doing the most? the least? When working (or playing), is he/she easily distracted by other people, noises, etc.? When faced with a new activity, does the child get frustrated easily and give up or keep trying for a long time? C. Reasoning ability and learning Tell if your child indicated by words or actions that he/she "figured out" something--how to work something, how to get to something he/she wanted, why something happened, etc. What has this child learned while you observed? What specific problems has he/she solved?

[Remember, the child may learn that some things aren't allowed, and that some things don't work.]D. Curiosity, creativity and imagination. How does this child show (1) curiosity about things around him/her? exploratory tendencies? Give examples of (2) creativity (new, different, unusual, original)things the child has made, said, or done. How did this child use his/her (3) imagination (imaginary activities,people, creatures, etc.)?

E. Memory. Discuss child's (1) short term and (2) long term memory abilities. How has the child indicated remembering usual daily routines, people, special events from past? Discuss any memory errors.

F. Piaget's stages of cognitive development. In observing your child, determine which stage and substage, your child is in, according to Jean Piaget's theory. Give specific examples, reasons for your answer. Use your text and handout to help you answer this section.


A. Phonetics. Does the child pronounce words clearly and correctly? Quote "bigger" words pronounced correctly. Quote any pronunciation errors. [Example: She says "fwee" for "three"; "teeter" for "teacher".]

B. Semantics. Quote several of this child’s "bigger" vocabulary words (words the child says). (This is active/productive vocabulary). How does this child's vocabulary compare with that of other children the same age? How well does the child understand the meaning of words used by others? (This is passive/receptive vocabulary). Give examples of specific directions given by the teacher and describe whether the child understood and followed them. [Child may understand but not want to do it.] List any examples of child's misunderstanding word meanings.

C. Syntax. Does the child generally use good grammar? Quote examples of correct grammar, then quote any grammatical errors you heard and try to explain the reason for these errors.

D. Pragmatics. Does your child speak when appropriate and keep quiet when appropriate? Does the child speak especially loudly or softly? in a pleasant tone quality? How does the child use language? To whom does he/she speak, and in what settings? To what extent does the child use egocentric speech (failing to take the listener's viewpoint into account) vs. socialized speech? How effectively is the child able to communicate with peers? with teachers? Give examples in detail. Tell how this child communicates. Describe non-verbal communicationbody language, gestures, facial expressions –especially if the child is not yet very verbal.

E. General complexity. Quote four to six typical sentences spoken by your child, including the longest one. Compute the average length of the sentences [# words] spoken by your child. (Be sure to average in some of the shorter sentences.) How does your child's language compare with that of the other children in the room?

(Indicate if your child is younger or older than the other children, or about the average of others in the room.)

          Text, Children, Santrock, 8th ed., pp. 369-70

A. Play. What types of play does your child engage in? Number, list, and underline each type. Give specific examples of each type--1 practice, 2 pretense/symbolic, 3 social, 4 constructive [this is making or building something--2- or 3-dimensional art, puzzles, blocks, legos, sand castles, etc.], 5 games. Tell which ones he/she does not use. Tell what % of time the child spends in group play? % alone? Is this age-appropriate? What have you observed the child learning from play? What gender differences in play activities have you noticed? What toys/activities are both sexes involved with? girls only? boys only?
B. Interactions with peers.
Give examples of each behavior. How does your child interact with other children? How is he/she a follower or a leader? How does he/she influence the others, if at all? When & how is the child friendly, cooperative, hostile, outgoing, withdrawn? Does the child engage in aggressive behavior? When? why? to whom? and how? How does the child react to aggression expressed by others? Who does the child spend the most time with? How do the other children react to this child? Does the child express sympathy to others or help them in any way?
C. Interactions with adults.

1. Parents. Describe the parent-child interaction if observed. Was the child's behavior different when the parent was there? How? How did the parent relate to the child? What was said?

2. Teachers. Does the child have a favorite teacher? How does the child relate to various adults in the room--lead teacher, aide, child development students, other visitors? Compared to the others, how well does the child listen & follow the teachers' requests and instructions? Is the child clingy, dependent or independent? How do the teachers react to this child? How do the teachers deal with problems concerning this child? What methods of guidance and control are used with all children? tone of voice? How are positive actions reinforced? How do the teachers help this child learn? How much attention does this child get from teachers?

D. Erikson's theory of personality development (psychosocial stages). In observing your child, determine which stage, or stages, your child is in, according to Erik Erkison's theory. Give specific examples and reasons for your answer. Use your Handout to help answer this section.
E. Emotions. Describe the emotions that your child expressed. Does he/she cry easily? become frustrated? indicate that he/she is happy, mad, sad, hurt, etc.? (Give specific examples of
situations for each.)
F. Self esteem. How would you describe the self-esteem of the child--high, low, average, a combination? What have you observed that causes you to draw this conclusion?


A. Developmental Milestones. You can get a copy from our online Child Psych course. You may need to download Adobe Acrobat (free) in order to copy it. Or you can go to the front desk of LRC. Check out the Developmental Milestones folder for this course and make a copy of the complete handout to keep for your files to study for state boards or other accreditation tests.  Find the age section that corresponds to your lab child’s age. Choose several items from each developmental section on the list. Compare your lab child’s developmental abilities with those listed and describe how your child is on target, behind, or ahead of schedule in each area. Give specific examples. [Keep in mind there is a very broad range of "normal" as far as the ages that different children reach various milestones.]

B. Developmental evaluation. Summarize how your lab child is doing in each area--social, emotional, cognitive, physical, & language development. In what areas is your child most advanced for his/her age? Which abilities are least developed? Which areas are average? Why do you think so?

C. Preschool program. Do you think the preschool program is meeting your child's needs? Which needs? Why or why not? If you were this child's teacher, what kinds of activities and experiences would you plan to help foster his/her development? Plan a very specific activity for this child (even if you think the program is perfect as is). Choose an area that you just determined in section VI-C of this paper that your child is weakest in and tell how it would help which area of development. (Don't be too general, such as "more art", "more numbers", "more time reading", "more time working/playing with other children", "more time learning the alphabet," "use flash cards." Again, (BE SPECIFIC AND DETAILED.)

Describe in detail how observing the child and writing the case study was valuable to you. Even the people most experienced in working with, or parenting, children continually learn new lessons from them. What was new to you? What surprised you? What do you expect to remember the most vividly? What previous knowledge was reinforced? How can you apply what you have learned to your personal and professional life, both now and in the future?

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