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Assessment: Appreciating Children's Development Using Parents' and Teachers' Observations
By Harold Ireton Ph.D

Early childhood teachers need practical tools for appreciating the development of young children. Assessing children's functioning is an essential part of child care and education (Mindes, Ireton, Mardell, 1996). Young children's development is best appreciated by observing them in action in their everyday environments at home and in preschool. To make best use of their observations teachers need a systematic approach to observing what each child is doing. Observation guides, child development charts, and summary sheets are helpful tools for teachers.

Teachers also need methods for asking parents to report what their child is doing, along with their questions and concerns. Parent-completed questionnaires obtained prior to parent-teacher conferences provide the parent's perspective. They promote parent involvement, teacher preparation, parent-teacher collaboration, and child-parent-teacher learning.

The Child Development Inventories described here include 1) tools for obtaining information from parents and 2) tools for helping teachers be better observers and make better educational use of their observations. For parents, there are brief age-related questionnaires and a longer Child Development Inventory, for in-depth assessment. For teachers, there is a brief Child Development Chart and a longer Teacher's Observation Guide. This Guide includes instructions for observation, detailed lists of developmental skills, and a child development summary sheet. Using these tools helps create a clearer understanding of the child and his/her educational needs and contributes to focused educational plans for each child.

Teachers and parents both need to answer the questions "How well is this child doing?" and "What does this child need?" Teachers need to answer two main questions about the children in their program in order to plan for their education:

  • How do I appreciate the development and learning of each child in my program? (What tools do I use routinely?)
  • What can I and others do to assess those children who are not doing well? (What do I do additionally?)

It is worth mentioning here that "observation" has two meanings:

1.       What I see and hear when I am watching.

2.       What I learn from what I see and hear, what it means to me and whether it concerns me.

Our appreciation of what and how well a child is doing depends on how much we know about children's development and how well we have come to know a child. To answer the question "How well is this child doing?" we need to know the child well. Here it is important to recognize that most often parents are "the experts" on their child. We need to know what they know about their child.

Parent Questionnaires
Two brief parent questionnaires—the Infant Development Inventory and the Child Development Review—are designed to be used routinely to help the teacher prepare for parent-teacher conferences. A longer Child Development Inventory is for assessment of children age 18 months to six years whose development is a concern.

Infant Development Inventory
First 18 months

Four questions ask parents to describe your baby, report the infant's activities, your questions and concerns, and how you are doing as a parent. Parents use an Infant Development Chart on the backside to report their child's development in five areas-social, self help, gross motor, fine motor, and language.


Child Development Review
18 months to Kindergarten

Six questions ask parents to describe your child, child's activities, strengths, special problems, parent's questions and concerns, and parent's functioning. The CDR includes a Possible Problems checklist (25 items) that covers vision, hearing, health, growth, development, habits, and behavior problems. It also includes a Child Development Chart—First Five years on the backside, which is used for discussion with the parents. The following is a sample excerpt from the Parent Questionnaire (a mother's report):


1.       Please describe your child briefly.

Very happy kid. Loves to play. Some "terrible twos" stuff.


2.       What has your child been doing lately?

Loves to climb on things. Puts train track together.


3.       What are your child's strengths?

A real sweet kid.


4.       Does your child have any special problems or disabilities? What are they?

Health-urinary reflux. Healthy otherwise.


5.       What questions or concerns do you have about your child?

Not talking very much. Eating – skips meals – used to eat everything.


6.       How are you doing, as a parent and otherwise, at this time?

Three children - very busy. Hard to find time for self. Doing pretty well.


7.       Possible Problems Checked:

·        Health – urinary reflux

·        Eating

·        Sleep— "up at night"

·        Does not talk well for age

·        Temper tantrums


Child Development Inventory 
18 months-six years

This 300 item Inventory is for assessment of children whose development is a concern. Nine developmental scales profile the child's development, including strengths and delays, in the following areas: social, self help, gross motor, fine motor, expressive language, language comprehension, letters, numbers, and general development. The CDI includes a Problems checklist similar to the Child Development Review. There is a booklet and answer sheet for parents, a CDI Profile sheet for results and a manual. The CDI was standardized and validated on a group of 568 one to six year olds.

Teachers' Observation Tools 
Teacher's Observation Guide—
The TOG Manual describes a systematic approach for observing and recording young children's activities, for determining how well a child is doing, for holding parent-teacher conferences, and for planning educational activities. The TOG booklet describes behaviors of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers (340 items) in the following areas: social, self help, gross motor, fine motor, language, letter and number skills. This provides an ongoing record of the child's development from infancy to school age. Twenty-three items record the teacher's concerns about the child's social adjustment/behavior problems, maturity, motor, and language development. If teachers prefer, a briefer Child Development Chart (98 items) may be used. The TOG includes a Child Development Summary Sheet covering the child's interests, development (social, self help, gross and fine motor, language, cognitive/learning), adjustment (to center, teachers, children),personal style, and educational needs.

Parent-Teacher Conferences
Information from the parent questionnaire provides the parent perspective. This information, especially parents' questions and concerns, helps the teacher prepare for the conference. The conference begins by keying on the parents point of view. The Teacher's Observation Guide - booklet (or briefer Child Development Chart) plus the Child Development-summary Sheet helps the teacher organize her observations and present her experience of the child to the parents. Teachers report that parents welcome the opportunity to play a more active role in conferences and that completing the questionnaire helps them organize their thoughts. Teachers know, in advance, what is on parents' minds and come better prepared. Most important, conferences are more productive.

The parent questionnaires, the Teacher's Observation Guide, and the Child Development Chart are all standardized-based on established norms. Frequencies of parents' concerns regarding their children's vision, hearing, health, development, and behavior have been studied. Parents are most often concerned about child behavior/discipline, next about their language development. Concerns about language and motor development and passive behavior have been found to be related to need for early childhood/special education.

Harold Ireton is a developmental psychologist who is interested in the development of young children, their parents, and their teachers. He is the author of the Child Development Inventories and Teacher's Observation Guide described in this article. He presents workshops regarding their use in early childhood education. The Child Development Inventories and Teacher's Observation Guide are available from: Behavior Science Systems, Box 580274, Minneapolis, MN 55458; Telephone 612-929-6220.


Mindes, G., Ireton, H., and Mardell-Czudnowski, C. (1996). Assessing Young Children. Albany, New York: Delmar Publishers.