Kylie is a four-year-old girl enrolled in a small preschool with children of other ex-pats in Hong Kong. Kylie’s father is Australian while her mother is Chinese. She basically speaks English, but her mother speaks to her in Mandarin so that she can understand other Chinese children. Her preschool has mostly foreign children and she seems to get along well with all of them.
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She was born in Hong Kong but has traveled to Australia to visit her grandparents thrice. Since her parents’ work requires them to travel a lot, they have taken Kylie with them on their trips. Her father is a practicing architect while her mother works as an advertising executive. Both married in their early thirties and had Kylie in their mid-thirties. Kylie is their first and only child. She has a nanny to care for her in the absence of her parents, and her maternal grandparents also visit and stay with her most of the week.
This child observation report focuses on Kylie’s cognitive, social, and language development. The observation tools used were anecdotal records, checklists, and rating scales. The researcher shall be referred to as the observer in this report.
Observations involve a keen and careful watch of another person or group of people and systematically recording what is seen and heard during that observation episode (Mertler, 2006). Observation is a useful method for use when researching children and their experiences. When the observer/researcher gets to interact with them and even participate in what they are doing, it is also known as “participant observation”. It is defined as “the process of learning through exposure to or involvement in the day-to-day or routine activities of participants in the research setting” (Schensul, Schensul & LeCompte, 1999, p. 91)
The researcher/observer observed Kylie in her preschool class, with the permission of her parents and the school administrators and teachers. This preschool implements a play-based program for the children. During play, it was noted that children learn naturally, demonstrating better communication and social interaction skills as well as creativity in their play. They also exhibit vivid imaginations and can think of more ideas. According to their teacher, play helps children develop problem-solving capacities. Hence the teachers design activities that are play-like and fun, but with inherent goals of developing the children’s skills and learning basic concepts.
The observer stayed unobtrusive as much as she can while she was observing Kylie. When allowed to interact with the child, she also noted down her observations in Kyle’s cognitive, social, and language development but in a way that does not interfere with their interactions. The observer came up with anecdotal records from her observation journal but requested Kylie’s teacher to provide her a copy of her checklists and rating scales for the said developmental domains. The observer gained further information about Kylie as she interviewed her teacher.
Anecdotal Records (See Appendix 1)
Kylie was observed in the playground playing with her peers and then she was observed in the classroom, working on the table on her own and with another child. The observer wrote down all her observations in a notebook while actively and unobtrusively observing Kylie. The anecdotal record in the appendix was written in an objective manner without any interpretation of her behaviors. It narrated how she initiated her interaction with her peers as she saw them playing. It also took note of what she said.
In the final anecdotal record, the observer was able to directly interact with the child and observe her up close. She recorded their conversation and then transcribed it. It showed a glimpse into Kylie’s language development.
Checklist (See Appendix 2)
The checklist used in observing Kylie’s development is derived from Allen & Marotz (2003). The checklist for four-year-olds provided basic skills expected at Kylie’s age.
Rating Scales (See Appendix 3)
Kylie was rated using the Personal and Social Development Scale, part of a full Rating Scale for K2 Students provided in class.
The observations on Kylie will focus more on her cognitive, social, and language development. Interpretations on the observations will be supported by some theories from the literature.
Analysis of Kylie’s Cognitive, Social, and Language Development
Based on Theory and Observation
Kylie belongs to Piaget’s Preoperational Period (two to seven years). This stage is a time when a child represents objects and knowledge by imitating them, engaging in symbolic play, drawing their ideas corresponding to their mental images and spoken language (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969). Children at this stage are not yet adept at conservation skills. This skill reflects the child’s awareness and knowledge that whatever physical order or arrangement objects are subjected to, their quantity, mass, and volume do not change. For example, 5 beads remain the same number whether they are lined up in a straight line or formed in a circle (Brewer, 2001). In the anecdote of Kylie and Jonathan playing with play dough, Kylie was not aware that the number and sizes of balls of playdough were related, and changing the size of balls in her share will not affect the quantity of her share unless Jonathan takes a piece of it. She just knew that he had to get from another source (Tina) to increase his share and to leave her with what is left of her share so she can make something she wants with the quantity left.
Kylie is a very smart little girl who can express herself well and use her imagination to suit her purpose. For example, in her play with other children, she was easily able to adapt to their imaginative play and provide her own ideas. She claimed to be a butterfly and even moved like one, also using movements and props to further show her ideas to others. In Piagetian terms, this is how children engage in symbolic play.
In the observer’s conversation with Kylie, it was observed that she stays within the topic and exchanges ideas with the observer. The developmental checklist provided by her teacher reported that Kylie can sit through a story for about 5 minutes, meaning her attention span is long, helping her maximize her learning. She also comprehends instructions well and can implement them with ease. She also knows her basic concepts expected for children her age, such as colors, shapes, numbers, and letters. According to her teacher, Kylie is a fast learner and is eager, and retains what she has learned easily. From the observations, she was recalling that ‘turtles, trucks and tigers’ all begin with the letter T. It was a very recent lesson in their class.
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Much credit should be given to her home and preschool environment for encouraging Kylie to express herself well enabling the observer to evaluate her intelligence in just a short period of time.
Kylie is in Erikson’s Initiative vs. Guilt Stage of Psychosocial Development (1963). In this stage, children attempt to show their independence by doing things on their own. One way is initiating help to others. However, due to their awkward movements, their noble intentions at helping may backfire by committing mistakes or having small accidents in the process. When this happens, they feel guilty for the damage done (Brewer, 2001). In the observation, Kylie initiated interaction with others. She seemed eager to join the group and they welcomed her with open arms. Being in the Initiative vs. Guilt Psychosocial stage, Kylie tries to belong to a group of her own which helps her plan out her actions within the group while staying within the prescribed social and moral boundaries (Nixon and Aldwinckle, 2003). They also learn how to resolve conflicts, which is essential in the development of their social-cognition and socio-emotional skills (Marion, 2007). When her friend Jonathan got some of the playdough she was playing with, Kylie was upset because she was planning to use it for her work. However, to resolve the conflict, she just gave Jonathan part of her share of the playdough and told him to ask another child for playdough. Here, she was learning how to compromise to the request of others while also achieving her own goals.
According to Beaty (2009), even infants learn communication skills, mostly through non-verbal ways. These prepare them for the oral and written language they will be engaging in when they grow older. At 6 months of age, they rely on sounds to understand their world, aside from their other sensorial modes. At 20 months, they may have already learned a huge vocabulary especially if they are exposed to very verbal adults. This emphasizes the significance of good hearing and sensitive listening in language development. Kylie’s language development may have been eventful because she has a good vocabulary for her age. This may stem from the fact that being an only child, she is in the company of mature adults who talk around her, allowing her to learn the words they use. However, her pronunciation may not yet be too clear for some words
Lindfors (1987) theorizes that almost every child learns language communication even without any special training, as long as she is exposed to language structures in various interactions with others. Part of her cognitive development is the learning of a “deep-level, abstract, and highly complex system of linguistic structure and use” ( p. 90). This mostly happens in the first five years of life. According to Lev Vygotsky (1978), interaction with others helps stimulate and enhance children’s language development. If this is supported by and pleasant and interactive environment, then it can help the children reach “a higher level of knowledge and performance compared to what might be reached through his or her ability to improve independently” (Lightbown and Spada, 2006, p. 23). That is why adults around Kylie should support her curiosity and initiatives to learn more about the world around her. If she sees them excited about learning, then she will develop a love for learning as well.
It was amusing conversing with Kylie. The part where she confused ‘write’ from ‘right’ was seamless in its transition from the topic of writing words to directional concepts, and she went on to demonstrate how she had a left and a right hand. Her pronunciation of some words was still not too clear but understandable (‘tuhtels, twuks, tygrs’ for turtles, trucks, tigers). As she grows older she will be able to speak more clearly as her oral muscles develop
Kylie is at par or even above the level of her peers in terms of language. She is very fluent in her speaking, considering she is bilingual. Her first language is English, although her mother is trying hard to make her learn Chinese. However, she does not seem to be confused with the usage of the 2 languages. Perhaps this is because she is not as fluent in Mandarin as she is in English. With English as her first language, she is more comfortable expressing herself in that language. Learning Chinese may come easy for Kylie because she is in Hong Kong where most people speak the language. Swain & Lapkin (2000) argue that referring to the first language is most effective in learning the second language because the learner needs to have a familiar language base to draw from in order to learn something new. Hence, Kylie’s parents should work together in trying to balance her learning of both first and second languages. The studies of Bowers & Kennison (2011) and Kroll and Stewart (1994) prove that language learners shift from their first language to their second and back in understanding certain words.
Recommendations for Kylie’s Optimized Development
Kylie seems to be eager to befriend others, as she openly welcomes interactions. She is a very sociable little girl who is confident and pleasant to be with. The adults around her should encourage this so that her cognitive, social, and language skills will be further enhanced. However, she should also be taught about the dangers related to talking to strangers to prevent her from just going with them or giving delicate information to others.
Her parents and teachers in preschool seem to be doing well in helping Kylie develop the necessary skills expected of her age. It is Kylie that seems to go beyond those expectations. In these modern times, children are actually viewed as having the ability to understand their world better and can exhibit competence in a variety of skills even from a very young age. Being provided with the stimuli that can nudge Kylie to learn basic knowledge and skills, Kylie eagerly engages in higher-order thinking as she is curious to know more about what is being handed to her. Her preschool implements a developmentally-appropriate early childhood education program (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1997) and it seems to be working well with Kylie. It uses play as a technique for learning the basics, and perhaps, more. Such a play-like atmosphere in the preschool addresses the children’s interests, and it is likely to capture and hold their attention and address all domains of their development.
Self-Reflection on Observation
As the observer in this case study, I realized just how difficult it is to observe young children with the purpose of gauging how much they have developed. Still, despite this challenge, it is important to observe them determine how much they have learned and the proper direction of where they should go. Knowing some background information or theories on child development is essential in observing with a critical eye. It can help the observer interpret the speech and actions of the child better. It guides adults on the preparation of an environment conducive to learning and the provision of meaningful and relevant experiences to optimize their learning.
Unobtrusive observation is not as easy as it seems if one wants a more accurate evaluation of children. One should be very sensitive and detailed and be able to exercise restraint in the observation so that the child is not disturbed in her natural setting. Noting down the observations should stick to facts. Any subjective comments, if any, should be written on a separate sheet. This was difficult because Kylie was absolutely adorable that I, as an observer cannot help but watch out for her cute and amusing antics. However, I needed to be aware that it is Kylie’s cognitive, social, and language development that was being evaluated. I was excited to finally get the opportunity to talk to her up close. As expected, she bewitched me with her spunky and endearing personality. For a four-year-old, she was able to hold a sensible conversation and kept it interesting. It was obvious that she is a smart, confident, and gregarious little girl that one cannot help but be magnetized with her. Our interaction only lasted for about 15 minutes but I was able to learn so much about her. I am aware that not all children can be as easy to relate to as Kylie, that some can be difficult to coax out of their shells, and I am fortunate that I was assigned to observe Kylie.
Allen, K.E., & Marotz, L.R. (2003). Developmental profiles: Pre-birth through 12 (4th ed.). Clifton Park, NY: Delmar.
Beaty, J.J. (2009). 50 Early childhood literacy strategies. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.
Bowers, J.M. & Kennison, S.M. (2011). The role of age of acquisition in bilingual word translation: Evidence from Spanish-English bilinguals. Journal Of Psycholinguistic Research, 40(4), 275-289.
Brewer, J.A. (2001). Introduction to early childhood education. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Erikson, E. H. (1963). Childhood and society (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Norton.
Kroll, K., & Stewart, E. (1994). Category interference in translation and picture naming: Evidence for asymmetric connection between bilingual memory representations. Journal Of Memory And Language, 33, 149-174.
Lightbown, P.M. & Spada, N. (2006). How languages are learned. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Lindfors, J.W. (1987). Children’s language and learning (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc.
Marion, M. (2007). Guidance of young children. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc.
Mertler, G.A. (2006). Action research. Teachers as researchers in the classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
National Association for the Education of Young Children (1997). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8: a position statement of the national association for the education of young children. Washington, DC, WA: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Nixon, D. & Aldwinckle, M. (2003). Exploring child development from three to six years (2nd ed.). Tuggerah, Australia: Social Science Press.
Piaget, J. & Inhelder, B. (1969). The psychology of the child. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Schensul, S. L., Schensul, J. J. & LeCompte, M. D. (1999). Essential ethnographic Methods, observations, interviews, and questionnaires (Book 2 in Ethnographer’s Toolkit). Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press.
Swain, M. & Lapkin, S. (2000). Task-based second language learning: The uses of the first language. Language Teaching Research 4(3), 251–274.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
In the playground, Kylie was seen watching other children play. She saw some girls laughing and pretending they were butterflies and flowers in the garden. Kylie walked to where they were near the swings. She smiled when she heard them laugh out loud and sometimes laughed along as she inched forward to hear them better. Eventually, one girl asked her if she was a flower or a butterfly. Kylie said she’s a butterfly. Then she spread her arms sideways and flapped them like wings. Then she rode on one swing and said she left her wings at home. The girls took turns down the slide and then said flowers were being blown by the wind.
Back in the classroom, Kylie was observed playing with dough with other children, forming different-sized balls. Jonathan reached for one of Kylie’s big balls and flattened it on the table. Kylie said “Hey!” and got back the flattened dough. Jonathan frowned and said, “But I need some!”. Kylie ignored him and kept pounding on her play dough and moved all the pieces of dough away from Jonathan. He just stared at her quietly and after about a minute, Kylie gave him a piece of dough and told him, “Here.. go now and ask Tina. I want to make more with these”.
The observer approached Kylie while she was seated in the waiting area. Kylie was very pleasant to talk to, as she was not shy at all and was very verbal. The following is a snippet of their conversation.
Kylie: What are you doing?
Observer: I am writing.
Kylie: You not drawing?
Observer: No. How about you, what are you doing?
Kylie: Just waiting here for my mum. I can draw!
Observer: Oh really? What sort of things do you draw?
Kylie: ‘tuhtels, twuks, tygrs’ (turtles, trucks, tigers). All start with letter T!
Observer: Yes, you are right! Can you also write the letter T? (hands Kylie her notebook and pen)
Kylie: It’s easy! (writes capital letter T).
Observer: Wow! You are a good writer of letter T
Kylie: Thanks… I can also do it with my left hand.
Observer: Oh you mean right and left hands?
Kylie: I have two hands…. This is left (raises left hand) and this is right (raises right hand).
Developmental Checklist for Four Year olds
|What Four-Year Olds Can Do||Yes||No||Sometimes|
| ||x |
Rating Scales (Personal and Social Development)
|Assessed Items||Excellent||Very Good||Good||Poor||Remarks|
|1. Takes responsibility for his/her own belongings||x|
|2. Is willing to share||x|
|3. Greets teachers and classmates||x|
|4. Participates in group activities||x|
|5. works collaboratively with others||x|
|6. understands his/her emotions||x|