Infants & Toddlers: How to Assess Children's Progress

Working closely with parents can help you get a clear picture of how far children have progressed.

By Carla Poole
  • Grades: Early Childhood, Infant, PreK–K, 1–2
Questions for Families
Here are some important questions to ask parents to help you assess children's progress:
Have you noticed any new behaviors? What are they?
Do you have any questions about these behaviors?
Do you have any questions or concerns about specific areas of your child's development? About your child's development in general?

THE FIRST THREE YEARS OF LIFE IS A PERIOD OF EXTRAordinary growth and development-more than any other time of life! It can be a dizzying feat just to keep up with a child's blossoming accomplishments. She may be cruising one day and then toddling the next. Her few early words may begin to cascade into a labeling waterfall. Daily interactions with infants and toddlers help you learn about obvious changes. However, it takes focused observations to understand a child's overall development.

Closely watch a child and write down exactly what you see so that you can learn who she is and how she is growing and learning. To get the most from your observations:

  • Use descriptive writing to capture the quality of the child's behavior-"Janiesha held the doll tightly as she slowly edged toward the doll bed."
  • Jot down short notes on index cards or self-stick labels and put these in the child's folder or portfolio.
  • Observe the child regularly, and over time, in different settings: While she is playing with water, getting ready for naptime, enjoying snack, or playing outside with other toddlers, for example.

Written observations help you understand the "why's" behind a child's behavior. With behavior you want to change, such as hitting or pushing, ask yourself, "What is this child experiencing right now? What is she telling us through her behavior?" Try to find the cause of the behavior rather than assuming that the child is naughty. You might notice, for example, that Nellie tends to hit when she is in the housekeeping corner, a part of the room that is often crowded. With this information, you might change your room layout and expand that area.

Use what you learn from your observations to individualize your program and create a plan that meets the specific needs of each child.

All forms of assessment should support the parent-child relationship and the parents' confidence in themselves as parents and in their children. It is especially important to develop a trusting relationship with parents before you express concerns about their child's development. Parents will need your patient support if their child needs to be referred for services provided by other developmental specialists.

  • Subjects:
    Assessment, Child and Infant Care, Social and Emotional Development, Working with Families and the Community
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