Now that it's the end of the year, I'd like to create a profile of each child in my group to give to their parents. I'm hoping this will also help next year's teachers have a clear picture of how far the children have come this year and what expectations they might have for next year. Do you have any suggestions for informal assessments?

Creating this profile will give you an extremely valuable tool. The process will be especially useful if you can create the profiles in collaboration with parents. Together, you can construct a developmental profile that includes both the child's strengths and vulnerabilities.

The key to creating a profile that will be beneficial to parents as well as to other teachers is to make sure it includes the most critical areas of development. It should also reveal the child's true range of functioning, including those things he is best at, even if those are only evident some of the time.

If this process is to be a true collaboration, differences of opinion between teachers and parents will need to be resolved through joint observation and discussion. It may very well be, for example, that a child behaves one way at home and another way at school. What this tells you is that the child has a range of functioning that is expressed differently in different situations. All aspects of the range are meaningful for the profile. The fact that a child may hide under the chair or withdraw from other children in a noisy, overloaded environment is no less relevant than the fact that the child is a charming and creative player and debater at home.

Educators and parents both need to be aware of where to look and what to look for. Learning from formal tests, whether a child is eager to stack blocks, use three-word phrases or full sentences, or search behind things for a toy is not so essential. Unfortunately, we tend to focus on this kind of concrete and specific measure of cognitive, social, and motor ability. We have allowed our tests to determine what it is that we value rather than using common sense to establish what it is that makes up a well-developing human being.

Developmental Milestones

What we should be focusing on are functional developmental milestones. Observing with the following six of those milestones in mind will enable you to see how well a child is functioning compared to age-appropriate expectations:

  • By 3 months, the infant learns to focus, to attend, and to calm himself. Ask yourself: Does the baby usually show interest in things around him by looking at sights and turning toward sounds?
  • By 5 months, the baby engages in budding relationships with warmth and trust. Ask yourself: Does the baby seem happy or pleased to see you or other familiar people? Is the baby looking and smiling, making sounds or some other gesture, such as moving arms, that indicates pleasure or delight?
  • By 9 months, we see purposeful interaction, with a variety of emotional gestures and facial expressions, as well as pointing at or showing things. Ask yourself: Is the baby able to show what she wants by reaching for or pointing at something, reaching out to be picked up, or making purposeful noises?
  • By 14 to 18 months, a child can organize a series of interactions and problem solve through social means. Ask yourself: Can the child take you to the toy area and point to the toy he wants?
  • By 24 to 30 months, the child should be able to use ideas in imaginative ways including pretend-play; express needs, wants, and desires; and negotiate a little bit. Ask yourself: Can the toddler respond to people talking or playing with him by using words or sequences of sounds that are clearly meant to convey a word? Is the toddler able to imitate familiar actions, such as feeding or hugging a doll? Is the toddler able to follow simple, one-step directions to meet a basic need, such as "take the banana on the table"?
  • By 24 to 48 months, the child should be able to build bridges between ideas, combining them in a logical way. Ask yourself: Can the child answer the question "What do you want?" Can he engage in pretend play with another person in which the sequence of events makes sense? Can he begin to describe wishes and needs.

We want to see how well the child is able to demonstrate, at school and at home, mastery of these six core essentials. (If the child is 3 or older, we expect mastery of all six milestones; if he's between 2 and 3, the first five milestones.)

Secondary Skills

If a child is showing good mastery of these six capacities, then we can look more specifically at the supporting capabilities. Specifically, these include language, motor skills, sensory skills, and emotional skills. So, for example, if you are looking at the age-appropriateness of the child's language skills, you can observe whether or not he is able to articulate what he wants in an appropriate manner and if he understands what others are communicating to him. To assess fine- and gross-motor skills, you might observe how a 4-year-old holds a pencil, or if he can run, jump, and throw and catch a ball. Looking at the child's social skills, you can observe whether he is able to cooperate, share, and do things with other children.

However, consider these specific skills only secondarily, AFTER looking at the core developmental milestones. If a child has the basic mastery of those, he's probably got pretty good mastery of these "support troops." It may be the case that he has some unevenness. He may be a little slow in his fine-motor abilities, or he may still not be able to throw and catch a ball. He may be able to play with other children, but not be able to share very well. We can help the child practice in specific areas.

If the child is behind in the core milestones to a significant degree, immediately recommend a complete clinical evaluation. Fortunately, there is much we can do about any problems with developmental growth, such as adding extra floor time, including opportunities to practice skills involved in relating, interacting, and communicating with others. This practice works remarkably well to help children move up the ladder of their emotional-developmental skills. In addition, some children may need occupational therapy or speech therapy. The earlier all these things are identified, the better. Remember: If the child is functioning at age-appropriate levels for the core milestones, and there is just a little difficulty with supporting skills, a little extra practice at school or at home may well do the trick.