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Observation Guidelines: Observing Young Children's Play Activities

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Exploratory Play with Objects

Look For:

  • Interest in exploring objects in the environment
  • Ability to manipulate objects
  • Use of multiple senses in exploratory play

Example:

When Tyler sees a new jack-in-the-box among the supply of toys in the playroom, he picks it up, inspects it on all sides, and begins to turn the crank (although not enough to make “Jack” pop out). After Tyler leaves it to play with something else, Sarah picks it up. Rather than visually inspecting it, however, she sniffs it, then puts the crank in her mouth and begins to suck and chew on it.

Implication:

Provide a wide variety of toys and other objects for infants and toddlers to explore and experiment with, making sure that all are safe, clean, and nontoxic. Anticipate that children may use these things in creative ways (and not necessarily in the ways their manufacturers intended) and will move frequently from one object to another.

Group Play

Look For:

  • Extent to which children play with one another
  • Extent to which children in a play group coordinate their play activities

Example:

Lamarr and Matthew are playing with trucks in the sandbox, but each boy seems to be in his own little world.

Implication:

Give children opportunities to play together, and provide toys that require a cooperative effort.

Use of Symbolic Thought and Imagination

Look For:

  • Extent to which children use one object to stand for another
  • Extent to which children incorporate imaginary objects into their play

Example:

Julia tells her friend she is going to the grocery store, then opens an imaginary car door, sits on a chair inside her “car,” steers an imaginary steering wheel, and says, “Beep, beep” as she blows an imaginary horn.

Implication:

When equipping a play area, include objects (e.g., wooden blocks, cardboard boxes) that children can use for a variety of purposes.

Role Taking

Look For:

  • Extent to which children display behaviors that reflect a particular role
  • Extent to which children use language (e.g., tone of voice, specific words and phrases) associated with a particular person or role
  • Extent to which children coordinate and act out multiple roles within the context of a complex play scenario

Example:

Mark and Alisa are playing doctor. Alisa brings her teddy bear to Mark’s “office” and politely says, “Good morning, Doctor. My baby has a sore throat.” Mark holds a Popsicle stick against the bear’s mouth and instructs the “baby” to say “Aaahhh.”

Implication:

Provide toys and equipment associated with particular roles (e.g., toy medical kit, cooking utensils, play money).

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