Looking Closely at Children

Indicator Checklists

How can early educators train their eyes to see the emergence of key abilities in every child in all this mayhem?

It doesn’t take long for educators to learn how widely different children are and how varied are the ages various abilities appear. Experienced educators, who have seen lots of children grow up in their classrooms, notice little things emerge and smile. It’s always a joy to watch children take on trouble and grow. Over the years, these experienced educators have learned to keep an eye out for specific indicators of important abilities, such as using other children’s names or spontaneously handing things to others that they need.

Often new educators and caregivers aren’t looking for those things, and what they do notice is trouble. Emerging competence is much less visible than a child screaming, “TEACHER!” Noticing the valued is one of the essential abilities educators can bring to the fore. This page offers four checklists to help organize this process of awareness. They are a fast way to improve practice and ensure the noticing is widespread across skill domains and for every child.

I’ve worked at listing out key abilities ever since I first worked with children: it seemed logical as a way to know what I was trying to learn to do. Once I listed them out in an organized way, like on these charts, I used this system all the time. Making sure I marked the boxes regularly, using a color code to represent the passage of seasons in the school year. As I mentioned elsewhere on the site, I have to do something consistently over at least a year before I can feel confident I know what I am doing. In subsequent years I can see the effect of doing something well over time.

It seems to me that it takes two years, at least, to train the eye. As most of you know, each group of children is different, often amazingly so. A second year of checking boxes through the seasons is guaranteed to teach other lessons. I found that after that second year I had changed, too. I could see better. I could see almost naturally those children who were truckin’ along just fine and those children whom I had no understanding of whatsoever. At that discovery I stopped checking off all the children, confidently marking off most boxes for the “hot kids” and focusing my observations on the few I was most concerned about. I wanted specific information about key children, so I could talk specifics with their families (and focus my Learning Stories).

Like everything one learns, systematic practice helps you find out what you don’t know you don’t know. The ability to see emergence of all these things is a step up in professionalism. I invite you to try it out long enough to find what it does for you in becoming the educator you would like to be.

Social, Cognitive, Motor, and Expressive Abilities

I offer four sheets of indicators in four areas of growth from toddlerhood to common school age. These make no sense to use for assessment of learning or comparing children. These are simple lists of abilities I found significant, bunched in categories that make sense to me, independent of developmental timelines or particular ages. Whether or not a child masters an item is not the point. You get to check off a box that indicates a child demonstrated the item to you, for your own personal satisfaction only. The point of this may not be directly evident: once you mark the known, it’s over. The job becomes to turn your watching antenna in the direction of the unknown, like looking for the bird you have not yet seen. You aren’t looking for more robins.

Ruby jumped over that bucket. √ Check off Ruby.
Eight children have unchecked boxes for jumping over something. I can look for those guys next time.

A missing checkmark, an open box, indicates either (1) the ability has been unseen or (2) the ability is not present so far.  Empty boxes are an indicator of the need for attentiveness.

Mary Elizabeth has almost all her boxes checked, but Johnny has only two. I’ll watch Johnny more carefully today.

No check mark here!

When you know what to attend to, you can somehow create the conditions that might allow that ability to emerge and be observed.

Johnny’s greets others with words and a smile box is empty. I am going to make sure I greet everyone today with words and a smile and see if Johnny does it, too.

Maybe Johnny will start greeting others at his own initiative several weeks or months from now. Maybe not. You never know when others learn something unless you watch. Moreover, you get to decide whether an item is important or not.

You can always choose to leave something blank for any reason you wish. Say, for example, you know Johnny and his family; that’s the group that cares, actually. The lists are yours to use the way you want.

I checked off all the items for the really amazing Suzie, because I just know.

The Indicator Checklists taught me what to look for with the lovely side benefit of enjoying the differences in children, AND it’s all looking at what children CAN DO, not what they can’t. Open boxes tell one nothing.

By working at all of these domains systematically, over two or more years, one gets the hawk eye.

I changed the color of the checkmark(summer)
about every 3 months (fall),
so I could provide better (winter)
to the family (spring).

The individual PDF pages open by a click on the image. The PDF for all of them in one document: All Indicator Checklists PDF


cognitive motoric

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