Looking Closely at Children

Indicator Checklists

How can early educators train their eyes to see the emergence of key abilities in every child when so much is going on during a day?

It doesn’t take long for educators to learn how widely different children are and how different the ages are when their abilities appear. Experienced educators, who have seen lots of children grow up in their classrooms, notice little emergences and smile. It’s always a joy to see children grow. Over the years, experienced educators have learned to notice specific indicators of important abilities, such as a child using other children’s names or spontaneously handing others what they need before they ask.

New educators and caregivers usually are not looking for these tiny, good things; they are more likely to notice the blatant stuff that’s a problem. Emerging competence doesn’t shout itself out, so it’s harder to become aware of its emergence than the scream, “TEACHER!”

Noticing emergence is one of the essential abilities of skilled educators. To help organize this process of awareness I offer four checklists to train seeing. These are a fast way to improve practice and ensure the noticing is spread across skill domains and includes every child. Like a bird watching record, it focuses attention on that sighting you want to add to your count.

I’ve worked at listing out key abilities ever since I first worked with children: it seemed important to know what I was trying to do. Once I listed them out in an organized way, like on these charts, I used this system continuously. I found using a color code helpful to record a sense of time: The passage of seasons in the year seemed precise enough. As I mentioned elsewhere on this site, I have to do something consistently over at least a year before I can feel confident I know that I am doing it right, like a yoga pose, for example. In subsequent years I can see the effect of doing it over time.

I have helped others with this, and on the basis of that experience I would say it takes two years to train the eye. As most of you know, each group of children is different. A second year of checking boxes on each child, marking through the seasons, offers additional insights. I found that after that second year I could see better. I was easy to spot those children who were trucking along just fine, which left the others I was missing. At that discovery being able to spot solid children I stopped trying to check off everyone on the basis of evidence; I confidently marked off most boxes for the self-evident ones and focused my attention upon those I could not see yet. That proved to be the ideal way to use the checklists; it minimized the burden yet maintained my attentiveness to collecting specifics to show their families and, as well, focus 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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