Article written by guest blogger, Jennifer Barshack

Research on brain development and best practices in early childhood education has demonstrated that how a child learns in the early years, approximately from birth to five years, is critical to her/his later success in school, and in life. This includes all the developmental domains –  cognitive, social/emotional, language, fine and gross motor. In many ways this means a child care provider, in partnership with parents, can be considered a child’s most important teacher. Children reap the most benefit from well-educated child care professionals who understand research-based child development, are familiar with early learning standards (Minnesota’s Early Childhood Indicators of Progress) and are trained in authentic observation and assessment.  

Observation happens informally, when a child is involved in her/his daily routine or typical activities in the child care program and “assessment” by the child care provider is achieved through activities such as watching, listening and note-taking, writing quotes from the children, collecting their drawings, and making portfolios of their work/art. Collecting different kinds of information allows the child care provider to form a “snapshot” of the child’s development. By using all this gathered information a child care provider can then reflect on an individual child’s development and use the information to assess and document progress.

Observation is a critical piece to authentic assessment, along with documentation and analysis. By observing and tracking a child’s progress a provider can determine if a child is meeting learning goals, and growing and developing within the normal range for her/his age, or if s/he may need additional supports. High quality providers use the information learned through authentic observation to plan and tailor activities to meet the needs of the children in their care, and in some cases to make a referral for supportive services. 

Assessment of Child Progress is one of the Four Indicator Categories within the Standards for a Parent Aware Star Rating (Minnesota’s Quality Rating and Improvement system). In order to earn a Parent Aware One Star Rating, lead child care providers (within a family child care, or in a child care center) are required to have “completed at least two hours of training, coaching, consultation or mentoring on authentic observation practices.” In addition to this training requirement, the lead provider “observes children regularly and records information at least monthly.”

For best practice, assessment happens on a regular basis. This helps the child care provider to create a whole picture of the child’s ongoing progress. It is not a checklist item completed and put away in a file folder and drawer, but rather information is gathered continuously and used for program planning and for teaching each child. Authentic observation helps a provider pay close attention to each child which then can inform teaching that child and how to plan the program with developmentally appropriate practices, including daily lesson plans, teaching strategies/individual modifications, and designing the interior and exterior environments to facilitate learning.

Jennifer is a program recruiter for Parent Aware, Minnesota’s Quality Rating and Improvement program.