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As a graduating senior in Child and Adolescent Development at San Jose State University, I had the privilege of completing my practicum with children ages 2-3 years old in the toddler lab. Under the supervision of Gary Cava and alongside five other student teachers, I had the responsibility of overlooking 14 toddler-aged children during the Spring 2019 semester. The responsibilities set before me included, but are not limited to planning curriculum, developing and leading classroom activities, providing a safe and clean environment for the children, collaborating and communicating regularly with teachers and parents, and maintaining a daily record of behaviors through observation.
Observation plays a significant role in helping not only teachers, but parents gain a better sense of how children develop and interact daily. According to Lippard, Riley, & Hughes-Belding (2016), the use of observation can be beneficial in early childhood, because research indicates that a child’s earliest experiences have an influence on their long-term growth and development. Furthermore, Lippard, Riley & Hughes-Belding (2016) suggests that in toddler classroom settings, the needs of children make it incredibly important for teachers to understand each individual child’s experiences. In addition, observations help prepare teachers on how to better interact and support children to promote positive and healthy relationships.
According to the Observation and Recording: Tools for Decision Making Training (n.d.), observation is more than examining what a child does. In the text of young children, observation means paying careful attention to detail on how children behave, while assessing each individual child on their own set of characteristics and developmental stage of life (Observation and Recording: Tools for Decision Making Training Guide, n.d.). As a result of observing children, it allows teachers and parents to determine their child’s needs, skills and interests. Observation provides a vehicle of communication between teachers and parents, by allowing teachers to share detailed records of information that pertains to a specific child. For example, areas that can be observed on children can be their progress, social skills, as well are behavior challenges and improvements. Moreover, observations enhances teachers’ abilities to better communicate with children, their colleagues, and caregivers to maintain a high-quality childcare program (Observation and Recording: Tools for Decision Making Training Guide, n.d.).
In this paper, I will examine the observations that I had recorded during the Spring 2019 semester at San Jose State University on two toddler boys, Andreas and Oliver. Three developmental domains will be discussed: cognition (private speech), motivation (intrinsic motivation), and socialization (play), where I will provide necessary background knowledge on each domain based on research, followed by examples of the behaviors I have observed for both children. Lastly, I will contribute my own interpretations of the behaviors and tie them into the research I have collected for the purpose of this paper.
Cognition (Private Speech)
According to a research vy Nelson (2015), private speech or self-talk can tell us a lot about young children and their development in the early years. Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget both viewed private speech as playing an important role in the relationship between a child’s language and thought process. Private speech can also help examine other areas of development, such as executive function and problem-solving strategies (Nelson, 2015). Furthermore, verbal self-regulation was one of the main focuses of Vygotsky’s empirical research, while private speech was considered egocentric in the perspective of Piaget’s research (Nelson, 2015). In addition, self-regulation in early childhood predicts later success in cognitive and social situations. From Vallotton & Ayoub (2011)’s research, they discuss how Vygotsky examined how words can be used as a mental tool for self-regulation. Self-regulation in relation to private speech describes how children can express how they feel, which include their wants, needs, and desires. When children can self-regulate, it allows them to become more adaptable to their environment. Furthermore, self-regulatory private speech helps with keeping a child’s behavior in check, while increasing social skills and decreasing behavior issues (Vallotton & Ayoub, 2011).
Private speech in the context of young children can be defined as addressing oneself within a social environment where social speech or talking to someone is the norm. Moreover, private speech in young children sets the pace in which direction they will gravitate toward in future development; one that increases their internal thinking, while the other increases their external representation, which supports their intricate thought process and communicative dialogue with others (Nelson, 2015). Overall, private speech in young child aids in their learning ability and memory.
In relation to the research provided in Nelson (2015)’s article on private speech, I was able to observe Andrea and Oliver using private speech during their time in the toddler lab. In the context of addressing oneself in a social environment, on Tuesday, March 2nd, Andreas was playing in the sandbox outside of the toddler lab. He would use a shovel to dig into the sand and then start filling the sand bucket and toy trucks with sand in them. As he was filling them up, I heard him say to himself “uh-oh” several of times as he filled up the toy trucks and sand bucket all the way until they will full. After filling them up, Andreas would rummage through the sand until he found the toy truck he was looking for. When he achieve his goal, he would say to himself “found my car”!
Furthermore, I believe Andreas was using problem solving with private speech when he was engaged in this activity. Due to his innate curiosity, he would fill up his toy trucks and sand bucket with sand until they disappeared into the sandbox. His use of private speech tells me that he communicate the problem, self-regulate, as well as verbally reply to himself after solving the problem. His “uh-oh” describes that he did not know what happened to his toy trucks, but when he rummaged through the sand and found what he was looking for, he replied “found my car”. Just as Nelson (2015) discusses in the article, private speech aids in language and thought process; in which Andreas was doing – processing his thoughts as he was problem-solving.
On Thursday, March 21st, I observed Oliver engaged in private speech at the art table. He was counting the number of googly eyes that he wanted to glue onto his construction paper. Just as Nelson (2015) discussed, Oliver was using problem-solving to count out the number of googly eyes he had. He counted to himself “one, two, three, four, five” all the way up to ten to himself. In addition, I believe that executive functioning was used when Oliver engaged in private speech, because he was able to count to himself up to ten from his own memory with accuracy. When he reached eleven, he restarted back from one.
Following the article by McGonigle-Chalmers, Slate & Smith (2015), the research explains how there are numerous studies that support Vygotsky’s view on private speech. Self-talk or talking to oneself is seen as an important element of cognitive development in children and it has a positive effect on goal-directed tasks, especially in school settings. In McGonigle-Chalmers, Slate & Smith (2015)’s research, children’s private speech are categorized into four main categories: (a) task irrelevant (b) task relevant general (c) task relevant focused and (d) incoherent mutterings based on Berk (1986)’s work called “Simplified Coding Scheme”. Task irrelevant remarks and questions would focus on remarks made to inanimate objects, task general remarks and questions would include describing the activity, task focused remarks and questions would include self-guided comments, and incoherent mutterings would include mutterings that were audible vocalizations that were unable to be translated into speech that was understandable (McGonigle-Chalmers, Slate & Smith, 2015).
On Thursday, April 8th, I observed Oliver engaged in private speech specific to the research in McGongile-Chalmers, Slate, & Smith (2015)’s article. Based on Berk (1986)’s “Simplified Coding Scheme”, Oliver’s private speech was categorized in “task focused remarks and questions”. In the morning, Oliver grabbed a child-sized mop and started to mop the slide, because it was wet. He proceeded to say “I am washing the slide” as he was mopping. What he said to himself was a comment that was focused on the task he was engaged in. From my observation, I can see that Oliver is aware of the task he is engaged in and is able to put a name to what he is doing.
On Thursday, May 2nd, Andreas was playing at the bubble table outside. As he was blowing bubbles, they flew away into the air. He said to himself “It’s too far for me to reach”. According to the “Simplified Coding Scheme”, Andreas’ private speech is categorized in “task general remarks and questions”, because he was describing the bubbles as a general comment to himself. From my observation, it seems that Andreas can describe the activity he is engaged in, but instead of saying “the bubbles are too far for me to reach” he labels bubbles as “it’s”. The word “it’s” is a general term to describe something specific.
Motivation (Intrinsic Motivation)
Based on an article by Carlton & Winsler (1998), young children come into this world with an innate curiosity to learn about their world. Motivation starts at an early age and those early years are the foundations of how a child forms intrinsic motivation in their lives. The three basic psychological needs of intrinsic motivation are: (a) relatedness (b) autonomy and (c) competence (Carlton & Winsler, 1998). When children a can relate to their environment, they have a sense of control and the experiences they have in their lives become positive and enjoyable. When children learn through autonomy and supportive experiences, they will more likely have a better understanding of the material learn. However, when children become older, their motivational patterns shift toward external rewards.
Carlton & Winsler (1998) discusses how intrinsic motivation gets replaced with extrinsic motivation once children enter school. Furthermore, in the article by Alvarez & Booth (2014), examine how Piaget’s views on intrinsic motivation was associated with how children are attuned to causality. Additionally, there has been evidence that claims that perhaps children have a preference in learning causal information, which leads to their prolonged engagement in a particular task. Furthermore, Alvarez & Booth (2014) conducted a study in which fifty-six 3 to 4-year-old children were given a task to complete with (a) causally rich information (b) causally weak information or (c) a tangible reward. The results indicated that children had a longer persistence in completing the task when they were given casually rich information rather than a tangible reward (Alvarez & Booth, 2014). Moreover, if teachers can encourage children with a mind-set that embraces learning, they will become more intrinsically motivated in school, especially with challenging tasks that may not be interested at first glance.
On Tuesday, February 9th, I observed Oliver intrinsically motivated in the activity he was engaged in. For the past few weeks, I have seen Oliver go straight to the play-doh table whenever he first arrives to the toddler lab. Whether anyone is talking or watching him, Oliver seemed genuinely happy and in his own zone while cutting the play-doh. When I came over to sit at the table, he told me he was cutting the play-doh into pasta, because he says he likes to eat pasta. Perhaps, he enjoys playing at the play-doh area, because he loves to eat pasta and the texture of the play-doh resembles homemade pasta. Play-doh is a great sensory activity, and Oliver is at the age in his life where children his age love hands-on activities.
On Thursday, February 7th, I observed Andreas spending most of the morning playing outside in the sandbox with the toy cars. From what I have heard from his mother, Andreas has a big interest for cars, so it is natural for him to play with the toy cars at the toddler lab. Andreas also is very knowledgeable in different types of cars, which is why he was able to name a few car names, such as a Porsche, Lamborghini and Toyota Corolla. Because Andreas loves cars, he is intrinsically motivated to play with cars, as well as being able to talk about the topic without guidance of others. As a result, when children enjoy doing an activity on their own, they are more likely to complete the task or spend more time working on it without the expectation of praise or tangible rewards. For Andreas, the topic of cars is something he can naturally gravitate toward for playtime or conversation.
Another type of intrinsic motivation that was observed among Andreas and Oliver were their use of prosocial behavior with their peers. In an article by Hepach, Vaish & Tomasello (2017), they examine how there is little no research on children’s prosocial motivation. In their study, they discuss how children as young as 2 years old can show concern of how their peers feel and if they are hurt. Furthermore, the article suggest that children are more motivated to help other children who they have accidentally harmed. This indicates that young children do care about the well-being of others, as well as the bonds they have with those rely on their help. Hepach, Vaish & Tomaesllo (2017) also mention in their article how prosocial behavior among 2-year-old children tend to be intrinsically motivated.
On Thursday, March 21st, I witnessed Oliver using prosocial behavior toward his fellow classmate. Adrian accidentally got sand in his eye and started to cry a lot. When Oliver saw Adrian cry, he became alert and aware of his classmate’s feelings. He rushed over to Adrian and tried to comfort him by hugging him a few times. Oliver has shown this type of prosocial behavior numerous times over the course of the semester as well. He generally shows concern and cares for his classmates. In addition, Oliver and Adrian are usually playing alone; however, I have seen them play together a few times. Perhaps, due to Oliver’s caring nature of showing concern of Adrian, they have opened to playing together occasionally.
On Thursday, March 14th, I observed Andreas showing prosocial behavior as he was playing outside. He was dropping the tennis balls down the playground gutter. Esmee and Louis wanted to join him, so Andreas offered to share the tennis balls and allow them to play with him. Although Andreas is often seen playing alone, when his classmates want to join him or use the toys or materials he uses, he is easy-going and shares with no problem. Overall, it appears that Andreas genuinely care about his peers and wants to have a positive relationship with them.
According to Casby (2003), the developmental domain of play is a predictor of early intervention for young children. Play can help parents and educators assess if there is an abnormality of development in children. Having a strong sense of understanding and knowledge on play helps educators better support children for early intervention. Moreover, there is a lot of research on the development of play in infants, toddlers and young children. Piaget’s theory of play was categorized developmental stages in a child’s first 4 years of life, which is separated into practice play and symbolic play (Casby, 2003). From my observations of Oliver and Andreas, as well as their age-range, their experiences of play fall under the category of symbolic play ranging from Type IIA (simple identification of an object with another) to Type IIA (simple combinations) for ages 24 months to 4 years old (Casby, 2003).
On Thursday, February 7th, I observed Oliver engaging in imaginative play in the toddler lab. He went over to pick up a toy telephone, placed it by his ear and pretended to call his mom and grandma. Based on the article by Casby (2003), Oliver’s play experience is based on Piaget’s Symbolic Play, Type IIA: Simple Combinations. At this level of play, children are able reenact simple scenarios of reality with objects and their functions. Oliver can understand that the telephone he is using is an actual telephone, instead of pretending another object is a telephone (ex: banana). Overall, this is age appropriate according to Piaget’s model, since Oliver is 3 years old and that is when simple combinations starts to occur.
On Tuesday, March 12th, I observed Andreas engaged in dramatic play inside the toddler lab. He sat down at the table set up for lunch, began to pretend to cut the pizza slices and then served a piece to me. He proceeded to ask me, “do you like pizza, want to eat it”? After, he pretended to eat a slice of pizza as well. Like Oliver, Andreas’ play experience is also based on Piaget’s Symbolic Play, Type IIA: Simple Combinations. Additionally, Casby (2003) discusses in the article how children can reproduce situations they have already experienced. It is very likely that Andreas’ has seen his parents cut pizza and serve them as well. When children observe or experience their parents doing something, they are more likely to reenact the action done.
According to an article by Howes & Stewart (1987), family characteristics and child-care settings have an impact on how children interact and play in their environment. Moreover, both family and child-care settings affect a toddler’s development regarding their interaction competence. When families and the quality of care are nurturing, the most likely children will have positive interactions with their caregivers, peers and objects they play with (Howes & Stewart, 1987). For both Andreas and Oliver, they seem to show increasing competence in their play interactions with their peers. For example, on Thursday, February 21, both Oliver and Andreas joined in with their peers, Stella, Adrian and Charles on a train ride outside with Teacher Gary. Both Oliver and Andreas allowed their peers to join them without no problems.
In addition, Dowdell, Gray & Malone (2011)’s article examine the importance of natural environment and outdoor play for children. The study suggest that an outdoor environment encourages children’s imaginative play and learning, as well as strengthening their peer relationships. Outdoor play also has a strong influence on a children’s overall wellbeing and cognitive development (Dowdell, Gray & Malone, 2011). For Oliver and Andreas, they both seem to enjoy playing outside for most of their day when they are at the toddler lab.
On Tuesday, March 12th, both Oliver and Andreas were seen playing outside. They both made their way through playing in the sandbox and the toy cars; something they both seem to enjoy and have in common. Based on the research in Dowdell, Gray & Malone (2011)’s article, the cognitive benefits of outdoor play consist of improvements in observation, creativity, curiosity, and awareness, which Oliver and Andreas both exhibit during their outdoor play experience. Because they spend most of their time outside, I believe that is why their gross motor skills are well developed at their age. They have no problem walking, running, and carrying toys or objects without tumbling.
During the Spring 2019 semester of my senior year, I had the opportunity of completing my practicum in the San Jose State University Toddler Lab as a student teacher. Over the 16 weeks, I not only observed 2 to 3-year-old children, but also worked, interacted, and played with them. In brief, this paper examined the observations of the behaviors of two of the children from the toddler lab, Andreas and Oliver. First, I discussed the background information of each domain of development I did my observations on for: cognition (private speech), motivation (intrinsic motivation), and socialization (play). Next, I connected the research of each domain of development with the behaviors and interactions of the children I have observed. After, I discussed my interpretations of those behaviors from Andreas and Oliver and why they might be showing those behaviors in their stage of development.
Nevertheless, it goes without saying that children are very intricate human beings, and while there are various research on how children development, whether it be milestones or supposed-to’s – they are all unique and there many different factors that play into why children behave how they do. Furthermore, a child’s earliest experiences make dictate how children are as they get older, so it is incredibly important to use observations to record the behaviors and interactions children have as early as possible (Lippard, Riley & Hughes-Belding, 2016). This way it helps support, assess and evaluate their growth and development to ensure they can live a healthy lifestyle later. Although I only had about 14 weeks to observe Andreas and Oliver, I believe the behaviors and interactions that I have recorded on them both seem age appropriate. Based on the support of research and where they are in their development, I have no doubt that they will grow up to be healthy and positive individuals.
- Alvarez, A., L., & Booth, A. E. (2014). Motivated by Meaning: Testing the Effect of Knowledge-Infused Rewards on Preschoolers’ Persistence. Child Development, 85(2), 783-791. https://doi-org.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/10.1111/cdev.12151.
- Carlton, M., & Winsler, A. (1998). Fostering intrinsic motivation in early childhood classrooms. Early Childhood Education Journal.,25(3), 159-166.
- Casby, M. (2003). The Development of Play in Infants, Toddlers, and Young Children. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 24(4), 163-174.
- Dowdell, K., Gray, T., & Malone, K. (2011). Nature and its influence on children’s outdoor play. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 15(2), 24.
- Hepach, R., Vaish, A., & Tomasello, M. (2017). Children’s Intrinsic Motivation to Provide Help Themselves After Accidentally Harming Others. Child Development, 88(4), 1251-1264.
- Howes, C., & Stewart, P. (1987). Child’s Play with Adults, Toys, and Peers: An Examination of Family and Child-Care Influences. Developmental Psychology, 23(3), 423-30. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ355917&site=ehost-live&scope=site
- Lippard, C. N., Riley, K. L., & Hughes, B. K. (2016). Observing Toddlers’ Individual Experiences in Classrooms: Initial Use of the Parenting Interactions with Children: Checklist of Observations Linked to Outcomes. Infant Mental Health Journal, 37(5). 549-559. https://doi-org.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/10.1002/imhj.21584
- McGonigle-Chalmers, M., Slater, H., & Smith, A. (2014). Rethinking private speech in preschoolers. The effects of social presence. Developmental Psychology, 50(3), 829-836. https://doi-org.libacess.sjlibrary.org/10.1037/a0033909
- Nelson, K. (2015). Making sense with private speech. Cognitive Development, 36, 171-179.
- Observation and Recording: Tools for Decision Making Training Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved April 29, 2019.
- Vallotton, C., & Ayoub, C. (2011). Use your words: The role of language in the development of toddlers’ self-regulation. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 26(2), 169-181.
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