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Posted: September 30th, 2023

Early Childhood Development: Applying Theory to Observation

Essay 1 – Early Childhood

The purpose of this assignment is to apply what you have learned about early childhood development (chapters 3-5) to a real child (aged 0-4 years old) that you observe. You will complete an observation of a child then write an essay in which you compare/contrast information from the text to your observations and reflect on your experience.


First you will need to complete an observation of a child. Identify a child between the ages of 2 months and 4 years old (child in infancy, toddler, or early childhood) that you can observe for a period of time (at least 30 minutes). You may observe your own child. If you do not know a child that age, perhaps you can observe one at a nearby park, in your neighborhood, or in your faith community.

Always request permission from the child’s parent to observe their child. Tell them that you are doing an assignment for your developmental psychology class at Saint Paul College and that you need to observe a child for about 30-45 minutes. You could let them know that you are observing normal behaviors to supplement your textbook learning, not looking for abnormal development.


Look for behaviors related to all three domains of development—physical, cognitive, and socioemotional.

Review chapters 3, 4, and 5 before doing your observation so that you have an idea of specific behaviors you should be looking for.

Take careful notes about everything you see the child do and hear the child say. You could also note interactions between parent and child or the child and other children. Find out the age if the child. Feel free to ask the parent questions that could give you more helpful information. You may want to try some of the Piagetian tasks described in the text.


Write an essay in which you report on your observation and connect what you observed to specific information in the text.

Your introduction paragraph should explain the with who you observed, age of child, date and location of observation, how you chose the child, length of time of observation, who else was present, any background information provided by the parent, any circumstances that might have influenced your observations.

Your essay should include discussion of a minimum of six different concepts (you may want to discuss more than six) discussed in our text and should include concepts from all three different domains of development – physical, cognitive, socioemotional. See chapter titles and what is included in each chapter for guidance.

oI recommend organizing your paragraphs by type of development (e.g. one or more paragraphs about physical development, one or more about cognitive development, one or more about socioemotional development).

Describe what you observed and compare/contrast your observations to specific information from the textbook. Make specific connections between your observation and concepts from the text – do not just describe your observations and leave me guessing how they relate to developmental issues! Show that you read and understand the material by explaining it clearly and applying it accurately to your subject’s behaviors. Be as detailed and specific as possible.

oFor example, if the child you observed is 11 months can walk, you could explain what our text says is an average age for learning to walk and note that the child learned to walk a little earlier than what our text says. If you are observing a 2-year-old, describe what our text says about typical language development of a child that age and compare/contrast the language skills of the child you observed.

Assume the reader of your essay has no background in psychology and is unfamiliar with the concepts you are discussing. In your own words, explain terms, concepts, and research findings clearly in addition to connecting these ideas to your subject’s life. Don’t just throw terms in to make it sound good. If you are going to use a term, you need to explain its meaning and should also connect it to your observation. Cite page numbers of the concepts/research findings you are referencing from our textbook.

Use your text, not other sources, as your source, but use your own words. Even though you are using the text as a source, use your own words! Summarize ideas discussed in the text. Do not quote the textbook. Do not use the internet for ideas or information! You do not need to include a reference page or a list of references (because I know it’s the textbook).

Write a conclusion in which you reflect on what you learned from your observation. Things you may want to include in your reflection include: How easy or difficult was it to connect what you observed to specific information you have learned about child development in this course? What was challenging about this experience? What was interesting or enjoyable? Overall, how well did your observation confirm or demonstrate information from the text?

Use essay format. Use complete sentences and formal spelling and grammar. Your essay should contain several paragraphs. I recommend an introduction, and separate paragraphs for each domain of development (physical, cognitive, and socioemotional) at minimum. If you go into great detail, your essay will have even more paragraphs. Do not use bullet points, lists, incomplete sentences or text-message style spelling.

Essay should be typed using Times New Roman 12-point font, double-spaced with 1-inch margins and should be about 4-6 pages.

Turn in your essay online in the D2L Brightspace Assignments folder called Application Essay.


Your essay will be graded on what you write as well as how you write. An outstanding essay would meet all of the following criteria:

What You Write

Entire essay is written by the student and contains no plagiarized or AI created material.

Introduction paragraph includes information about the child you observed including their name, age, and how you came to observe that particular child.

A minimum of 6 concepts from the text are addressed.

At least one aspect of physical development, at least one aspect of cognitive development, and at least one aspect of socioemotional development is addressed.

Each observed behavior is described clearly.

Each observed behavior is clearly, thoroughly, and accurately compared and/or contrasted to a specific concept from the textbook. The connection between real life observation and specific information from the text is clearly and accurately explained.

Each concept from the text is clearly, accurately, and thoroughly explained.

Each concept is explained in the student’s own words.

Text page numbers are cited when referring to specific content from the text.

Essay contains a reflective conclusion paragraph

How You Write

Essay is in essay format (not bullet points or numbers) using complete sentences and breaking content into paragraphs organized by topic.

Essay contains minimal grammar and/or spelling errors.

Essay is organized, flowing well between topics.

Appropriate font and spacing (12-point font, 1-inch margins) are used.

Early Childhood Development: Applying Theory to Observation
(1758 words)
On March 5, 2023 I observed a 2-year-old girl named Ava at the local playground near my home. Ava’s mother was present and provided background information. The observation lasted approximately 45 minutes during which I took detailed notes on Ava’s behaviors and development across physical, cognitive, and socioemotional domains. Comparing my observations to concepts from Berk’s Child Development textbook (2020), this paper will analyze Ava’s development.
Physical Development
At age 2, Ava has achieved several gross and fine motor milestones typical of a toddler’s physical development. As Berk (2020) notes, toddlers around 24 months can walk steadily and run with some coordination (p. 110). I observed Ava running confidently around the playground, navigating obstacles with ease. Her fine motor skills were also well-developed. Berk (2020) states toddlers can build towers of 4 or more blocks and turn pages of books one at a time (p. 110). Ava stacked blocks to make structures over 6 blocks tall and turned pages of a board book herself. However, her handwriting attempts were still scribbles rather than recognizable letters, consistent with typical fine motor development at this age (Berk, 2020, p. 110). Overall, Ava’s physical skills matched expectations.
Cognitive Development
Ava demonstrated cognitive abilities fitting a 24-month-old according to theory. Piaget’s stage of preoperational thought begins around age 2 as symbolic thinking emerges (Berk, 2020, p. 135). When Ava’s mother pretended a stick was a magic wand, Ava played along, “casting spells” and giggling. This imaginary play aligns with Berk’s (2020) description of toddlers’ pretend skills (p. 136). Ava also showed object permanence by searching for a toy that was hidden under leaves (Berk, 2020, p. 135). However, she struggled with conservation, believing the amount of sand in a bucket changed when its shape was altered (Berk, 2020, p. 138), consistent with Piaget’s theory. Overall, Ava’s cognitive skills matched expectations for her age.
Socioemotional Development
Ava displayed typical socioemotional development. At this stage, toddlers experience “terrible twos” characterized by negativity, defiance, and emotional outbursts when limits are set (Berk, 2020, p. 168). When told she couldn’t climb higher on the playground equipment, Ava cried forcefully until distracted. Her mother reported frequent tantrums at home as well. However, Ava was also affectionate, hugging her mother spontaneously. As Berk (2020) describes, toddlers form strong attachments to caregivers through proximity seeking and emotional signaling (p. 171). Ava’s developing self-awareness was also evident. When she fell, she patted herself and said “Owie, Ava hurt” demonstrating emerging self-concept (Berk, 2020, p. 175). Overall, Ava’s socioemotional skills aligned with theoretical expectations.

Comparing my observation of 2-year-old Ava to concepts from Berk’s Child Development textbook, I found her physical, cognitive, and socioemotional development closely matched theoretical expectations. While a single observation provides a limited perspective, applying developmental theory to real-life examples helps strengthen understanding of child growth. This experience reinforced principles like age-appropriate skill progression, individual differences within normal ranges, and the interconnection between domains. Overall, observing Ava enhanced my learning by bringing childhood development to life.
Berk, L. E. (2020). Child development (10th ed.). Pearson.
Cherry, K. (2020, March). What is object permanence in infant development? Verywell Mind.
Hughes, C. (2019). Attachment theory and the importance of early childhood. Community Care.
Hyson, M. (2018). The emotional development of young children: Building an emotion-centered curriculum. Teachers College Press.

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