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Anecdotal Record: Child Observation Tool for Early Educators

Anecdotal records are an effective assessment tool for early educators as they can be used to quickly document children’s progress. Here’s how to use them in the classroom.

Anecdotal Record: Child Observation Tool for Early Educators

Anecdotal Record: Child Observation Tool for Early Educators

Observing and documenting children's progress is not only a fundamental aspect of providing quality early childhood education, but also allows educators to truly understand and support each child's unique learning journey. Anecdotal records serve as invaluable tools in this endeavor, offering a window into the daily experiences, achievements, and challenges of each child.

In this article, we will explore the significance of using anecdotal records in observing and documenting children's progress in an early education setting, and how these observations can inform teaching practices, lesson plans, and better support the growth and learning of the children in your classroom.

Teacher reading to children at preschool


What is an anecdotal record?

An anecdotal record is a brief written record or note of a snapshot in time, documenting what a child says or does during classroom activities and routines. Using anecdotal records is one way for teachers to collect information about a child's development and learning experience. Anecdotal records are quick and easy to write and can be used to gather observations of classroom learning activities such as playing at the sensory table, snack or meal times, or interactions with other children. The anecdotal note is typically written in the past tense and includes specific details of an event as well as the event's context: the who, what, where, when, and how. 

Anecdotal records are direct observations of a child's activities and interactions, and it’s important for a teacher's assumptions or opinions not to seep into anecdotal notes. They must be written in the moment to capture details as accurately as possible. Reviewing your notes regularly can also help you spot instances of bias. You can also ask another teacher to review and evaluate your notes to ensure you have not included any interpretations or judgements about a child’s actions, such as words that describe how a child is feeling (e.g., happy, sad, or frustrated).

A biased anecdotal note example

Chloe sat down happily with Ben. She was excited when she picked up pink crayons to color the mask she had made. She was happy with the final result and said to Ben proudly, "Look, Ben! I completed mine! I think you should paint yours blue." She asked Ben to paint his blue because she thinks blue is a masculine color.

Avoid including assumptions of Chloe’s feelings or guesses about why she asked Ben to paint his mask blue. Your anecdotal note should only include your observations of her facial expressions without assuming she was happy or proud. 

A non-biased anecdotal note example

Observation for Chloe

When: Wednesday, 11/30/2022; 11am 

Where: Classroom, small group time, art area

Who: Chloe, 3

Curriculum area or domain: Social-emotional; communication and language

What: Chloe sat down to paint the mask she had just made with Ben. Chloe chose pink colors. After completing the task, she showed it to Ben, smiled, and said, “Look, Ben! I completed mine! I think you should paint yours blue."

Teacher leans over group of young children at desk, watching them write.


How to write an anecdotal observation

Writing anecdotal notes is one type of childhood observation method that educators can use. Educators typically watch as a child engages in a specific activity or event and write down the situation as things happen or as soon as possible. It’s important to include direct quotes from the child and descriptions of facial expressions and gestures. Here are some more tips on how to write an anecdotal observation: 

  • Always include the date and time, setting, names, curriculum area or domain, and an objective description.
  • Note down the words used in the conversation by the parties involved. Describe what you see and hear; don’t summarize behavior or what you’re observing.
  • Write the record as soon as possible after the event, or keep a notebook or sticky notes handy to jot down brief notes to remind you of incidents you wish to include in the record. The longer you wait before writing your anecdotal record, the more subjective and vague the observation will become.
  • Use technology such as early education management software, to log observations as they happen.
  • Use specific language to describe what the child said and did, including facial expression and tone of voice.
  • Avoid interpretations of the child's behavior for example, words that describe how a child is feeling.

Importance of anecdotal observation 

Anecdotal observations are vital in early childhood education as they provide a detailed and personalized understanding of each child's development, allowing educators to tailor their support and teaching strategies accordingly.

By documenting children's progress through anecdotal records, educators can track milestones, identify patterns, and recognize individual strengths and areas for growth. These observations also foster strong partnerships with families by offering concrete examples of their child's learning experiences, building trust and collaboration in the educational journey.

Here are more reasons why anecdotal observations are important:

  • Educators can learn more about the child's personality and interests, monitor progress, and gather data to drive the learning experience. 
  • Educators can assess a child's progress in various developmental domains of physical, cognitive, language, and social-emotional skills. 
  • Anecdotal observation can provide ongoing records about individual instructional needs. 
  • This form of childhood observation can help educators notice significant behaviors that might otherwise be lost.
  • Anecdotal observation can help teachers provide ongoing documentation of learning that can be shared with families and other teachers in the form of a progress report or child portfolio

Your anecdotal records can inform your daily reports that you share with families and use to keep track of each child's meals, naps, and learning highlights. With brightwheel's daily report feature, you can easily log activities and send automatic daily reports to families each day.

Anecdotal notes examples

Here are some anecdotal notes examples to inspire you:

Observation of Peter Angus

When: Wednesday, 9/14/2022; 12:22pm

Where: Classroom, free choice time, reading area

Who: Peter 3 ½, Christopher 3, Nora 3

Curriculum area or domain: Social-emotional; communication and language

What: Peter approached Christopher and Nora at the reading table. With a smile on his face, he asked Christopher, "Do you want to look at pictures with me?" Christopher replied, "I am already looking at pictures with Nora." Peter said, "Ok," as he was frowning while playing with his fingers. Nora said, "Peter, come and look at pictures with us." Then, Peter joined them with a smile on his face.

Observation of Missy Cooper 

When: Thursday, 7/14/2022; 1:42pm

Where: Classroom, free choice time, dress-up area

Who: Missy 3 ½, Caitlyn 3

Curriculum area or domain: Social-emotional; communication and language

What: Missy played with the drama materials for 15 minutes, using the dress-up items while looking at herself in the mirror. She invited Caitlyn over and picked out a red dress and shoes for her to wear with a tiara and a wand. Caitlyn put on the outfit Missy chose, and Missy said, "You look like a fairy."

Observation of Griffith Stevens

When: Tuesday, 9/20/2022; 11:00am

Where: Outdoor playground, outdoor time

Who: Griffith 2 ½, Daniel 3

Curriculum area or domain: Social-emotional

What: Griffith was seated on the floor at the playground, playing with his fireman truck. He was approached by Daniel, who stood there for six minutes watching Griffith play with his truck without saying anything. Griffith didn't look up to acknowledge his presence until Daniel said, "Griffith, can I join you?" Griffith shrugged, and Daniel sat next to him and played with his own truck.

Teacher sitting with three children at a table observing them play with puzzles.


Other observation methods 

There are other common observation methods you can use to document children’s behavior and developmental progress.


This method is a way for teachers to “jot down” a few short sentences to keep track of key discussions, actions, or events. Jottings combine well with other techniques, such as photographs or work samples.


Pictures, after all, are said to tell a thousand words. A series of photos of a child, complete with annotations and descriptions about what was taking place when the image was taken, can provide insight into a child’s development. Teachers using this observation method can also include a brief caption that explains what the images reveal about the child's actions, context, interactions, skills, and other behaviors.


One way to focus on particular areas of childhood observation is to record several samples such as event, time, or work samples:

  • Event samples: This observation method solely focuses on a single event, such as a child's behavior or reaction pattern. It assists in determining where and when the behavior occurs and provides insight into the cause.
  • Time samples: This is a way of documenting observations on a child's behavior and what the child is doing at specific periods. This can be done frequently and can assist in identifying and correcting negative behavior by knowing the context of the scenario.
  • Work samples: During their early childhood, children produce many paintings, drawings, writings, and other crafts. These works with notes about what the child was doing or saying at the time might assist in demonstrating how a child's development unfolds.

Running records

With this observation method, you write a thorough report of what you see, the child's comments, or interests as they occur. A running record observation must always be written in the present tense and include as many specific details as feasible.

Because a child's growth can be a complex process, adopting various childhood observation methods is beneficial. Changing your observation strategy can help you understand the child's interests, personality, strengths, and other characteristics.

Using anecdotal records in the classroom 

Anecdotal records provide valuable insight into the development of each child. They are an easy way for educators to gather data to help inform future lesson plans and activities and assess children’s progress in different domains.

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