Principles of Child Development (85-221)                                                              Fall 2017

Motor Development Observation Paper Assignment

Due: October 17th in class

(22.5% of course grade)

The goal of this paper assignment is to relate naturalistic observations of young children to the themes, theories, and research you are studying. 

 1) Answer the following general question via naturalistic observation. 

Is there a difference in the motor abilities of preschoolers and kindergartners?

Preparatory Reading: Siegler et al, Ch. 5, also see additional reading at website

Observe the motor skills of preschoolers and kindergartners at the Children’s School. You will be analyzing two things. First, compare and contrast the preschoolers to the kindergartners with respect to activity levels (how active are they), endurance (how long do they move, continue on the same motor task), and coordination (how well do they coordinate their motor skills). Second, examine either fine motor skills (e.g., fastening clothes, handling food, picking up small objects, using silverware, building with blocks, drawing) OR gross motor skills (e.g., running, jumping, hopping, eating, throwing, walking, sliding). Also note any sex and/or culture differences that are evident.  Are there any striking individual differences?  Be sure to consider a variety of action types (e.g., locomotor, stability, and manipulative), and the level of proficiency. What strategies do the teachers use to facilitate physical and motor development?  How does the environment (e.g., classroom or playground arrangement, equipment) support these kinds of development?

From the main general questions, develop one or more specific questions—or hypotheses—about the nature of the difference between the age groups. For example, do older children have more refined fine motor skills (assessed by picking up small objects) than younger children? Do younger children have higher activity levels than older children? Do younger children have worse gross motor skills (assessed by misplaced steps) than older children? It is up to you what these more specific questions will be and how you will measure them when you go to the Children’s School to observe the preschoolers and kindergarteners.

2) Go to the Children's School Entry Door on the basement level on the rotunda end of Margaret Morrison to schedule two 45 minute observations on the sheets posted there.  You do not need to use the intercom: the sheets are posted on the outside of the entry way. Only one person can reserve each time slot box on the sheet. Observations are scheduled at the following times. 


Children’s School (Margaret Morrison - Tennis Court Level, but enter from ground level and go downstairs)



Times are for Monday-Thursday. Friday observations or those during class are NOT possible.


Times for fine-motor observations

Preschool (33-57 months)

Kindergarten (57-69) months)










Reservations must be made by Sunday for the upcoming week.


Times for gross-motor observations (include eating/dressing/large motor play inside or out)

Preschool (33-57 months)

Kindergarten (57-69 months)





Reservations must be made by Sunday for the upcoming week.



Important: You must sign up for a slot as soon as possible. Extra credit (4 points (out of 150) on the assignment) will be given to those who sign up for both sessions by Sunday 17th September and then complete these sessions. Failure to complete both assignments due to late sign-up and/or illness cannot be used as grounds for late submission of the paper. 


Also important: Call Ms. Drash (412-268-2199) if you need to cancel your observation.  If nobody answers the phone, leave a message with day and time of observation and your name.  It is then your responsibility to come back to Margaret Morrison to reschedule.


3) Learn about your observation site via the web at  Also, do the recommended preparatory reading before you come to the observation session. Finally, to get the most out of your observations, prepare a checklist or observation form including items listed with the question above. At the end of this handout you will find good and bad examples of coding sheets. However, since the unexpected is to be expected when observing children, you should also be prepared to note interesting physical / motor behaviors that are not specifically listed.


4) Report to the Children's School a few minutes before your scheduled observation time.  Use the intercom to ring for entry.  Go to the main office to sign in and get a nametag.  A staff member will escort you to the location to conduct your observation.  If you need to cancel a session, please call the Children's School (8-2199) so that another student can use that time slot.


5) Conduct at least two 45-minute observation sessions relevant to your question -- one session for each age level.  You must submit your notes from the observation and a diagram of the space (NO need to type!) with your final paper.



Guidelines for Observation

• Watch from a distance, preferably in a sitting position.  Do not join the group or interfere with children's

activities. In other words, be as unobtrusive as possible.

• Cooperate with the teachers and refrain from talking.

• If a child approaches you for help (e.g., shoe tying) or conversation, keep the interaction as brief as politely


• Turn off your cell phone.


6) Answer your question in a research paper essay.  Be sure to include each of the following components:


a.  State the question being addressed and indicate its relevance for understanding child development and working with young children. 


b.  Briefly describe the context for addressing the question, including site characteristics, day, date, activity and time of observation.


c.  Summarize your observations, making sure to cover all the observation guidelines listed in the paragraph beneath the question.  No real names please!


d.  Relate your observations to specific concepts, research findings, and theories discussed in class or in the text.  Cite at least three studies/theories to support your opinions (with names of the researchers/theories). 


e.  Draw conclusions about the meaning of what you observed.


f. Include references for all papers you have cited. Use the same format that is used at the end of the text book.



Your paper should be 4-5 double-spaced, typed pages, written clearly and concisely in an organized essay format, without spelling or grammatical errors. Put your references on a 6th page (or 5th if your paper is 4 pages long). Papers over 6 pages in length (including references) will lose points. Remember to give the paper a title that summarizes the study. An example of a previous paper is on-line at the class website (this paper was written for the second observation paper but it will give you an idea of what is required). Please attach ALL of your observation notes to your paper AS WELL AS one clean (that is, untarnished) coding sheet. Identify yourself on the paper with your name. Be sure to staple the paper together. All papers are due on Tuesday, October 17th at the beginning of class.  For a breakdown of the points for each section see the grading sheet.


Timeline for Observations (Weeks of Sept 18, Sept 25, Oct. 2, Oct. 9, and Oct. 16 (only 1 day)


Important things to remember:


The Children’s School Observation Sheet -  a “not so good” example




Child #   :













Body proportions:


Activity level:






Fine Motor Skills


q  Fastens clothes

q  Handles food

q  Plays in the sand









The Children’s School Observation Sheet - a better example


Child #   :





Age group:













Approximate body proportions: (Measure head to body):


Activity level:          high            medium                 low




Endurance:               high            medium                 low




Coordination:          high            medium                 low





Fine Motor Skills








Fastens clothes






Handles food






Plays in the sand






Picks up small object



















Grading Criteria


_____/ 6          Research question makes clear what was the topic of investigation.

_____/ 6          Relevance, or importance of investigating this topic

Contextual Elements

_____/ 6          Day, date, and time of each of two observations

_____/ 3          Activity that the children participated in during the observation (e.g., snack, free play, etc.)

_____/ 3          Site characteristics including layout and props when relevant (tricycles, large open area, etc)


_____/ 15        Observations are clearly related to motor skills and more specifically, to the research topic of interest.

_____/ 15        Comparisons are drawn across the behaviors of the two age groups.

 _____/ 15       Children’s actual behaviors are described and are used to discuss larger issues such as gross motor skills, coordination, etc.


_____/ 18        Three theories, ideas, or research findings that are relevant to motor development are considered and presented clearly enough (and in enough detail) to allow the reader to understand them (6 pts/each)

_____/ 27        Each theory, idea, or finding cited is clearly related to the observations.  (9 pts/each)


_____/ 6          The observations are connected back to the research question.

_____/ 6          The implications of the observations is considered.


_____/ 9          Writing is clear and concise

_____/ 3          Spelling and grammar

_____/ 3          References are included at the end of the text

_____/ 9          Original Observation notes are attached


***  Penalty of 2.5 pts for each page over 6 (not including front page if included, 5 + references is fine)             


_____/ 150  TOTAL POINTS (divide by 10 for score out of 15)