Child observations involve a caregiver or other adult carefully watching a child's natural behaviors for a certain period and noting activities and displays of emotion. To get a properly representative idea of the child's activities and feelings and to begin to work out the thought processes behind them, the observer must ensure that he does not interfere in the child's natural actions.
The purpose of child observations varies widely, and they can take place over a range of timescales. Short observations, such as those during a play session, are often recorded in detailed note form as they occur, but longer sessions are likely to be filmed for proper review at the researcher's leisure. Researchers avoid accidentally stimulating responses in the child being observed by avoiding eye contact, choosing observation positions that are not in the child's direct sphere of attention, and by remaining quiet and unobtrusive.
Observations are usually non-intrusive, though information gathered from them can be used to implement changes to routines, teaching programs and communication methods. They can be interactive, if a child's responses to adults or peers are the subject of the observation. However, if the observer is prompting behaviors by asking questions or offering props, the observer must take this stimulus into account when analyzing the child's responses.