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Early Childhood Observation of Motor Skills

The child observed was a young boy, two and a half years old. From a distance, I observed him at play with his mother for thirty minutes. The child interacted with his mother on several occasions while she read him some books about numbers, shapes, colors, and the alphabet. The child already seems aware of his shapes and colors, and after his mother reads a page (or during a reading of the page) he will often interrupt and point to a picture in the book, looking to her to identify the object. Occasionally he will identify it himself, but more often, he will wait for her to tell him what it is. The mother would often stop and ask him to point out certain things in the book, like a particular object or color. The child seemed to like the game and would get very excited when he knew the answer and got the answer correct, although he did not answer all of the questions correctly. He seemed much more familiar with his shapes and colors than he did with his numbers and alphabet.

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According to Erikson’s eight stages of development, 2-3-year-old child socialization falls under the second stage,that is, learning autonomy versus shame; a child who emerges from this stage sure of himself; meaning proud rather than ashamed, is from the “well-parented”. The early part of this psychosocial crisis includes negativism, stubbornness, tantrums, and stormy self-will. However, none of this was observed during this session. (Neisser, 1967). The mother seemed to keep things very positive as she performed the activities, often congratulating him when he answered correctly, and encouraging him kindly to try again when he answered incorrectly.

It is important to remember that this observation took place with a parent present; this means that the child was demonstrating his attachment style with his mother during the observation. When the child is in the presence of a parent, he will feel more secure and perhaps exhibit certain tendencies and characteristics that the observer may otherwise not get to see without the parent present. Therefore the child is seen to be more playful and sociable and this lead to exploring his environment, or the books, in confidence with his mother while the observation was going on. The child was obviously very comfortable with his mother, and even extremely confident. Because of his mother’s reactions, he was never upset when a question was not answered correctly.

Most parents are authoritative to their children at this age because the child is not expected to make his or her own decisions (Piaget, 1972). The parent molds the child to be well-behaved. For example, if a child beats his or her friend for no reason, the parent corrects him and explains why this action is not acceptable. At this stage, the parent is generally responsive and encouraging. While the authoritative style wasn’t necessarily observed here, it has been admitted to the observer by the mother on several occasions, simply because of the child’s age.

“In early childhood an explosion of new motor skills takes place. Gross motor skills such as jumping, running, throwing and catching appear and became better coordinated. Fine motor development gains appear in preschoolers” (Piaget, 1990, p. 56). For example, the ability to dress and paint letters of the alphabet generally emerges around this age. Environment and heredity combine to influence early child development. Physically the child grows in height and weight as compared to his birth. They gain balance, muscle control and eye-hand coordination which enables them to master basic motor skills. For example, such motor skills might include being able to walk more steadily, kicking, running and throwing a ball. In this observation, there was not much physicality occurring, but there was a presentation of the child’s ability to search through a book and recognize a shape or color, as well as the child’s ability to speak and answer his mother on various occasions. The child observed is still developing his speech but it is obvious that he is well aware of what is going on and even if he cannot pronounce all of his colors correctly, it is still obvious that he knows them because he is able to point them out correctly.

According to Piaget, cognitive development falls into four stages and relates them to the assimilation of new information and a person’s ability to understand information. The four stages are:

  1. Sensorimotor
  2. Preoperational
  3. Concrete
  4. Formal operation (Piaget, 1990).

The subject under study falls on the second, that is, preoperational because “demonstration of intelligence is seen through the use of symbols, memory and imagination are developed” (Piaget, 1990, p. 58). Thinking is predominated by being egocentric at this stage. Sensorimotor skills were also observed in the study since when the child is being asked questions by the mother he uses faces and intonation to emphasize his point e.g. frowning or the use of a stern voice.

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Neisser, U. (1967) Cognitive psychology. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts.

Piaget, J. (1972). The psychology of the child. New York: Basic Books.

Piaget, J. (1990). The child’s conception of the world. New York: Littlefield Adams.

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