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3-year-old Child Observation Report Sample: Physical and Cognitive Development

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. In-Depth Analysis (Gross Motor)
  3. Catching and Throwing
  4. Running
    Skipping and jumping
    Summary of Development Fine Motor
    Cognitive Skills
    Language and Communication
  5. Conclusion


Physical and cognitive development of a 3-year-old male named Christian has been evaluated by the completion of several exercises, which were video recorded. A therapist directed these activities, which also included his six-year-old sister, Clara. Christian spends two days a week at kindergarten and the rest at home with his parents and sister, when she is not at school. He is more interested in active play such as riding a balance bike (no pedals) and skateboard of which he has reasonable command, rather than performing sedentary activities like drawing. This assignment focuses on gross motor, fine motor, language and communication, cognitive and psychosocial area milestones and whether or not Christian has achieved them. Christian is observed in a classroom where multiple activities are offered such as drawing, playing with toys and various physical events like hopping and catching a ball. Information is also sourced from his parents. His development will be compared to what is expected of a three-year-old (Queensland Health Child Development Milestones) to establish whether the appropriate standards have been reached. Theories of lifespan development including Piaget’s and Erikson’s will be linked to Christian’s performance.

In-Depth Analysis (Gross Motor)

Movement is a sequence of patterns of both gross and fine motor skills along with fundamental movement skills. Christian undergoes various activities which involve controlling larger muscle groups; for example, walking, throwing, or jumping. These abilities aid development and coordination of the arms, legs, hands, feet, head, neck and torso. Important characteristics of gross skills include postural control (both static stability and dynamic control), body awareness and muscularity. These are essential skills for life, and supporting the growth of a child’s gross motor development enhances their short and long-term physical outcomes.

Catching and Throwing

On assessment of catching and throwing, Christian displayed a lot of excitement and energy. It is complicated to measure catching ability in depth as it is dependent on various factors such as size, shape and speed of the ball. At the beginning of the activity, Clara threw the ball from a reasonable distance and at high speed. As a result, Christian showed inefficient catching techniques by having his arms stretched too wide and performing reflexes at too late a stage, allowing the ball to rebound off of his chest in an attempt to catch it. When the therapist started to throw the ball, she was closer to Christian and threw it slower. He started having his arms outstretched, with palms panned inwards in preparation. He encircled the ball with his arms using a hugging action to bring it towards his chest, absorbing the ball’s force, displaying more proficiency. Christian’s throwing and catching was reasonably weak and lacked coordination. This is normal for a three-year-old 6 and Christian’s unexceptional ability in this area is not a huge concern at this point.


Christian met the criteria of a capable runner for the age of three including the heel-to-toe technique. However, on some strides he was landing relatively flat-footed. Upon landing, the foot should hit the ground lightly, landing between the heel and mid-foot, then rolling forward quickly. It was observed that Christian did not obtain much flight between strides, as his knees were not fully flexing to a right angle on his recovery swing. Additionally, Christian’s arms swung forward in an opposing pattern flinging out to the side and/or across his chest, in an oblique plane to the level of movement. Furthermore, he was running in a relatively straight line and was pleased with his capability in this area, especially after the therapist complimented him. Overall, Christian has achieved the three-year-old running milestone, performing this activity well on flat ground, avoiding weighty and awkward running.

Skipping and jumping

The last set of activities which assessed Christian’s gross motor skills included jumping and skipping. To become a skilful mover as an adult, an individual should develop both of these skills during childhood. These presented as more of a challenge to Christian most likely due to his poor static postural stability. When asked to jump, Christian was able to move in somewhat of a straight line, and in a manner that allowed both feet to leave the ground and land at almost the same time. Demonstrating the ability to jump in the air with both feet at irregular intervals determines that he has reached the three-year-old milestone.

By the age of three, greater myelination of the cerebellum should have been reached to allow for competent coordination and increased balance. Similarly, movement of centre of gravity from the upper body to lower trunk as a result of the changing proportions of the body should assist in balance. Skipping is a combination of a long step and a hop (step-hop), first on one foot and then on the other, and has an uneven rhythm. It involves shifting weight from one foot to the other with a narrow base of support. Therefore, arms should be extended to maintain balance. When Clara was asked to skip, Christian quickly intervened and attempted to demonstrate how she ‘skips.’ On evaluation of his own skipping abilities, it was clear that he was incapable of coordinating a step-hop and of landing on his forefoot. Rather, Christian was landing flat-footed and heavy with inconsistent heights and distances of hops and steps. His arms were not synchronised in opposition with his legs and he displayed poor balance. The ability to skip confidently usually develops around the age of six or seven. As Christian is already starting to construct the idea of this skill and by mimicking his sister with use of Albert Bandura’s behaviourist learning theories of classical and operant condition, he is considered on track for this particular milestone of development.

Overall, Christian’s gross motor skills appear to be in line with the milestones. Factors such as environmental influences, learning theories and physical development have affected his aptitude. When reviewing Erikson’s psychosocial theory, Christian fits into the stage three – Initiative vs. Guilt where he is building upon the virtue of purpose. He showed a sense of confidence by attempting his sister’s skipping challenge and overcoming the guilt of not being perfect at this particular skill. Furthermore, looking at Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, it is evident Christian has a microsystem comprising his family at home and his friends and teachers at day-care. His relationship between day-care and home encompass the mesosystem, which further influences Christian’s development. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning and the importance of positive reinforcement in strengthening response and acquiring autonomy to increase the chance of behaviour recurring was evident from the therapist’s verbal positive reinforcements.

Summary of Development Fine Motor

From the recording, it is clear that Christian’s fine motor performance is in line with the milestones, with the exception of cutting. When asked by the therapist to cut a square out, he cut lines into the periphery of the A4 page. He also did not hold the scissors correctly, despite having just seen his sister complete the task correctly. Christian’s thumb was facing upwards in the wrong side, with his middle finger in the ‘thumb’ hole. He attempted to stabilise the piece of paper with his other hand but was holding it too far off the table to stop it shaking due to it being his non-dominant hand. By the age of three, a child should be able to manage a proficient scissors grip and as a result Christian is behind in this area of fine motor skills.

When drawing, Christian’s grasp alternated between precision when colouring in (static tripod grasp) and power when drawing (Palmer grasp). This is justified by the proximodistal principle. At three years of age, Christian should be using the Palmer grasp when drawing/colouring in and by the time he reaches three and a half or four, he should have moved into using the static tripod grasp. These observations revealed that Christian’s fine motor skills were proficient with some underdeveloped (cutting) and advanced (pencil grasp). Exposure at kindergarten allows him to refine these skills. As Christian’s microsystem at kindergarten impacts his level of accomplishment in these areas, Bronfenbrenner’s’ theory of ecological system is exercised.

Cognitive Skills

With reference to Jean Piaget, Christian is in the preoperational stage (2-7 years) of his cognitive development. Christian demonstrated that he was able to differentiate between sizes of blocks, leggo and beads he was playing with while naming colours and shapes. These are intellectual milestones for a three-year-old. Christian struggled with memorizing the alphabet. Furthermore, he demonstrated egocentric behaviour when Clara received attention from the therapist over himself. To gain attention when praise was given to his sister, Christian refocused his actions, using a more unconventional manner. He verbally expressed this using statements such as “Look, look,” “Can I have some too” and “I can do that as well, watch.” This is typical for children of this age and does not indicate selfish behaviour.

Language and Communication

Language and communication are closely related to the development of cognitive skills. Christian’s development in this sector involved reactions of receptive and expressive language. His vocabulary and grammar were quite limited making him difficult to understand. Being three years old, and not having an acceptable vocabulary puts Christian behind when compared to his expected milestones. When wanting a specific coloured crayon, he pointed at it and made noises rather than using words. Nonetheless, his receptive language was adequate, letting him follow 2-3 step instructions and understand what Clara was saying. Receptive language usually develops at a higher rate than expressive, which explains his expressive lag.


Christian demonstrated psychosocial skills appropriate for a three-year-old. Upon request he was able to give his first name and provide his age. When separated from his mother, Christian did not cry and continued playing happily with his sister. The provided background mentioned that he needs support with washing, dressing and brushing his teeth. Most of these factors meet the expected milestones for this age. From the video footage, Christian’s mother appeared to express authoritative parenting providing care but also control consistent to his age, which justifies Christian’s mostly self-reliant behaviour.


After observing Christian, it is evident that Christian has accomplished a large portion of milestones in regards to development. There were some limitations such as skipping, cutting with scissors and understandable conversation, however when compared to the number of milestones successfully acknowledged, Christian’s life development shows a continual successful pattern of skilfulness and growth.

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3-Year-Old Child Observation Report Sample: Physical And Cognitive Development. (2020, January 15). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from
“3-Year-Old Child Observation Report Sample: Physical And Cognitive Development.” GradesFixer, 15 Jan. 2020,
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