Saturday, 22 February 2014

Observing children

As you probably know, the ability to take good quality observations is one of the MOST important aspects of a nursery practitioner's job.
Good observations allow us to:
  1. Gain an understanding of a child's development and stage
  2. Plan activities and experiences to challenge and stimulate a child at a level that is suitable for their development
  3. Discover a child's interests
  4. Identify any areas of concern
  5. Build a relationship with a child

There are many ways that we can record observations, some of which are helpful for particular situations...

(Note: Throughout this post I refer to the record of children's development as either learning journals or portfolios. You may have other names for them!)

  • Photographs – A very simple and effective way of keeping a record of an event is to snap a few photos! This clear and visual method is wonderful for involving children in their own learning journals and they can remember and relive experiences as they look at and speak about each photo. Remember it's important to add an explanation of what is happening in the photograph and identify the skills that the child is developing (even if you think it's obvious – parents or anyone from a non childcare background might not!)

  • Examples of children's work – This is lovely for building up a picture of the child's development over a period of time. For example, including a picture from when the child first began to mark make, as the scribbles develop into circles, then into faces, then perhaps a picture where a character has detail such as eye lashes and fingers! Another benefit of this method is giving the children ownership of their portfolios and allowing them to feel a sense of pride as they contribute a piece of work that they consider special in some way.

  • Snapshot/ post it notes – ALWAYS have a notepad/ roll of sticky labels/ post it notes handy because you never know when you'll spot a child achieving something new! If you take the time to watch and observe children as they 'free play' you will be able to take countless observations as they are always experimenting, investigating and problem solving.

  • Written account – This observation simply does what it says on the tin! For a set period of time (often half an hour or so) you focus on one child and write down everything that they say and do. It is a good idea to include as much detail as possible; how many children and adults are in the room, anything that may be affecting their mood (e.g. Mum has told you that they didn't sleep well last night), even the weather! This type of observation is very helpful if you have a concern about a child's development as it is more in depth than a snapshot or photograph.

  • Mapping – To carry out this type of observation, first draw up a simple diagram of your room/ play space. Clearly labelling any furniture and play activities/ experiences that are on offer. Throughout the observation, write numbers on the map to show which areas they have visited in which order. This type of observation is helpful if you are focusing on a child's attention span as you can note the times that they spend in each area. It can also be used to monitor a child's social interactions as you can note the children that your focus child interacts with and the size of social groups that they are confident to approach.

  • Time sampling –  This is another way of monitoring a child over a period of time. A practitioner is able to note down what a child is doing at regular intervals (such as 10 minutes.) In the same way as mapping, this type of observation can be useful for identifying a child's preferences. Time sampling also allows practitioners to go into a little more detail than they can during 'Mapping.'

  • Event sampling – This observation is used to allow practitioners to focus on a particular time or event that a child is finding challenging. It is often presented as a table and includes information such as the time; it could be that the time of day has a huge impact on a child – for example, if they are feeling tired at the end of the day, they may not be able to cope with louder activities going on in the room. If they are aware of the time that these events happen, Practitioners are able to note down the triggers (for example another child approaching their personal space, or Mum leaving in the morning.) We then record the behaviour that is displayed (crying, lashing out... anything that causes concern) and then the 'consequence' - as in; what happens as a result. When reviewing these observations, a practitioner may spot a simple solution to a problem (for example allowing the child to bring a special teddy in to be a comfort as Mum leaves) or review methods that may or may not be working (for example staff have tried ignoring negative behaviour and praising positive, but now may begin to try distraction techniques instead.)

  • Checklist – Checklists can be useful observations when used appropriately. They allow practitioners to quickly identify skills that a child is confident with and perhaps some that need more support. It is important to be aware of your target child's age and stage and only use checklists that are suitable. It is also important to remember that every child is an individual and develops at their own pace. You could observe 2 children of the exact same age and the chances are – their checklists would look completely different!

A couple of tips:
When observing children, it is important to focus on the positive and what a child CAN do, rather than what they can't. I don't mean you should make it up or twist the truth, but find a way to word it so that it is not negative. 

Always keep in mind the skills that the child is developing. It's great to see that they are enjoying an activity, but they're getting so much more out of it than just enjoyment!

Remember your 'Next steps' or 'What now's. Ok, it's wonderful that Little Bobby can identify a B, but how are you going to develop this further? 

Saturday, 1 February 2014

86 ideas for fabulous outdoor fun (Part 3)

Out in all weathers!

I don't want to hear any excuses! Make sure your children (and you) are dressed appropriately, whether that means wellies or sun cream, and get outside! 

First up: a couple of ideas for Sunny Weather  

  1. Have you tried shadow tracing? Get some chalk and a clean part of the path, or some big paper and encourage the children to experiment with tracing around the shadow shapes that they can see. You could let them trace each others shadow, try to trace their own (not an easy task!) or even use some construction materials to build models that will cast unusual shapes. This activity develops children's hand-eye coordination, imagination, and allows them to begin thinking about light and how it travels. You could extend this activity by creating some shadow puppets or exploring the way that shadows move and change throughout the day. What happens to the shadows on a cloudy day?
  2. Have a water fight! What better way to spend a hot and sunny afternoon than throwing and catching wet sponges (spatial awareness, coordination, gross motor skills), running past the spraying hose (gross motor skills, confidence), and finding ever more ingenious ways to soak one another (logical thinking, problem solving)? On top of this, the children are learning about how water moves and can be transported, they are also learning about evaporation as they notice their clothes becoming dry in the sun. I recommend a thorough risk assessment of this activity as wet surfaces and running can often be a dangerous combination. Oh, and don't forget to have a change of clothes for yourself as well as the children! I have made this mistake before!
  3. Sunny days are the best kind of days to go on a bug hunt! Encourage the children to think about what kind of creatures might live in the garden, then get out there and find them! Don't forget your magnifying glasses, bug books and creature catching pots to further their investigations! This activity allows children to appreciate the world around them, think about the many different creatures that share our world with us. It also develops their investigation and natural curiosity
There are so many more, but I couldn't possibly write about them all! Next, Rainy days

  1. Rain Catchers are an easy way to bring some numeracy into the outdoor environment. A very simple method to create one is to use a 2 litre pop bottle, cut it in half and insert the top end into the bottom so that it forms a little funnel. You could allow the children to use a ruler and marker pen to create markings on the side of the bottle so that they can easily measure the volume of water. A lovely experiment that you and your children can carry out is to place a few rain catchers in difference places around the garden - out in the open, underneath a tree, on top of a slide... leave them for a time and when you return, investigate which contains the most rain water. Encourage the children to think and reason "Why could this be the case?"
  2. As mentioned in my last post (No resources, No problem!) Splashing in puddles is a wonderfully fun, messy, and surprisingly educational activity! No resources? No problem!
Again, I have barely scratched the surface,  but let's think about Ice and Snow

  1. The cold weather is a perfect opportunity for your children to learn about the different forms of water through Freezing and Melting. The children at my nursery love to go on an ice hunt first thing in the morning. Any little containers or places where water might pool is possibly hiding a frozen surprise. Allow your children to hold the ice in their hands. What happens? Why does this happen? Can we stop the ice from melting? You could also involve the children in making their own ice by leaving some small containers of water overnight. Why not drop a little toy into it to see what happens? Or some sparkly glitter? Or even paint! You could extend this activity to see if other liquids freeze in the same way - for example, Does ketchup freeze? Another extension would be to allow the children to investigate the effects of salt on ice. 
  2. Building a snowman (or woman) encourages children to work together as a team. It develops problem solving and logical thinking as they work out how to move snow from one place to another, and how to build the snowman without it crumbling or toppling over. Another learning opportunity during this activity is to explore facial features and body parts
  3. Have you ever tried painting the snow? If not then I urge you to try it! The snow absorbs the paint and the paint also causes the snow to melt a little, creating beautifully weird and wonderful patterns and designs. This activity allows children to be creative, and also develops fine motor skills (or large, depending on the equipment you might use) and co-ordination.

Last of all: Windy weather!

  1. Let's go fly a kite, up to the highest height! A fun and calming activity that can involve some teamwork (getting the kite into the sky) and can also be used to encourage sharing and turn taking. And of course if you want to take it further, you could ask the children to think about "What is wind?" "Can you see the wind?"
  2. Let's make our own wind chimes! Provide the children with a variety of items that will make a sound when the wind blows (spoons, keys, wooden tubes, bells, shells... you get the idea) and when the children have finished their creative, imaginative fun you can hang them around the garden, wait for the wind and listen to the wonderful sounds that they make. 
Next Post: Taking care of our environment