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? 

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