Observation is the key to understanding young children and finding out more about them as individuals. It is a fundamental aspect of the assessment and planning cycle, and provides a firm basis for reflection.
The process is crucial in helping parents or practitioners address the needs of early childhood development. Both parties have to work together to understand and meet a child’s individual needs by learning from each other and sharing with one another.
Observation is about watching children and noticing their actions, expressions, behaviours and interactions. The observations must take place on a regular basis – perhaps daily – in order to provide an insight to how they are developing, what they like doing and what they are learning through their play and life experiences. It’s important for parents and practitioners to share every detail so that it can be decided whether the child’s development is at the expected stage.
Observations of children in early years are vital, as each child has a unique set of abilities and talents. By observing what the child chooses to do and what resources they enjoy playing with provides reliable information about who they are as individuals. It can also provide an opportunity to determine the need of the child and therefore plan the next steps in their learning.
Some examples of what you may find out from observations are:
Documentation of observations should be recorded regularly and should be as detailed as possible, noting what was seen and heard. Here are some different types of observation methods that will help the needs of early childhood development:
This method involves factual accounts of events that have taken place. Anecdotal records should be written in the past tense and cover the three W’s: What, When and Where? Other non-verbal cues such as body language, reactions and facial expressions should be included in an event.
This method involves noting down what you see and what the child says as it is happening. It should be written in present tense and include as much detail as possible.
This involves recording observations about the child’s behaviour and what the child is doing at specific times. This can be done at regular intervals and can be helpful when identifying negative behaviour, as it allows understanding of the context surrounding a situation.
This involves jotting down brief sentences detailing important events, behaviours and conversations.
Work samples include the child’s paintings, drawings, writings, figures and other crafty creations. You should also take down some notes detailing what the child said or did surrounding these work samples.
Images of the child, complete with annotations and descriptions about what was taking place when the image was taken, provide vital insight to who the child is as an individual.
Documenting learning is another way of creating a narrative about the child’s achievements. Providing evidence of a child’s learning recorded through observations and examples of children’s work, kept in a portfolio or folder, is well established in early years.
It is important that in using different observational techniques, parents and practitioners are clear about the purpose of what they are doing and that the observational processes are matched to this aim.