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Development Individual Nursery

Human Development Observational Logs and Reflective Account

All initials have been changed to preserve confidentiality

I carried out six observations of a girl aged four years and three months (Z). The observations all took place within a nursery school which provides education for children aged three to five years old. Some of the observations were carried out during free play activities whilst others were undertaken during more structured group activities.

Z is of a white British cultural heritage and lives with both of her biological parents who are in a supportive relationship. Z has a younger sibling who is 18 months old. She also has an older sibling who is 17 years old. She shares the same mother as this sibling but they have different fathers. Z's father works full time and her mother has recently returned to a part-time job having finished her maternity leave. Z is sometimes cared for by her maternal grandmother outside of nursery if both of her parents are at work. Z appears to have strong family bonds and has reportedly adjusted well to having a baby in the family. Z attends the nursery five mornings per week and is due to shortly begin a transition process into pre-school in preparation for starting Key Stage One.

Erikson's life stage theory may be viewed as a series of conflicts that occur in a sequential order throughout an individuals' life. This model stems from a psychosocial viewpoint which considered that “development resulted from the interaction between inner instincts and outer cultural and social demands”. (Bee 1997:30) Each conflict must be resolved in order for the individual to move on to the next. If the outcome of one stage is undesirable, then the individual will find it difficult to reach their potential at the next stage. Furthermore, Erikson described how “it may be necessary for individuals to return to unsettled earlier points in their lives.” (Crawford and Walker 2007:96)

At four years old, according to Erikson's model, Z should be at the life stage of initiative versus guilt. That is to say that she will either show an “ability to initiate activities and enjoy following them through… or fear of punishment and guilt about one's own personal feelings.” (Beckett 2007:43) I feel that Z initiated a lot of activities and was able to independently carry these out. Z had relatively little input from staff although they were available to support her. The staff appeared to be good at creating opportunities which allow children to develop initiative. By providing a variety of activities and materials for the children to choose to use in free play and having staff on hand for support where necessary the children are enabled to develop a sense of self.

In order for Z to develop initiative at this stage, Erikson would argue that she must previously have developed trust and autonomy over mistrust and shame respectively. It is far more beneficial to have experienced a healthy balance of both to become a balanced overall individual. For example, a child who never experiences guilt at this stage may potentially find it difficult to empathise later in life. However, it is better if the balance is mainly positive.

Z appears to have good relationships with her family members. At the beginning of observation two, Z arrived at the nursery with her father. I observed that Z was at ease. Z did not seem to be anxious when her father left the nursery which would suggest that she feels trusting that she will be collected later. Also, during observation five Z spoke to me about her sibling with enthusiasm and later on, she spoke about a planned outing with her mother which she was clearly looking forward to. “It is the sense of self, established within the family, that enables young people to begin expanding relationships outside of it.” (Kroger 2000:53) Due to the strong family bonds that Z appears to have, it should be easier for her to begin to develop relationships with others according to this model. Although a lot of my observations involved Z spending large amounts of time playing independently, she appeared to be at ease with others. For example, during my first observation, I observed Z interacting in a number of ways which were appropriate in each case.

Erikson (1980) argues that by the time a child is five years old; if they have successfully resolved the life stage conflicts with which they have been faced thus far, then they should have developed a sense of hope, will and purpose. Z in my opinion often displayed a level of will and purpose particularly throughout the craft activities which she often undertook. Although she did not always follow what others around her were doing, Z was clearly following her own agenda with a clear idea in her mind of what she was aiming for.

“It is at this stage… that the great governor of initiative, namely, conscience, becomes firmly established.” (Erikson 1980:84) Erikson stated that in order to become independent and develop fundamental values, individuals must learn to depend upon themselves. Z sometimes asked for support although largely, I observed her attempting to work through dilemmas independently. When I observed Z participating in more structured activities within a group, she participated without support although sometimes looking to others for confirmation. This shows that Z is learning to depend on herself although she seeks encouragement and clarity at times.

I found it interesting to watch Z as she searched for reactions on two particular occasions. One of these was observation four when Z left the area of the structured activity to go to the toilet. When Z reached the toilet area she stopped and turned around to check back towards the activity. It appeared to me that Z was checking that she would not be in trouble for wandering off or if indeed anybody had noticed that she had gone. The second time was during observation five when Z tore some paper from what appeared to be somebody else's work. Again, Z checked behind her as she was doing this in what seemed to be reassuring herself that she had not been noticed or would not get into trouble for doing so. It is my perception, that whilst Z seems to have developed initiative well, she has also developed an element of the conflicting area of guilt at this particular stage of Erikson's development model.

One of the strengths to this approach is that it allows practitioners to understand the changing needs of a child and the subsequent necessity for adapting the responses given and the opportunities provided. However, whilst Erikson's theory may “sometimes offer a provocative framework for our thinking, it has not been a highly testable theory of development.” (Bee 1997: 33) Nonetheless, the theory should not be discarded entirely as it is useful in aiding understanding of the stages that an individual may be experiencing which can support appropriate responses. As the theory supports the idea of continuing development throughout the life span, it can also be useful in reminding us that we should not consider ‘good parenting' in a global context but rather to examine and build upon the parenting skills that may be required to support a child to reach the most advantageous outcome at any given stage.

“Language and thought are often considered to be closely linked”. (Bruce and Meggitt 1999:232) Z appeared to often mirror her thought processes within her speech whilst she was absorbed in free play activities. Sometimes this was by expressing her thoughts and exploring ideas with others and at other times, she appeared to be expressing herself aloud. However, it is important to remember that language is not the only form of communication as emphasised by Piaget. Chomsky believed “that the language faculty is an isolated system, independent of general cognitive functioning.” (Caron 1992:176) This means that Chomsky believed that the development of language is not connected to cognitive development although language and cognition may be connected in other ways.

“Learning language requires the child to learn not only about the meaning of individual words but also about the rules by which language can be combined to form phrases and sentences.” (Butterworth and Harris 1994:119) This supports Chomsky's view of how language is developed who when critiquing behaviouralist ideas noted that if a child learnt the language of their culture by copying the language of adults around them then they would not make grammatical errors in their speech. Z's language development to date would support this view. Although the development of her language skills is quite advanced since she has been developing these skills for some time now and so makes fewer mistakes; I observed her to still make some errors within her speech. These errors were natural for a child of her age who is functioning at a mainstream level; nonetheless, she is unlikely to have copied these patterns of speech from adults. For example, during my third observation Z was speaking to me about a conflict that she was having with one of the other children at the nursery and she said ‘because he's being naughty to me'. It would appear that Z has an understanding of the meanings of the words that she is using and she has managed to convey her message well however, her grammar is incorrect and it is unlikely to be a phrase which she has copied from an adult. Sheridan (2005:33-36) states that at the age of three years “speech still contains many immature phonetic substitutions and unconventional grammatical forms… (however by the age of four) speech is grammatically correct and completely intelligible”. Whilst Z makes some grammatical errors within her speech, I found that overall her speech matched this level of development described by Sheridan and in my opinion I would expect a child of this age to make some small mistakes in their speech.

“Different situations bring about different sorts of language… Children need to be with the same adults each day, so that they learn the subtle signals about how people talk to each other in different situations.” (Bruce and Meggitt 1999:235) On each of the occasions that I visited the agency to conduct an observation of Z, I found that the same adults were available to support the children which would promote this type of approach. I also ascertained that Z is in a particular group at the agency for structured activities. This group includes the same children each day and also the same staff. Z also has a link worker who is responsible for the majority of work with Z and for liaising with the family. This helps to ensure a consistent approach. Having discussed Z's circumstances outside of the agency with both staff and her parents' I noted that Z also has a consistent approach within her home life. During my first observation, I noted that Z related differently to individuals' and it would seem that she has learnt the differences in how to speak to different types of people in different situations. She spoke freely and easily with A, assertively with B and empathetically with C. Z showed these differing communication skills primarily through non-verbal clues such as facial expression and body language rather than the language used as I was not close enough to hear the content of the conversations. Z also used different tones of voice which were congruent with her non-verbal communication skills.

Sheridan (2005:36) states that by the age of four years old a child “should listen to and tell long stories… (and) know several nursery rhymes… correctly.” During the structured sessions which I observed Z participating in; she clearly enjoyed singing nursery rhymes with the group and knew them well. Z also really enjoyed the story session which I was able to observe. Z knew the story which was told and joined in appropriately.

Bancroft (1995) gives a description of the work carried out by Chomsky regarding the acquisition and development of language as a nativist theory. Language is seen as a formal system which is constructed in a somewhat disorganised fashion in everyday adult conversation. Therefore, Chomsky believed that listening to such conversations would not support the language development of children and so he deduced that children must be born with an innate ability to develop language. “The task for young language learners is to discover which particular language community they are in and then apply the universal rules of language to that particular version.” (Bancroft 1995:51) Chomsky considered that this innate ability for humans to develop language was the result of cognitive ability. “Skinner… claimed that speech is an example of social conditioning. The two approaches should not necessarily be seen as unworkable opposites. In other words, linguistic ability may be an innate human cognitive trait, but its' development is also influenced by social factors.” (Ingleby 2006:87) Skinners model of language acquisition was heavily criticised by Chomsky as he felt that in order to be ‘taught' language, children must already have an ability to understand and acquire it. Furthermore, Chomsky stated that children do not tend to have a systematic exposure to language that would make operant conditioning a possibility.

These two differing theoretical understandings of language acquisition should in my opinion be used by practitioners collaboratively to develop a holistic approach to practice which uses language activities to promote intellectual, emotional and social development as well as using words to create, develop and nurture social relationships.

Throughout this process it was necessary for me to adopt a respectful approach to Z, her family and the staff and children at the nursery since they were providing me with an opportunity which may have felt intrusive to them. It was useful to speak to other people to gather information in order to check out my perceptions as well as to put the observations into context with a broader understanding.

Although I had originally intended to be a non-participant observer; I felt that this was inappropriate since Z appeared to want to interact with me and was adapting her behaviour accordingly. To minimise my impact, I therefore decided to participate. Whilst I recognise that this also would have an impact, I felt that this was reduced. I also noticed that there were times when Z was seeking interaction from adults which she did not get but felt that this was because she was not heard. However, I felt that it was important that Z was encouraged to interact and so I spent some time in this role. I kept my responses to a minimum so that Z could continue to explore her own ideas and feelings rather than behaving in ways that she perceived were being encouraged based on my responses.

Observations can be a useful way of finding out information however, I felt that the period of time which we were asked to carry out these observations within was not adequate to gain a good insight into an individuals' life. It is my opinion that more observations needed to be carried out for a longer period in order to gain a more thorough understanding. This period was made even shorter since the Easter holidays had time constraint implications.

Whilst I am in agreement with many of the ideas that I have explored, I am also aware of the limitations of them in describing peoples' individual development as they are very broad. My reading has pointed me to a lot of other relevant ideas that I have been unable to explore within this account. Nonetheless, I feel that it is beneficial to have a broad understanding of a range of theories and methods as well as the advantages and limitations that each one presents. This allows for a flexible and more individualised, holistic approach. It is important to remember that each individual develops at a different rate. Whilst they may not entirely fit the model, this does not necessarily give cause for concern in itself. Individual circumstances as well as context should be taken fully into account when making judgements.

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