Child Observation Guidelines
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Published: Tue, 25 Jul 2017
Before an assessment of a child can take place to plan their learning and development, we need to observe them. Observation is vital for early year’s practitioners to find out what stage a child is currently at, what their needs are and what interests them. You can learn a lot about the children you work with simply by stepping back and watching them. This may at first seem to be a waste of time, but if you study the children, you are going to be more likely to meet their needs. Childcare workers automatically watch the children in their care they want to know that the children are safe, happy, healthy and developing well. Watching or observing closely can often reassure them that everything is alright but may also alert them to problems or illness. Any discussion about a child usually relates what has been seen , heard or experienced and leads to conclusions about personality , likes , and dislikes etc. anyone who works with children needs to develop the skill of observing them (sometimes to be written/recorded to check that a child is:
Safe – not in any danger from the environment, from themselves or others.
Contented – there are many reasons a child might be miserable , some may relate to physical comfort ( e.g. wet nappy , hunger , thirsty) or emotional discomfort (e.g. main carer is absent, or comfort object lost ) or lack of attention or stimulation.
Healthy – eats and sleeps well and is physically active (concerns about this may indicate that they are unwell)
Developing normally – in line with general expectations for his/her age in all areas, there will be individual differences but delays in any e.g. crawling/walking or speaking may show a need for careful monitoring and perhaps specialist help.
Any particular strength or talent may also be identified and encouraged. observing is one of the most important daily aspects involved in childcare without observation the overall planning and assessment in the setting will be affected. Early years practitioners need to base their planning on their observations so without observations we cannot be entirely sure that overall planning will meet their needs. By carefully observing the children we can learn their needs and know when they are ready to move on to the next stage. By adapting experiences, routines and activities to include things that are particularly important to every individual child we can build on their attention span and curiosity. Likewise we can use observation to pinpoint areas where a child needs additional help. There are 5 main skills associated with effective observation.
Looking – we need to look at our children and analyse what they are doing and what responses to give in certain situations.
Listening – it is vital we pay attention to the children and listen to how they interact with both children and adults.
Recording – we should accurately record any important things in which we have observed.
Thinking – we must use our observations to think how to plan effectively for each child and maybe involve the child’s parents for activity planning.
Questioning – sometimes our observations need to be clarified, confirmed or rejected. If the child is at an age to respond to questions you should involve them directly.
Do not let preconceived ideas or assumptions cloud our observations, they must be done with an open mind and judgement of the child should not affect the way an observation is carried out. For example observing children in a group and in the past one child has had difficulty in mixing with others , do not let your past assumptions hinder the observation as it will be pointless to carry out any observation if you have already decided the outcome.
4.2 Main ways in which observations can be recorded.
There are many ways in which observations can be recorded , each have advantages and disadvantages and most early years practitioners need to be familiar with several of these . The most frequently used recording methods are written notes such as
Free description (also known as narrative description or written record) – this method records the behaviour of a child over a very short period of time, often less than 5 minutes. The observer notes down what they are seeing which gives a portrait of the child’s activity during this time.
Checklists and kick charts – these are mostly used to assess the child’s development, specific activities are looked for either during a structural assessment (i.e. where a child is asked to do activities) or by observing children over a period of time.
Time sample – this is used to look at children’s activity over a predetermined length of time for example, a morning. Children are observed at regular intervals during the recording, say every 10 minutes and the observation is recorded on a prepared sheet.
Event sample – this is mostly used to look at a child’s one aspect of development or behaviour, such as how frequently a child sucks their thumb or shows aggression towards other children. Every time a child shows the type of behaviour or activity it is recorded on a prepared sheet.
Target child – this is used to record one activity over a long period without any gaps in the recording process. Several codes or signs are used during this process to allow the observer to maintain the recording.
Some methods of observing children provide more information than other methods that give plenty of info are referred to as “open methods”. For more objectivity ‘closed’ methods are useful. A checklist is an example of a closed method of recording. With all these methods available for use whilst observing it is important that you choose one to suit your purpose. For example the free description method is good for examining closely how a child achieves. Something, but it will not tell you about a child’s general activity over a long period. Other ways in which an observation can be recorded or by taking photographs of a child doing certain activities and catching developmental milestones, permission is always needed by the child’s parents to allow photographs to be taken and also to use a video camera which can used to record development milestones or just to record an activity which the children are involved in so the child’s parents/carer can also see the child doing the activity or milestone, as some parents don’t like to miss out on anything. Whichever method of recording is chosen to be used, all observations must contain sufficient information so that they are useful and that they are understood by anyone else who may need to look at them.
4.3 Analyse the 3 types of planning that can be used in early year’s settings
The observation, assessment and planning cycle assists early year’s practitioners to collate effectively the information they have gathered and to plan what to do next. There are 3 types of planning.
Long term – long term ensures the early years practitioners cover all the areas of learning and development and the principles of the early years foundation framework, the first of these frameworks published in England is called “birth to three matters “, this framework was published by the department for education and skills in 2002 and is for use by all professionals who are involved in the delivery or planning of services for young children in England. The pack comprises of an introductory booklet, poster, video, cd-rom, and 16 a4 component cards relating to four areas or aspects that have been identified as necessary for the development of all children. Long term planning enables the early years practitioners to think about the key areas necessary for supporting babies and young children and encourages them to consider ways to balance the opportunities for supporting older children which will enable them to enjoy both free play and well planned adult activities which will stimulate and interest them, long term planning needs to take into account how you will plan activities to ensure a suitable balance between indoor and outdoor experiences and quiet and active times, and needs to ensure a broad and balanced curriculum. A long term plan should usually cover a 3 month period, a term or a year; it should provide a curriculum overview. It should be based on principles of good early years practice; it should review what children need to learn and how this will be implemented. All areas of learning should be considered and that it meets the development plan or school improvement plan (sip) as required by Ofsted, it should relate to all policies and procedures of the setting and ensure advance planning and consideration of specific activities (e.g. festivals or outings ).
Medium term – this should outline an overall program over say, one to two weeks. Medium term planning take into account the overall daily routine early years practitioners, such as feeding time , school runs, playgroups, outdoor play, quiet time sleep or rest time and individual interaction . medium term plans will need to be adjusted constantly because it will be influenced by the observations made of individual children it needs to include reviews of care routines, key worker relationships and the way the day is organised to offer play and experiences including the materials and physical resources; whilst observing children, getting to know them and their characters, you need to match observations to your medium term plans. The staff planning together should look at how to create a rich learning environment which links the long term plans to each child as an individual. The medium term plan should grow gradually and must be flexible, open to changes and moderations and all observation profiles of all the children need to be looked at. Many early years settings now target particular children on particular days. This means each child is observed regular and the curriculum is planned in a differentiated way to cater for the interests and needs of individual children.
Short term plan – this includes the day to day activities, outings, resources specifically relating to the children in the setting on a daily or weekly basis. It is often helpful to use observations of the children from the previous day to enable to focus on their specific needs and to build on what they have learnt for example, the children might have asked to bake, you will need to consider ingredients and equipment will be necessary and how much time is needed to complete the task.
4.4 describe why planning is essential in the early years setting
Planning is key to the effectiveness of any early year’s settings. Settings plan curriculum in many different ways, most find a way of planning which suits their needs, plans will also vary according to the objectives or areas of development /learning to be considered. Each child will need to be considered and observed in order to be provided with appropriate activities and experiences in the setting. Good planning is essential if practitioners are to make children’s learning effective, exciting, varied and above all progressive. Planning enables us to look at each child individually and build on our knowledge of them in order to see how they learn, what motivates them and how they make progress. Plans don’t often need to be written down although recording things provides us with future reference which can be shared with others. Written plans allow us to look back so we can plan for the future.by doing this we can plan activities in which they are suitable for what we know they can already achieve and build on their interests and experiences, for example by constructing a written plan to help a child recognise the no 1-20 we would be able to see at the end of the long term plan,
- The child knows the name of the numbers
- The child can recognise the numbers in a variety of contexts
- The child can write the numbers successfully
If at the end of the long term plan the child as reached all the goals set for them, then you know your planning has been effective. Effective planning is challenging but it is essential, it is not always easy for practitioners working alone to carry out observations of individual children when they are responsible for the care and safety of others. Observations need to be carried out regular and not just at set times you should be observing the children in your care all the time and noting how they react to certain circumstances and everyday occurrences. Keep a diary handy to jot down anything which you observe which is of particular interest or information which may help you plans for your child’s development.
4.5 critically explore the importance of assessments
Whilst assessments need to be handled extremely sensitively it can be a way of recognising whether children need additional support or challenges. They are also used as a way of learning more about groups of children so that the curriculum can be adjusted to meet their interests and needs. It is also important to realise that assessing children is not an exact science and we should see any assessment as only a guide. Young children are ever changing and their development and interests reflect this; but assessments are extremely important and have many uses
- To review and check children’s overall development
- To extend children’s learning
- To support special needs
- To resolve a particular concern
- To evaluate activities and experiences
- To review children’s progress
- To share with other professionals
- To share information with parents
- To help with planning
- To evaluate routine strategies to gather all the information to assess a child’s needed to be observed.
Although a lot is learnt from simply spending time and observing assessing what you have observed will enable you to deepen your understanding of what you have seen. There are no set ways in which assessments need to be written, although the following points should be considered,
- The assessment should be based on what you have recorded
- The link between the child’s actual stage of development and expected stage are noted
- Supported evidence should be provided
Your assessment will help you collate this information so that it can be used in effective planning. For observation and planning and assessment to be effective they need to be carried out regularly, you need to get into the habit of observing children on a daily basis and assess the observations to enable you to plan the next stage for every child in your setting. Records need to be kept for each child (in a form of diary or scrapbook) and ways of extending on what they can already do to get to the next level need to be looked at. The more practice you have at observing, assessing and planning, the better you will become until it becomes second nature to you.
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