Observation Techniques In Early Childhood and Education
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“By observation, we mean closely watch, listen to and generally attend to what a child is doing, and record your findings as accurately and objective as possible”.
Reasons why observations are so important:
To ensure normative development
To know where children are in terms of Holistic development To plan developmental appropriate activities.
To have a record of children’s progress in case of be required for the stakeholders (parents or other professionals)
Through observations we can know children’s developmental progress and identify children with special needs.
Factors that need to be taken under consideration when we carry out child observations (principles of good practice):
Confidentiality: all information obtained in the observation must be treated with the strictest confidence (rights of the child and their family). Therefore: Ask for and get permission to carry out the observation from the parents or the workplace supervisor. Signature at the end of the observation is required. Never record the child’s name or the name of the childcare facility. Use codes to name the child (TC= Target child) or describe the childcare setting in general terms. Should not share this information outside the workplace setting.
Accurate description: Record what is directly observable, not our own assumptions Example: TC appears to be very angry instead of TC is very angry.
Objectivity: Observer must not be influenced for previous knowledge of the child, own emotional response to the child or interpretive things in a biased way (discriminatory).
Children’s wishes and feelings: If the observation causes distress or discomfort to the child, you should stop. If a child ask you what are you doing, explain that you are watching her doing for example playing, you are very interested in what she is doing. Show what you are writing down if the child shows interest. Stop the observation and intervene if a child might have an accident, is going to be hurt or bullied.
Disability: a child who has a disability may need extra time or support when being assessed.
Ethnic, linguistic and cultural background: Find out form parents about a child’s home language development, including if a child is learning English as an additional language. It is also important to understand the child’s family culture, for example in some cultures show respect to adults is important, so the child seems “withdrawn”.
To Involve the parents: Parental interviews, informal chats, home visits and questionnaires can give relevant information about the child development.
The observer writes down exactly what the child is doing and saying while being observed for 10 minutes or less. Codes are usually used to help write down everything quicker. The most popular is code system develop by Kathy Silva and her colleges (1980). Example: TC = Target child; C= Other child, A=Adult; = Speaks to, eg. TCA
No special equipment is needed.
Very objective method.
Enables to focus clearly on one child.
Give detailed information about the child.
Difficult to note down everything if the observer has not developed a good coding system. Difficult not to be interrupt.
Use a list of skills typical for the age group of the child we are observing.
Normally used for Physical and Social development observations.
Quick and easy to record and easy to understood.
Observations can be carried out during different days.
Familiar with milestones of development.
Information record is limited to what is required by the checklist. Not relevant information may not be recorded. Great emphasis on the “milestones” of development, however children follow a similar developmental pattern, but they all develop in their own unique way.
Give information about:
Child’s activities (what the child is doing)
Social group (who the child is with
Language interactions (what the child is saying)
Sometimes used when a child has difficult to interact with other children. Series of short observations (usually up to two minutes each) at regular intervals that must be decided in advance, to ensure objectivity.
Good general picture of the child’s activities and interactions. To be able to carry out the observation in the normal daily routine.
Give information just of one or two areas of development (social with some language). Can be difficult to interrupt what you are doing, or the observer may forget to observe at the time required.
Child observation is an important skill that must be learned and practiced when you want to work with children. We should have in account when we assess the child development that every child is unique and development is not directly related to age. To achieve conclusion about where child is in terms of holistic development must be an ongoing process of regular and periodic observation of the child in a wide variety of circumstances. Be aware that children have different learning styles, rates of learning and preferences therefore the assessment criteria can be met in different ways to suit the child. We should have in consideration as well the ethnic, linguistic and cultural background of the child and child’s parents and also if the child shows a disability or an additional need.
Assessment a young children is not any easy task, it requires dedication, perseverance and time. The observer needs to pre-determine what needs to be assessed with regard to the child and then carefully plan what should be collected over a period of time. In this way the observer can determinate what the child has learned or experienced.
However, no matter which method of assessment is chosen, because each method has its strengths and limitations. That is why is very important to use different ways of assessing children to get an accurate, reliable level of the child development.
Flood, E.(2010).Child Development for Students in Ireland. Dublin.Gill & Macmillan.
Meggitt, C, Kamen, T, Bruce, T., Grenier, J. (2011).Children and young people´s Workforce.Oxon, Hodder Education an Hachette UK company.
Observation and Assessment, part “Special needs and early years”. http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/9656_022816Ch5.pdf