Educators are constantly observing all of the children around them. Some even say that when they are not in the classroom they are still observing and assessing children!
Whether they are making casual observations about the child’s social interactions or are jotting down notes to help guide a new learning center it is a constant and critical component of education. There are many types of observations that occur throughout any typical day in school and all carry equal value. The key is to make objective and quality observations that can be used to make decisions and guide your future plans in the classroom.
Quality observations are key to recording applicable information that is helpful for the educator, the child, and the child’s family. Often your observations will become the basis for intervention services, conferences with families, evaluations of your program, and minor alterations to many classroom components. While formally considering observations may sound like a great deal of extra work, it is actually something that all educators are already doing and it is helpful to guide those observations in a useful way.
Consider the following when understanding and observing childhood development:
- Children have individual temperaments, development, learning styles, experiences and family backgrounds which impact their development.
- Understanding development (1) helps educators to adjust their interactions and curriculum for young children. Through observation you can determine what a child can do independently, what they can do with help and what additional support they need to take them to the next developmental level.
- In order to fully understand where children are at their development you must observe over time, and observe them in a variety of settings.
- Teachers benefit from observation by getting to know each child, building respect and appreciation for each child and their unique developmental timetables.
- State or National Early Learning and Development Guidelines (2) can help educators determine typical development and needs of each child in their group. Use the Guidelines to help create meaningful curriculum, share development with children’s parents, and form your own understanding of individual developmental expectations.
- Have realistic expectations for learning, behavior and interactions. Realistic expectations allow teachers to challenge and scaffold children who are ready in one area of development, and ease up on challenges in areas where they are not ready. For example, a child who does not have the fine motor skills necessary to button their own coat may need extra time to get outside while the teacher scaffolds this learning opportunity (taking the time to help start the button and let the child finish). A child who is proficient at this skill may be given the challenge of helping another child or working towards tying shoes.
- We use the observation information we gather about children in order to assess their needs, assess our program effectiveness, and build an effective program.
- According to the NAEYC Position Statement on Early Childhood Curriculum, Assessment and Program Evaluation’s (3) indicators of effectiveness, the information gathered through observation and assessment is used to understand and improve learning.
- Using observation to understand development is essential to effective teaching and interactions with children.