Observing children is one of the great joys of being an Early Years practitioner.
For example, watching those first steps, hearing how the children are picking up vocabulary (and making up their own syntax) and putting all this together to make sense of their development is usually an exhilarating part of your job.
However, sometimes completing observations can become a chore and not enjoyable at all. This can be due to the way practitioners have been introduced to the observation, assessment and planning cycle and it can result in them doing a lot of unnecessary work.
The temptation as a practitioner new to observations is to start with “magic moments” or “Wow moments” type observations. These are very short snapshots of a significant moment or piece of child development.
The problem with starting here is that although they’re quick to write, you need to have in-depth knowledge of child development, the child (or children) you are observing and an understanding of the context of their play before you can write one. This takes a lot of practice and experience to do well.
It is much better to start with a long observation, or narrative observation, which details factually everything that you can see happening and everything that you can hear. You can then discuss this with your manager or mentor to help you understand what elements are significant (has your child ever done this before? Is this a brand new word?) and how this can be evaluated or assessed in terms of child development.
Using this information, you can then begin to plan appropriate next steps for the children in your care. This is achieved in two stages: firstly what you would like the children to learn or develop next and secondly the presentation of an activity, resource, provocation or environment which will help to achieve this. Once the activity has been planned, preferably within a day of the observation, you can then observe it, to evaluate the progress of the children.
In this way, observation, assessment and planning becomes a cycle, with information constantly flowing. This also means that observations now have a purpose, rather than just being something we ‘have to do’. Observations can return to being enjoyable and a rewarding way of getting to really know your children.
Once you’ve got the hang of these types of observations you can then move on to “magic moments” or others.