Observations lead to an understanding of the development and needs of children. They help child care practitioners to gain knowledge to allow practitioners to promote these developments and meet these needs. Observations can be carried out by various means but will allow practitioners to confirm preconceived ideas or to alter ways of thinking in some areas. Through observations in the past developmental norms have been observed. This gives childcare practitioners guidelines. Children may be outside the normal expected development either under achieving or over achieving. Observing these developments will allow the practitioner to amend the childrens learning.
If a child is not progressing as expected the practitioner will be able to help the child further develop in weaker areas. Also if a child is achieving more than expected the practitioner will understand the child needs further stimuli to other children of the same age. Observations therefore help identify any needs which are not being met. Good practice is often recognised through observations and they help practitioners recognise where alterations should be made either in the setting or their own personal actions. Good observations help us understand individual children, this will help practitioners notice if a child is acting differently to normal. It would then allow the practitioner to work out if the child was ill or had something or someone upsetting them.
In early years settings observations should be shared with staff and concerns discussed. Parents may also be involved. For example a child who is not toilet trained by the appropriate age may cause concerns. The practitioner would help the child by discussing with the parents methods to help the child develop.
Observations carried out throughout a childs life helps pass on information from one setting to the next. It could be a certain behaviour characteristic that has reoccurred iin a new setting. A practitioner would realise this was an ongoing concern and would have more information to help determine the cause of the behaviour. Observations passed onto a new setting will help staff understand a child and aid them in offering the correct level teaching.
Observations can help staff recognise disabilities such as hearing speech or sight impairments. The earlier these are recognised the more help a child will receive.
Not all observations will require action, it would be wrong to believe they would. Observations are there to assess children and on many occasions the observation will show the child is developing normally and the setting is offering suitable learning. Through observation practitioners might see areas where children may struggle, for example playing with certain children could cause conflict. Social skills that may be lacking could be highlighted. Physical skills that are lacking may be noticed and the child would then be encouraged to work on that skill.
All observations are governed by rules of confidentiality stated in the Data Protection Act. Specific permission must be sought before doing an observation, taking photographs or using other materials. All information collected is strictly confidential and should not be discussed outside of the setting. Parents signatures need to be obtained and recorded before observations are passed onto outside agencies. For example a taped speech observation may need to be passed onto a speech therapist to give a clear indication of a speech problem. One exception to this rule is if concerns were raised over neglect or abuse when this information could be passed onto a child welfare team.
Information collected about the children should be kept in a secure place. Computer files must be made secure by using passwords. Observations made by students should not contain full names or photographs unless specific permission has been sought. Some observations are made using photographic and video evidence, or sound recordings may be made, prior permission from the parent or carer must be gained before using these types of observations.
When carrying out an observation it is important not to get involved with the activity or to influence the childs behaviour. If possible do not let the child know they are being observed as this could alter their normal behaviour pattern.
Observations should show awareness of ethical backgrounds such as religion. For example some children will not make eye contact with an adult. This could be interpreted as low self esteem where in actual fact the child is encouraged at home not to do this, as it is seen as disrespectful in their religion. Some cultures segregate children from adults for the majority of time and they would therefore feel intimidated by being spoken to an adult. Also boys from certain cultures are not encouraged to play with girls and it would be noticed in a sociogram. This would be normal behaviour for that child and a cultural difference should be noted.
It is therefore important to gain knowledge about the various cultures to help make more accurate judgements. Learning about cultural moral codes, diet, eating patterns, dress and language will help with many observations. One incidence I have witnessed in my placement is an asian child who comes from a very large family. He is the youngest child at home and is very strictly ruled by all the elders in his family. At school he is very loud and always takes the lead, often to the extent of bullying others. Comments were made by the staff regarding his behaviour but when his family life was explained his behaviour was more understandable and positive steps were made. Without giving regard to culture this child would have been observed as a bully and very confident. It is very important to never let sexist or racist attitudes affect observations.
Gender is also an aspect that needs to be looked at. Observations made about childrens play habits may raise concerns that play areas are not being accessed by male or females. For example the kitchen role play area may only be used by girls or the climbing equipment predominantly be used by the males. This type of observation would show the practitioner the opposite sexes need to be encouraged to use each area. A rota could be drawn up to ensure the equipment is used by all. Without this observation the setting could be seen to be discriminating against gender. One observation I have realised to be true in my setting is stereotyping children.
I have made this mistake myself. A few years ago I worked with a boy with severe behavioural problems. This year his younger brother is in the class I work in. I wrongly assumed the brother would have the same behavioural issues that his older brother had. In this case I was very wrong as the younger brother had no behavioural problems. This has helped me to stop making assumptions about children and generalising about behaviour. This is a form of stereotyping to think about when making observations. Another form of stereotyping is for example thinking of a two year old as in the terrible twos, all children are individual and should not be labelled with stereotypical ideas. Practitioners have a duty to make observations accurately and clearly, whether or not such observations agree with our previous assumptions. It is vital not to jump to conclusions or guess why children respond in a certain way.
To conclude always use observations for the benefit of the children, and to develop good practice in the workplace. Keep observations up to date and regular. Ensure confidentiality is respected and files are kept secure. Ensure observations are carried out without assumptions and allow for cultural differences. Never let racial or sexist attitudes affect the observations made.