I will explain the value of observations, both inner and outer, and how they can be used in practice to benefit stakeholders. We observe the children in our care to better understand them, recording these observations in an effort to allow that understanding to inform how we may best protect and nurture them, and so doing facilitate their individual needs.
There are five primary observational techniques which are most commonly used within an ECCE setting, and each of them is valuable for different reasons.
Logging ones observations by way of a checklist is particularly useful when recording physical development because, although there is a minimum of ten items per checklist, this method of observation can be conducted over a long period of time.
The narrative technique is usually conducted over a ten-twenty minute period during which observations are recorded in the present tense – code words,to be finessed at a later date, are often used. Part of what makes this such a valuable tool in our observational toolkit is that nothing other than what we observe may be recorded – no extra evaluation, no filling in the blanks. This makes the narrative technique an extremely accurate way of recording what happens, and is therefore optimum when recording a significant event.
This is not the same as an event sample, which is when we identify an issue and record its context and development to identify the pattern. Although there is no set timescale, when we are sampling an event we record what happens before, during and after – ascertaining whether the behaviour was provoked and/or how was it triggered, documenting how the target child reacted, and finally what methods of aftercare were used.
This observational technique itself is similar yet not the same as a time sample; a technique which is used for a fixed time or interval over a set number of days, for example for one minute after lunch every day for a week. This technique is typically used for general overview – especially for monitoring social or language development. A time sample wouldn’t fit into an event sample as not a particular event, and when we observe in this way, our focus is less directed towards what happens before, around or after the sampled behaviour, but rather on the mannerisms and behaviour displayed by the target child.
The pre-coded technique of observation mimicks a script, as we document only and exactly what the child and those around the child are saying. Establishing a key at the beginning (eg. TC = Target Child), this technique is particularly useful when tracking language development.
Finally the period of time documented while using the learning story technique can be over the course of a few days or months. The learning story technique is essentially a narrative describing the development of a learning activity – frequently featuring photos, quotes, colorful, illustrations etc. Children are involved in the process of making the story, like cutting out pictures and gluing them on, making this an exceptionally involving and potentially bonding and fun method of observation. Working on a learning story with the group of children entrusted to ones care provides the children with the opportunity to reflect on their own development, while presenting this process as a fun and engaging activity. This in and of itself is a positive introduction to introspection for the child.
Even when utilising the learning story observational technique, it is of utmost importance that we don’t jump to conclusions, as doing so undermines our ability to critically appreciate the aspects of the child’s development we are seeking to understand. This in turn undermines our ability to facilitate their individual needs.
It stands to reason that in order to be truly competent caregivers, we ought to dedicate a complimentary portion of energy towards reflecting on our own behaviour as we do towards the observation development of the children in our care. Doing so enables us to engage in a process of continuous learning, paying critical attention to the practical values, theories, and various biopsychosocial motivators which inform our behaviour.
When I was working in the “Wobbler Room” – wherein the average age of children is two years old – I noticed a little boy attempting to balance on the rim of a toy bucket which was propped up against the window. The toy bucket was large, and naturally the child was very small. However, as he began to attempt to eat the window ledge, it was clear to me that this was not a safe situation for the child to be in. I removed him from the bucket, enticing his interest towards a pile of puzzles which were on the floor. “Look,” I exclaimed, deftly lifting him back onto the rug. “Puzzles! Wow!”
The child initially shared my enthusiasm but, unfortunately, by the fourth return to his perch, had become wise to my tricks. When I lifted him down for the fourth time, he flapped his hands in agitation. “Aaaaaa,” he declared, and, with eyes full of realisation, slapped me across the face.
I am a devotee of nonviolence, and I recognise that as an adult and ECCE practitioner (in training), my primary objective must always be to ensure the healthy, safe and optimum development of the children in my care. Practicing dedication to nonviolence over the last decade, it is now very much counter to my learned behaviour to retaliate acts of aggression. My initial response to being slapped by this two year old, therefore, was not – “How can I avenge my face?” or “How can I protect myself from future slaps?”, but rather, “How can I correct this behaviour without compromising the opportunity to reassure this child while he is distressed?”
This is a thought process which indubitably would have developed differently had I not trained myself, through rigorous periods of inner reflection, to recognise and reject resentment and to control my responses to triggers which may invoke anger.
As well as being an important part of forming long-term approaches to practicing ECCE care, the reflexive practice is also key towards developing a personal trajectory towards nonviolence through learned self-regulation. Without this, our disciplinary/scaffolding approach is subject to a greater degree of inconsistency, which in turn is destabilizing towards our bond with the children in our care.
I put my hand to my face, gasped gently, and said, “No, no, nice Anna,” while stroking my own face. I then put my hand to his face and repeated the caressing action, saying, “Nice Henry*”
Instantly diffused, the child returned to his perch on the toy bucket. Undeterred (in fact, emboldened by my success at negating any feelings of anger), I scooped him up, plopped him on the carpet in front of me and said, gently but firmly, “No, we don’t climb on the bucket.” He gazed at me for a moment, before waddling off to play with the puzzles alongside his peers.
*Name has been changed.
My own notes taken from our third webinar of the session.