Observations need to be made over time in different situations and at different times of day to cover the breadth of learning opportunities provided.
In my setting we observe children using different methods, the most common observation the written down one, we also us ???wow??™ moments, digital photographs, involvement scale, samples of children??™s work and recording. These observations will then be put into the child??™s learning journey to share with the child, parents and other staff.
???Different types of observations will result in different kinds of evidence. Taken altogether, these will result in rich evidence about learning. Using a mix of observation methods and a variety of situations to observe is the best way of ensuring you have an effective record keeping and planning process to supporting the children??™s learning.??™
(Supporting every child??™s learning 2007 p. 45)
This assignment is based on the results of three previous observations I have carried out on the same child. Each of the three observations was in a different area of development within different areas of my setting including an outdoor activity. The child I observed in all three areas is Leighton (named changed to protect identity) he is three years 6 months old at the time of these observations. He attends the Nursery class of an Early Years foundation Unit five mornings a week 8:45 am till 12:15 pm. At the time of the observations Leighton was in his first term of Nursery. He lives with his mum and dad and has a younger sister. Dad is unemployed and Mum works full time in a Private Nursery in which Leighton had attended from an early age, but thought, now he had turned three years old, it would be best for him and her for Leighton to attend a different setting.
Working for 17 years in childcare, I have witnessed many children??™s reactions to their parents/carers dropping them off at Nursery/school each morning. Why is it that some children can happily begin to play and confidently wave their parents/carers goodbye, while others become highly distressed, clinging to their parents/carers legs, screaming until their faces turn blue as horrified parents/carers quickly escape How come some children appear as if they couldn??™t care less if they never saw their parents/carers again while others become highly anxious at the mere sight of the nursery/school yet are not comforted by their parents nurturing
These questions can be answered by exploring the Attachment theory.
My first observation relates to the attachment theory and was carried out over a period of a week (AP1)
The attachment theory is a psychological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for discussion of affectionate relationships between human beings. The theory was firstly developed by John Bowlby in 1969, and has remained an influential framework which is still used to explain interpersonal relationships (Hazan, & Shaver, 1987). Bowlby was influenced by the work of Harry Harlow, who discovered infant monkeys separated from their mothers cling to fluffy covered objects rather than wire-coated food dispensers, indicating that infants need for nurture (Harlow, & Suomi, 1970)
In my observation Leighton demonstrated high levels of his need for nurture and would often seek out his ???comfort??™ Tigger for reassurance after his mum had left him for the morning. Bowlby believed that an individual??™s attachment style was developed through childhood and was influenced by the child??™s relationships with their primary care givers. Leighton has a close bond with his mum and every morning he comes into Nursery she makes sure that she gives him a hug and a kiss before leaving him. Leighton became very distressed at the thought of her leaving him, shows that there is a strong attachment between them.
Mary Ainsworth was another influential attachment theorist who is known for her ???strange situation??™ experiments. Ainsworth would observe the attachment styles of children by placing the child in a new environment and record their actions to the primary care givers exiting the room and then returning (Tracy & Ainsworth, 1981). After researching this I decided to do a follow up to my observation about separating from mum to mum returning to collect Dylan as I was intrigued to see the results. (AP2)
The latest attachment theory states that individuals can be classified into four attachment styles based on the two dimensions of anxiety and avoidance.
The four attachment styles are
1. Proximity maintenance ??“ The desire to be near the people we are attached to.
2. Safe Haven ??“ Returning to the attachment figure for comfort and safety in the face of a fear or threat.
3. Secure base ??“ The attachment figure acts as a base of security from which the child can explore the surrounding environment.
4. Separation distress ??“ Anxiety that occurs in the absence of the attachment figure. The observation clearly shows that Leighton becomes distressed at the thought of mum leaving.
The observation shows that Leighton fits into more than one of the above attachment styles.
Leighton on more than one occasion asks for his mum as she is present and not present. Leighton is starting to feel safe with myself and seeks me out as mum is about to leave.
???A key person has special responsibilities for working with a small number of children, giving them the reassurance to feel safe and cared for and building relationships with their parents.??™
(Dfcsf, 2008, card 2.4)
The next step, planning for Leighton??™s needs:
What do we need to change or develop as a result of what we saw
After talking with staff it was decided that I would become Leighton??™s Key person. I arranged a meeting with Leighton??™s parents to discuss with them about the separation anxiety Leighton was displaying and how both myself and they could help Leighton.
Each morning Leighton is handed over to me with ???Tigger??™ and he chooses an area he would like to play in for the first ten minutes until register time. I will stay with him and play alongside him during his free choice play. This has helped incredibly as he has something to focus on, rather than thinking about mum.
Some mornings Leighton will put ???Tigger??™ into his bag when he hangs it up on his peg, other mornings he prefers to have ???Tigger??™ playing with us.
I am happy with the progress Leighton is making in this area and the comments I have had from his parents show that they are pleased with the success we??™ve achieved so far.
My second observation takes place in the Role Play corner ???Santa??™s grotto??™ (AP3) during planning time ??“ continuous provision. Leighton chose to go into the role play corner and write a letter to Santa. During my observation I was very fortunate to witness a variety of different types of play and was able to relate with a number of theorists.
Symbolic representation is whereby children represent their world and play in different and various ways such as language, feelings, thoughts and understanding. According to Gardner (1983) ???during childhood children acquire certain basic understanding of symbolic activities and systems??? and which ???during school age, having achieved some basic competence in symbolisations the child goes on to acquire higher levels of skills in culturally valued domains.???
These symbolic behaviours and representation emerges as ???schemas??™ during early childhood these schemas have been described as ???patterns of early repeatable behaviours.??? (Athey 1990 p128)
In my second observation Leighton was demonstrating a high level of symbolic representation with actions. He performed these actions by putting food on the plate for Santa and pretends sprinkling ???magic??™ salt on the food and after putting a plate to the side for Santa he offered it to two peers for Christmas dinner. This demonstrates Piaget??™s notion that ???thought consists of internalised and co-ordinated action schemas??? (Piaget 1959 p357) in Athey (1990 p128) Leighton displayed transporting schemas as well as piling the food from one plate to another.
The research of theorists such as Piaget, Bruner and Vygotsky has helped practioners to ???explore presentation??? (Bruce 1997) they also contributed towards the understanding and development of presentation symbolic behaviours. My observation shows how Leighton represents his play symbolically by using his imagination of sitting in a horse and riding it. This Piaget in Ginsburg & Opper (1997 p70) termed as ???appearance of the symbolic function??? which means children using objects in representing ???something else which is not present.???
This observation also identifies Bruner??™s enactive, iconic and symbolic mode of representation Leighton did ???replace the action with an image??? and used appropriate language in describing his play (Bruce 1997 p 66). Vygotsky on the other hand talked about the theory of ???actual development??™ which links in where Leighton initiated his own imaginary play without the help of an adult or peer. (Bruce 1987)
Children represent themselves in various ways Leighton preferred representation in mark making, which Matthews (2003 p74) describes it as ???visual representation and expression.??? His representation in this observation reflects Matthews (2003 p27) ideas about how ???first and second generation mark-making gestures are organised together and undergo transformation???
Leighton??™s mark making clearly demonstrates the ???structure principles which produce Third generation structure of closure??? and ???co linearity??? structure which Matthews (2003 p28) explained as ???when two or more drawings actions share the same path.??? His mark making shows his experience he had earlier on in the class when the teacher was role modelling writing a letter to Santa. Leighton got the appropriate media in the role play corner to represent his actions. (AP4)
Language goes hand in hand with visual representation; Leighton used an appropriate language in explaining his actions. Certain theorists advocates that ???language like drawings has its roots in physical action gesture??? Matthews (2003 p33) explained that ???all forms of representation originate from the same source and are unified with an interacting system??? Allot (2001) in Matthews (2003 p33) said ???words and objects are deeply connected in representational systems in the brain ???and ???it is through play that the child learns to separate words from objects and actions from meanings.???
Laevers believes that when children are deeply involved in what they are doing, significant, deep-level learning is taking place. Involvement is related to children??™s innate ???exploratory drive, motivation and dispositions??™. This is how Laevers (2002) describes the concept of involvement:
???when children are concentrated and focused, interested, motivated, fascinated , mentally active, fully experiencing sensations and meanings, enjoying the satisfaction of the exploratory drive, operating at the very limits of their capabilities, we know that deep level learning is taking place. If deep-level learning is taking place, a person is operating at their limits of their??? zone of proximal development???.??™
From the ten minute observation, I can strongly relate with the above statement Leighton showed very much interest in what he was doing and I think this is because it was his free choice and he has chosen an activity that he is interested and motivated to do.
The Leuven Involvement Scale is a five-point scale, devised by Ferre Laevers and his team as a way of measuring, through observation, the level of involvement displayed by a child.
Level 1 – No activity. The child appears mentally absent or uninterested and any activity is purely repetition.
Level 2 – Interrupted activity. The child is easily distracted from their actions.
Level 3 – Functioning at a routine level. The child may be listening to a story or playing with something but there is no evidence of concentration, motivation or intense pleasure in it.
Level 4 – Activity with intense moments. Concentration, excitement, pleasure, etc are seen momentarily throughout the activity.
Level 5 – Total involvement. This is seen in continuous intense mental activity. Even if the child is sitting motionless (for example, listening to a story) or running around (deeply involved in a role play) it will be shown in their eyes and facial expressions. The child shows frustration if the activity is disturbed or interrupted.
As a Foundation Unit we have been reflecting on the way we observe our children and the types of observations we use and after a meeting with colleagues and an Early Years advisor it was decided that we try out Ferre Laevers five point scale. It was suggested to start off with that we pair up to observe and discuss a child find out exactly how involved our children became in an activity and suggest a reason why the child was involved or not involved enabling us to plan for the future, and to write down on our observation sheet the level of involvement the child was working at. I decided to have a go using this observation and shared with my colleagues what I thought Leighton??™s level of involvement was. I thought his involvement in this particularly activity was level 3-4 (AP3) as Leighton showed concentration some of the time, I believe he got some pleasure from this activity as he was at times engrossed with making Santa??™s dinner.
Ferre Laevers suggests that emotional well-being is important because without it, levels of involvement and concentration are likely to be low. There are strong links here with other learning theories: – Maslow described a hierarchy of human need and suggested that if our needs are not met at one level, then we cannot move on to the next. Feeling safe and feeling good about ourselves makes it easier to explore and learn new things.- Vygotsky theorised about a zone of proximal development, where the level of challenge needs to be just at the right level to take learning forward – it is not too easy, nor is it too difficult so that it becomes frustrating.
My third observation, a photo (AP5), was taken during ???planning time??™ in which Leighton had chosen to play in our outdoor area. Looking at the photo observation I agree with the phrase every photo tells a story!
Outside our EYFS unit we have an enclosed area to deliver the outdoor curriculum. This area is included in our continuous provision. We have a playhouse and a small climbing area which includes a wooden bridge stepping stones and a tree house and is surrounded by bark. Practioners in the Early Years Foundation Unit take turns on a rota to supervise our outdoor area whilst the children are playing. We are hoping by summer 2010 to revamp the outdoor area to provide for our children a better natural rich stimulating environment all year round.
I believe childrens outdoor play is different from time spent indoors. The sensory experiences are different, and different types of play apply. Children have greater freedom not only to run around and shout, but also to interact with and manipulate the environment.
On this particular day the photo was taken, there was a clothes horse prop set up for the children to freely make a shelter for Robin Hood using natural materials they had collected the previous day from around the school during an outdoor activity. Leighton was involved in this and the day of the activity he came into school very excited asking when he can go outside to make the shelter. I believe his excitement for this activity is because it was to take place outdoors. I was proved correct after observing the enthusiasm and participation, seeing a totally different side of Leighton to my first observation.
Research indicates that playing outdoors can enhance both the psychological and emotional well being of children.
Leighton ran around the outdoor area pretending to be an aeroplane round and round he went this told me that he was engaged in the trajectory schema showing an interest in flying through the air. He then helped other children to build the shelter for Robin Hood before returning to fly around the yard again, rotating his arms and making aeroplane sounds. Leighton??™s involvement in this particular schema is demonstrated by his repeated interest in aspects of the physical world which demonstrates these elements and in forms of representation which allow him to explore his current schema.
Leighton then went back to help contribute to the shelter throwing leaves over the prop before returning to his schema, only this time he was a rocket and he was zooming through the air.
After my observation had finished Leighton continued to play in the outdoor environment for a further twenty minutes until he was called in to get ready for his pack lunch.
Reflecting on practice I think the action plan that we have in place to enhance our outdoor area will provide a safer and more fulfilling environment for all of our children in the EYFS setting. Even though I think our outside area could do with a ???face lift??™ and doesn??™t look appealing to others, Leighton enjoyed his free play and was his choice to play outdoors therefore I believe that the Natural outdoor environment is where Leighton feels that it is the place where he can be stimulated. After discussing with his parents and sharing the photo observation with them about the great time Leighton had outdoors, they had told me it was probably because he doesn??™t get out a lot at home as they live on a busy Road and have a small yard. I gave his parents advice about local parks, playing areas, fields any safe open space for them to take him and his sister to run around freely, enjoy and learn.
In conclusion I have learned that when you take the time to sit back and quietly observe, it is amazing the things that you learn from a child. I am satisfied that I have used the appropriate methods of observations whilst observing Leighton and understand the importance of observing children as it tells you about their needs, what they are interested in and what they can do. This helps to plan for the future. I feel that carrying out the research on many different theorists before and during my assignment enabled me understand theories of child development to practical contexts and I have also had the pleasure in sharing some of their ideas with my colleagues which has enabled us as a team to look at how we observe our children and how we can support and enhance specific areas to extend and develop children??™s development in their play.