Observations And Assessments
Allison Lee has written this book as a companion to her first book Starting Your Own Childminding Business. She has been minding children herself for over 11 years and is employed part-time by the National Childminding Association as a Support Childminder giving help and advice to other practitioners. Allison has also written childminding courses for ISC Learning Direct and for UK Open-Learning Direct.
As you carry out your childminding duties, you will be observing and assessing the children in your care on a daily basis, probably without even realising you are doing it. Childminders have the advantage of working closely with the children in their care for lengthy periods of time, and will be in a position to get to know them well and watch them in an objective way to see exactly what they are doing and how they are behaving.
It is absolutely paramount that childminders spend some of their time carrying out observations and assessments of the children they are caring for in order to understand and meet their needs.
To be able to observe and assess children effectively you will need to learn how to watch them objectively and record your findings accurately. It is important to avoid making assumptions and judgements.
WHY DO CHILDMINDERS NEED TO OBSERVE THE CHILDREN IN THEIR CARE?
Observations and assessments are vital to a childminder’s work for many different reasons. Effective observations and assessments enable the childminder to:
- understand the basic needs of the children in their care;
- ascertain which areas a particular child may need help and encouragement in;
- identify which areas of development a child is particularly good at;
- understand why a child acts in the way that they do, and to understand what provokes a certain kind of behaviour;
- share important developmental information with the child’s parents, carers or other professionals;
- plan effective activities, suitable for the age and development of the children in their care;
- see whether a child is ill or showing signs of coming down with an illness;
- be alert to any obvious changes in a child’s usual behaviour, which could indicate issues such as bullying, abuse, etc.
- be aware of any potential hazards around their home or garden and may highlight other dangers which may have been overlooked, for example, whilst on the school run or outings.
As a childminder you will get to know the children in your care very well. Over the weeks, months and years you will learn each child’s special traits, their likes, dislikes, fears and anxieties. You will become a valued and trusted person in their lives and as such you will have the responsibility which comes with this very important role. Unlike in a nursery, where several carers may be responsible for different aspects of each child’s care, you will have the sole responsibility of caring for the children registered with you and it is very important that you learn how to observe and assess their behaviour and development during the time they are with you and just as importantly, that you incorporate your findings during your day-to-day activities. There is little point in observing and assessing the children in your care if you are simply going to file away your recorded findings and not share the information with the child’s parents or use it to plan your own activities and routines.
DEFINING ‘OBSERVATION’AND ‘ASSESSMENT’
Before we can fully understand how to carry out an observation or an assessment we must first know what each term really means.
Observation involves the gathering of information about a particular child’s behaviour and their stage of development.
You will need to seek parental approval before carrying out an observation of a child. When seeking approval, inform the parents of the following:
- 1.Why you feel an observation would be beneficial.
- 2.What you are hoping your observation will achieve or reveal.
- 3.How you feel the observation will assist you in planning for the child’s future needs.
You will also need to reassure the parents that you will share the information from the observation with them, and that all the details will remain confidential and will be accessed only by them, yourself and any other professionals on a ‘need to know basis’. Always point out to the parents that the reason for an observation is to focus on the positive aspects of the child’s behaviour and progress rather than looking to produce a negative list of underachievement.
Assessment is your own unbiased, objective reflection on the information you have gathered during your observation.
Before finalising your assessment, you should discuss your observational findings with the child’s parents, and if necessary any other professionals, in order for them to add their own comments, opinions and ideas. The results of your assessment should form an essential part of your future planning and they should be used to monitor the child’s progress.
Now that we have accurately defined both observations and assessments we will look closely at the ways in which these essential childminding duties can be carried out effectively.
METHODS FOROBSERVING AND ASSESSING CHILDREN
The main methods for observing children are as follows:
- event sampling;
- time sampling;
- target child;
- flow charts;
- interval recording;
- duration recording;
- checklists and tick charts.
Let us look at these methods in more detail.
This method of observation is particularly helpful if there is an aspect of the child’s behaviour that you or the child’s parents are especially keen to change, for example thumb sucking, resorting to tantrums, and so on. Event sampling enables the childminder to record when the ‘event’ occurs and to make a note of the actual events leading up to it. Event sampling may need to be carried out over quite a long period of time in order to discover what triggers the behaviour before a strategy can be sought to change it.
This method of observation is similar to event sampling in that you are recording what the child is actually doing, however you will be making notes of the child’s behaviour at fixed times and intervals throughout the day. You will need to decide exactly what aspect of the child’s behaviour you are intending to focus on and then decide on a suitable time interval. This could be every 15 minutes for two hours, every 30 minutes throughout the morning, or for two minutes every half hour.
Childminders may find this particular observation method difficult to carry out unless they are only caring for one child, as it requires focusing on just the one child for quite a lengthy period of time which is not always possible with other children present. If you work with another childminder or an assistant you may find this method of observation easier to use. Target child observations are used more successfully in nurseries, playgroups and reception classes where children are usually in larger groups. Using codes to abbreviate certain words, such as ‘A’ for adult, ‘TC’ for target child, will enable you to record quickly your observations as you are witnessing the situation.
These are an informal way of recording developmental changes such as sleep and feeding patterns in young babies and they can also be used to record favourite activities.
It has to be said that not all professional childminders are adept or enjoy lots of writing and, although a necessary part of the job, observations and assessments can be quite daunting to some of even the most experienced of childminders. By using flow charts you can eliminate the need for pages and pages of writing but still ensure that effective observations are being carried out. Flow charts are diagrams which show the activities and the equipment’s layout. Lines can be drawn on the chart to show the activities the children take part in and different colours can be used to denote the age and sex of the child and the activities preferred.
This method of observation is similar to time sampling except you decide on a specific detail of a child’s behaviour which you wish to observe and then watch the child over a short period of time.
This type of observation can sometimes be awkward to carry out as you will need to be involved in the chosen activity yourself, making it impossible to write down your findings whilst carrying out the observation. You will need to rely heavily on your memory, particularly if you do not get the chance to record your findings immediately after the activity is over. Participative observations, however, can still be very effective as children will often become more involved if an adult participates in an activity such as reading a story, building with bricks or dressing-up.
As the name suggests, with this type of observation the childminder does not become involved in the activity at all and remains as unobtrusive as possible. Their only role is to record what they are seeing.
Many parents, and indeed childminders, have been heard to moan about the length of time a particular activity has taken to set up and how little time it then holds a child’s interest. It can be discouraging for a childminder who has spent the best part of two hours inflating a bouncy castle on the lawn only to see the children tire of it after bouncing for ten minutes! The secret to planning activities for the children in your care is to concentrate on what they enjoy doing and to focus on their preferences rather than your own. You may love baking and enjoy trying out new complicated recipes, for example, but you would be well advised to save the soufflés for when the children have gone home and concentrate on fairy cakes whilst baking with the four year-olds.
In order to understand what the children in your care actually enjoy doing, try using duration recording to plot how long a child spends on a particular activity. This method of observation can also be used to see how long a particular type of behaviour lasts, for example a tantrum.
This is perhaps the most time consuming of all the methods of observation as it involves recording information about a child’s growth and development or behaviour over a particular period of time. Written records give as much detailed information as possible of exactly what the child is doing over the period of time the observation is taking place. A written observation should not contain any assumptions and should be an objective view of what is actually happening. At the end of the written observation you may like to note any areas of concern and how you intend to progress using your findings.
Checklists and tick charts
Another relatively easy way of recording a child’s progress without the need for lengthy written reports, is the use of checklists and tick charts. Once you have devised a suitable list or chart all you will need to do is to review periodically the progress of the child and record your findings. A tick chart may look something like this:
TICK CHART Name of child Age of child Date
Able to hold a paintbrush
Able to hold a pencil
Able to use scissors to cut paper
Able to tie a shoe lace
Able to fasten a button
Able to catch a ball
Able to throw a ball
Able to kick a ball
Able to ride a bicycle
Obviously the statements you insert in your own tick chart will depend on the age of the child you are observing. For example, if you are using this method to observe a nine month-old baby the statements may read something like:
- Able to sit up unaided
- Able to pull themselves to a standing position
- Able to roll from front to back
- Able to roll from back to front
- Able to clap hands
- Able to wave goodbye
- Able to crawl, etc.