Types Of Observation
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.
TYPES OF OBSERVATION
We have looked at methods of observations. Now let us take a look at the types of observation which are:
These are so called because they are observations of children which are carried out in the child’s usual surroundings. The observation allows the child to carry out tasks which they would normally carry out without any structuring being attempted by you, the observer.
This type of observation is the opposite of naturalistic in that the childminder has specifically set up a particular activity in order to observe how a child carries out a specific task. For example, an obstacle course could be created to observe a child’s balance and co-ordination, or a painting activity to observe a child’s fine motor skills.
When you have settled into a pattern of regularly observing the children in your care and recording your findings you will begin to build up longitudinal records of observation, as your findings will show how the children in your care change and progress over a lengthy period of time. Each child’s set of records and observations will be their longitudinal record which will enable the important adults in their lives, namely you, their childminder, and their parents, to identify the important milestones and achievements in their lives.
As the name suggests, this type of observation involves trying to achieve a ‘snapshot’ of how a child is behaving at any given period of time. For example, a snapshot observation of how a child reacts immediately after their parent has dropped them off may be helpful in trying to deal with a child who is clingy and difficult to settle.
Essential information to include
With all observations there is a certain amount of essential information which must be included such as:
- the child’s name;
- the child’s age;
- the date the observation was carried out;
- the activity the child was involved in during the observation;
- the number, ages and gender of any other children involved in the activity;
- the name of the person carrying out the observation.
When observing a child, use whichever method you are most comfortable with and whichever is appropriate for the purpose you wish to achieve. It is vital that the observation is accurate and unbiased. Refrain from taking away findings which you feel may upset or worry parents, as these may be vital clues to the overall assessment of the child.
For example, if you are observing a child’s behaviour in order to develop an appropriate strategy to deal with tantrums, and simply to avoid embarrassing the child’s parents you omit the fact that, during an observation, the child lashed out or threw a toy across the room, then you risk jeopardising the whole exercise as this is an important part of the child’s behaviour which needs to be addressed.
Never exaggerate the situation or problem to make it appear worse than it really is. Your observations must be accurate and up to date to have any benefit whatsoever on the child’s overall development.
USING OBSERVATIONS TO PLAN FOR CHILDREN’S NEEDS
You will be making plans all the time without even realising you are doing so. Everyone makes plans at some time in their lives. They may be as simple as writing a shopping list or organising a trip to the park, or as complex as planning a special holiday or a wedding. Every day of our lives will involve some type of planning. If you have children of your own you will plan their day as well as your own. Planning will include what clothes to wear, food to buy and cook, activities to enjoy, places to go, etc. Most of the planning we do on a daily basis will be done in our heads with the occasional written reminder to jog our memories of important things lest we forget.
Planning is an important part of a childminder’s day. In order for the day to run smoothly and for everything to get done on time, plans need to be made and implemented. Plans are vital for the effective and efficient running of a childminding business. Childminders should be making plans on both a daily and a weekly basis, and depending on the number and ages of children in their care, the plans may look something like this:
DAILY CHILDMINDING PLAN
Important times to adhere to:
1. Arrival of children from
2. Drop off at school
3. Drop off at playgroup
4. Collect from playgroup
5. Lunch time
6. Collect from school
8. Departure of children from
With the exception of the above times, the rest of the childminder’s day can be planned to their own agenda, doing activities to suit the children’s preferences and the opportunities which arise. It is essential that the times above are adhered to and that the children are taken to and collected from school and playgroup on time. Meals must be planned at regular times everyday to avoid the children becoming overly hungry or having to rush meals in order to fit them in. If children usually leave your house by 5pm you must make sure that they have been fed and are ready to be collected as agreed. Parents will not be impressed if, after a hard day at work, they then have to wait half an hour for their child to eat their tea because you failed to time your own day effectively.
By sticking to a workable plan you should be able to carry out your childminding duties satisfactorily and progress onto effective weekly planning which may incorporate things like:
- visiting the library;
- shopping for essentials for your childminding business;
- specific homework on set days for school children;
- activities for the week.
The observations you have carried out will put you in good stead when deciding on how to plan for the needs of the children in your care. For example your observations and assessments will enable you to:
- see which activities the children enjoy the most;
- see which activities the children are least interested in;
- determine which activities a child is good at;
- decide how to extend the activity in order to stretch the skills of the child;
- check the child’s progress and growth.
When to extend activities
The more information you can have about a child in your care the better equipped you should be to provide for their needs. Always take your cue from the child and never try to over stretch them before they are ready. When you have found an activity which the child enjoys, introduce it as often as they wish but refrain from extending it until they are competent enough to cope with more complexity. If you try to push a child too far too soon you risk alienating them and their self-confidence may even suffer if they feel they have failed in a particular task.
A child of two who has just discovered the joy of painting, for example, by using a variety of finger paints, paint pads and sponges should be allowed to experiment in this way before you introduce more complex materials such as brushes, scrapers, stamps, string, etc. Avoid the temptation to indulge them with too many varied and complex materials before they are ready and always be realistic with your expectations.
Likewise, there is little point in planning an activity involving making a collage with a child who cannot yet use scissors correctly. Instead allow the child the time to practise using scissors on a regular basis and then, when they are confident with this task, introduce making a simple collage.
Planning, observing and assessing children are all very important aspects of a childminder’s duties, however without evaluation all of the other tasks will have been a waste of time.
Evaluation is the method of judging how much progress the child has actually made over a period of time. Evaluations need to be continuous and systematic, and they need to take into account the child’s past experiences.
Children are changing all the time and this is why evaluations need to be carried out. As the children grow and progress, you will need to alter your routines and activities to take into account these changes. Childminders will benefit from evaluating not only the children in their care and the activities they provide, but also the materials and resources they have on offer and the space and time available.
Evaluations will enable you to:
- encourage the children to concentrate on certain areas of their development;
- encourage the children to develop an interest in a variety of areas and activities;
- ascertain whether the children are playing well together and if there are any areas of behaviour which are causing you concern;
- decide whether the toys and equipment available are appropriate for the children’s ages and stages of development and what new toys and equipment may be beneficial;
- decide whether any new learning materials will benefit the children;
- ascertain whether the activities already enjoyed are stretching the children’s ability and imagination appropriately and whether these need to be assessed.
Figure 10 shows the continuous cycle of observing and assessing children in your care, evaluating the results of your own childminding practice, implementing any changes you feel are necessary and planning the future care of the children together with appropriate activities.
Respecting each child’s individuality
By observing, assessing and evaluating the children in your care you will be able to build up an accurate picture of each child, based on their individuality and preferences. Any preconceived ideas of what you personally expect from each child must be forgotten and you should aim at all times to avoid speculation or allowing yourself to be influenced by prior knowledge. Avoid making comparisons and remember that all children are individuals, unique in every aspect of their make-up and should be treated with understanding, love and respect.
Discussing certain evaluations with parents
When evaluating your observations and assessments there may be times when it is apparent to you that something is amiss and that a certain course of action may be necessary. For example, your observations may have revealed a medical problem which may need referral. Always discuss your findings and worries with the child’s parents and decide, together, what course of action should be taken. Be sensitive to the parents’ feelings if you suspect their child has some kind of medical problem and take the time to offer support and reassurance. Often something like a hearing impairment is short lived and may be the result of a particularly heavy cold; however more severe problems will need ongoing treatment and the parents may feel very vulnerable at this time.
The importance of self-evaluation
You can never know too much about childcare no matter how experienced a childminder you may be. A childminder who feels that they have no room for improvement and need not continue with updating their own professional training and skills is, to my mind, a poor childminder. Childcare practice is an ever changing profession and it is absolutely essential that you keep up to date with practice and procedures.
No business, whether it be a childminding business or not, will develop if the people running it are unwilling or unable to move forward. You should always be looking for ways to make your childminding business better and to increase your own skills and knowledge. Like the children we are caring for, we are learning new things and gaining new skills every day.
Although it is probably true to say that no one enjoys being criticised, try not to look on all criticism as being negative. Sometimes criticism, given in the right way, can be extremely beneficial and can help us to see things from a different perspective.
In order for you to be a reflective practitioner it is necessary for you to systematically evaluate yourself and the way in which you carry out your childminding duties. Just because you have been doing things in a set way for several years and they appear to be working well does not mean that this is the most effective way you could be working. By using self-evaluation methods you will be able to evaluate your own childminding practice and reflect upon your own skills to decide how effective your system actually is.
How to evaluate your childminding practice
Try asking yourself the following questions:
- 1.Is there anything I can do to improve the service I provide?
- 2.Is there anything I can do to improve the qualifications I have?
- 3.What areas of my childminding skills do I need to improve upon?
- 4.Is my business running effectively?
- 5.Are the children in my care happy and content?
- 6.Are the children in my care achieving the goals I have set for them?
- 7.Are the children in my care reaching the developmental ‘norms’?
Possible areas for additional training
It is not always easy to carry out a self-assessment objectively. However by looking at each aspect of your childminding business you should be able to ascertain which areas you need additional training in. If, for example, you are caring for a child with a particular disability, you should be seeking additional training to help you carry out your duties effectively. Likewise, if you have not undertaken any training in Birth to Three Matters and you are caring for a baby you should consider enrolling on an appropriate course.
Child protection issues are also ‘grey’ areas for many childminders who may have only briefly looked at these issues whilst on other courses. All childminders should be competent in child protection issues and know how to spot signs of abuse and how to report them.
First aid is another aspect of a childminder’s training which needs to be regularly updated.
Parents’ ideas and suggestions
Consider asking the parents of the children you are caring for to complete a simple questionnaire which you have devised. The questionnaire should ask the parents to comment on areas of your childcare practice such as the menus and activities you provide, how happy they consider their children to be. It is always a good idea to ‘invite’ parents to add their own ideas or to suggest areas for improvement.
Don’t look at the results of the questionnaires as criticism but use the parents’ comments to improve the service you provide. You may find that parents, who often wouldn’t say anything to you face to face, have a lot to say when invited to give their comments on a questionnaire!
Of course if you are going to offer parents the chance to tell you truthfully what they think, you must be prepared to take their comments on board and make any necessary changes to your routines. If a parent requests something specifically which you are unable to carry out, explain why it is not possible for you to do it, and try to offer a compromise. Never ignore a suggestion made by a parent, as they may feel as if their opinions are unimportant and that is the very last thing you should be striving to achieve. Always remember that happy parents are just as important to your childminding business as happy children!