7 Steps to Sharing Better Observations in Early Years Education
Observations are vital in ensuring you understand the children in your care. Every child is unique and observing them enables you to learn about and enjoy the unique qualities of each individual child, to help them progress.
Observations should not just be part of a data collecting exercise. Ofsted is very clear that they won’t be looking at data, so don’t collect it for them, and there’s no need to collect evidence purely for moderation or local authorities.
It is important to remember that the information you observe and gather about children helps you to understand how to provide them with an environment that will empower them to learn through play. Whilst also allowing you to assess where they are in their learning and development. Good observation and assessment processes will strengthen your planning.
Observations are there to:
- Find out more about a child or group of children and the effectiveness of the provision.
- Flag when children may need additional support.
- Enable practitioners to plan an appropriate curriculum, providing for the full range of needs within the setting.
- Help us understand the next steps adults might take to support a child’s development and learning.
- Strengthen parent engagement by helping them to understand their children’s progress and support the home learning environment.
7 steps to sharing better observations in early years education
The whole process of assessment in the Early Years could be done with no physical evidence whatsoever – if you know your children, you know your children. So there’s no intrinsic need for evidence. Evidence should only be collected if it serves a purpose for you as a practitioner. For example, if you’re wanting to share observations with other practitioners or settings and benchmark and agree about the assessments you’re carrying out, or if you’re having to assess a child in relation to SEND then you might need a record of evidence for the assessment process. It really is about what you need. You can decide what you as a practitioner find useful and what material you might need to help you see a child’s progress over time.
The most commonly used observations tend to be written snapshots complete with photograph. Other methods may be brought in when there are specific concerns about a child’s learning or development.
Here we outline 7 steps to sharing better observations in early years education.
1. Ensure the children you are observing are engaged
Before observing a child it is important to ensure they’re engaged in a freely chosen activity. You will learn much more about a child’s interests, their characteristics of learning, and their abilities when they are engaged in something they have chosen to do, rather than during a set or planned activity.
Learning about children’s interests will enable you to appropriately carry out in-the-moment planning allowing you to identify and meet children’s needs and provide them with engaging and enriching learning experiences as a result.
2. Capture the child's voice
It is important to capture the child’s voice in your observations. This means writing word for word what the child says, or for younger children accurately describing how they respond to certain situations, or what they were doing.
Quoting the child is a great approach to do since it demonstrates the child’s thoughts, mental processes, and how they interact with others. Photos and examples of children’s work are an added benefit as they reveal a lot about who the child is as a person.
3. Quality over quantity
If you already have multiple observations on the same thing you don’t need to do another as you won’t be learning anything new about the child. Use your time wisely to make sure you’re getting the most out of your observations.
Don’t apply pressure or set yourself goals for the number of observations you produce. They should be relative to the amount of time the child spends in the setting, and most importantly, they should be guided by the child and what they are learning.
4. Keep an open mind
As mentioned above, when observing children it is imperative that they’re engaged in a freely chosen activity. Don’t set out to observe children doing XYZ so you can mark it off against Early Years Outcomes. This will make your observations biased and you will most likely miss all the important things that will help you to support children’s learning and development.
The various guidances such as Development Matters and Birth to Five Matters are not there to be used as checklists to steer each unique child through a prescribed path with required ‘next steps’. However, the guidance will suggest the next steps adults might take to support a child’s development and learning. Knowing what steps you need to take as a practitioner to help them move on is an essential part of the assessment process.
5. Give practitioners time
Observations should not be rushed or limited to a time frame as this will have an impact on whether it was evidenced properly. It can be difficult to balance quality time with the children and quality observations so it is important that practitioners have the tools to do this properly. This could include post-it notes, digital voice recorders or tablets and software that enable staff to draft observations so they can write them up properly when they have more time.
6. Use open-ended questions
When observing children you may want to ask them some questions about what they are doing. Open-ended questions have no right or wrong answers, but help to broaden children’s thinking processes, develop their speech and language skills, and build confidence in their ability to express themselves using words.
When asking children questions it is important to not interrupt them and give them time to formulate a response. It is also good practice to Keep the conversation going until the child gives you clues to move on.
It is important to outline that the EYFS states that assessment should not entail prolonged breaks from interaction with children, nor require excessive paperwork. When assessing whether an individual child is at the expected level of development, practitioners should draw on their knowledge of the child and their own expert professional judgement.
7. Consider using an online learning journal tool
Many settings keep the observation, assessment and planning cycle at the heart of their practice by sharing online learning journals.
Although physical evidence is no longer required, you may still recognise a need for learning journals because the partnership with parents is so important. Learning journals not only allow for two-way communication between nurseries and parents, but they encourage that metacognitive process where the child can revisit things they’ve done and reflect on what they’ve learned. In this way, learning journals can potentially maintain that core role that they’ve always had in the Early Years.
You shouldn’t feel like you have to share something every day, however, if what you are sharing is informative to parents, helpful for the children to reflect on, and helpful for you as practitioners, then that’s a good sign that they’re still worth doing.
Online learning journal tools like iConnect make this process easier for your practitioners. You can log observations immediately as they happen, complete with photos or video, without taking time away from your children.
iConnect is the award-winning online learning journal software for practitioners. It’s the childcare app that enables staff to save hours each week and reduces the need to spend time away from their key children. Use the latest early years frameworks and guidance to share progress with staff and parents, reflect on teaching practices, and provide key interventions, at the touch of a button on an easy-to-use childcare app. iConnect is used by thousands of nurseries across the UK and there are over 700,000 observations logged each month.
The system is also packed full of useful analysis tools and we are always adding new ways of flagging interventions and sharing them with staff or parents. Having all of your data logged and stored on iConnect will save you hours and give you accurate and reliable insights.