10th April 2017 All Posts

What makes a good observation?

Kathy Brodie - Observation


Records will always be needed in Early Years, but there’s now a real focus on reducing the amount of administrative work that early years educators need to complete – and rightly so. 

The new Development Matters document encourages early years practitioners to use their knowledge to facilitate holistic learning and development and help children make progress without generating unnecessary paperwork. We have always believed paperwork has been a huge burden on the sector and spoke to Kathy Brodie, way back in 2017, to get her thoughts on ‘What Makes a Good Observation’. She gave us some brilliant insights and a list of questions to ask yourself before recording anything – so your time is really put to best use…

Connect Childcare work closely with Early Years Consultant, Kathy Brodie.

Based on her fantastic book, Observation, Assessment & Planning, we’ve been discussing what makes a good observation…. 

The DfE statutory framework can be vague and open to interpretation, both by practitioners and Ofsted. It calls for on-going assessments based on day-to-day observations of the children, without ‘excessive paperwork’ that is ‘limited to that which is absolutely necessary’.

As a childcare professional it is up to you to choose how often you update your chosen documentation and the method by which you do this.

Many settings still chose to record observations and daily activities on paper, but electronic systems, like iConnect are rapidly becoming the norm.

Once you have chosen your system you are ready to start capturing observations.

So what makes a good observation?

There are many instances throughout the day where an observation can be taken, but to ensure your observations are informative; a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself…


Why are you recording this observation, this assessment?

Why now and why this child?

Good reasons may be:

  • It’s the first time this child has done this activity
  • It’s a demonstration of embedded knowledge – because we learned about this last week and he/she is talking about it this morning
  • It’s evidence of self-esteem – because he/she showed pride in their creation
  • It made me say ‘Wow’ – because it’s something new
  • It has shown me how he/she thinks about the world

A good observation must be factual, accurate and sufficiently detailed. Having a tablet in the room with you can really help you capture things as they happen with accurate details rather than relying on recall at the end of the day, once the children have left the setting.

Pictures aren’t essential to a good observation but, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. A photo or series of photos can often tell a story so much more eloquently than pages of writing. The ability to add in photos instantly or even video recordings through iConnect is a priceless tool for capturing those wow moments that both child and parent will be proud to share.

It is crucial that practitioners are able to use a range of observational techniques in order to capture all elements of child’s interactions, environment, and additional needs. It is relatively easy to capture magic moments quickly by making a note on a pad or post it as it happens. But other observational techniques can take more time. Learning Stories, Narratives and identifying Schema need much more detail and in depth understanding. Technology like iConnect can really play a crucial role here, allowing practitioners to easily access existing observations and continue to add to detailed narratives to observations as time allows.

Including the child and treating them as a partner in the observational process is a great way of ensuring you get an insightful and detailed observation. You can get them to help you take a photo of a piece of work for their learning journal, or ask them about how they feel about what they are doing, and what they understand about it. Kathy Brodie was an advocate of one of our more recent features, ‘Child Voice’. We now have a section on all observations that can be completed with a comment from the child themselves.

Good observations can be used as a tool to enrich a child’s learning experiences. Ultimately, it is important that observations aren’t done just as part of the compulsory paperwork, and that all practitioners understand why they are taking observations, and how they can be put to use to impact positively on children.

Find out more information about observing with iConnect by heading here, or book a demo today to see how it will work for your setting.

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About the Author

Connect Childcare have been developing purpose built nursery management software for the past 15 years. Their missions is: To develop management software that improves the lives of children, globally.