Keeping records of the day to day activities of children using observation and assessment can help you to plan relevant experiences around the needs and development of the individual child. It is now a requirement of EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage)
You may think you know the children well but by observing and recording you will build up a record that can give a wider view of the individual child. It will help you to meet children's individual needs and plan activities to help and stimulate them. You will also gain information to evaluate your own provision and performance.
How do I observe?
We all watch children as they play and interact to ensure they are safe, however, observing goes that one step further by actually recording what you see. It’s a way of assessing and evaluating children’s development, actions and routine.
There are many ways to observe from detailed records to notebooks and charts. Choose one that suits you best, if you feel bogged down with paperwork you are less likely to continue observing.
You need methods that will tell you about a child’s skills, strengths, weaknesses, development stage, likes, dislikes, knowledge, interests and fears.
When planning your method always use the observation cycle - Observe -> Record -> Evaluate - > Plan - > Observe
For instance a simple tick chart for colouring activities could list such things as:
Child can hold a crayon between thumb and fingers
Child can draw a circle when asked
Child can form letters
Child can draw basic people shapes
Child uses variety of colours
If, when you evaluate your chart, you find that child A only uses one colour all the time you could plan to make more colours available, offering the colours, discussing colour, offering colour based activities etc.
If you find that child B is holding the crayon as a pencil then you could introduce pen and pencil activities and introduce ‘writing’ opportunities.
Observation and assessment is now a statuary requirement of EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) but it doesn't have to be difficult. Using the simple 'Look, listen and note' approach will help you find out what stage the children are at.
If you observe the children playing, make notes as you do so based on their interests, you can then plan activities that offer play opportunities for individual children.
Say for instance your evaluation shows that child A plays with the dolls house most of the time but has no interest in the crafts offered. You could plan to offer simple cut out doll making, this will stay within their interest but may encourage them to take part in craft activities to make dolls for the house.
Development charts - Simple development charts built up over several months can help to show areas of development that may need extra activities to aid development.
A simple “I Can” chart:
I can match objects by size
I can match objects by shape
I can name three colours
I can point to shapes
I can point to named colours
Over time this might well show that a child can match shapes and sizes but does not know colours. You could then introduce colour based activities to promote that learning experience.
Observation does not need to be boring or hard work it can be great fun and your own learning experiences during observations will help improve your setting.