Friday, March 19, 2010

What Can You Learn by Observing Children?

Observation is a powerful tool! All of us observe, informally, as we go about our daily lives. We watch and listen to our surroundings. At a store I may notice the number of people near a kiosk or display and wander over to see what is catching everyone's interest. I may overhear a conversation about the latest movie release that sparks my interest to see a movie I had not planned to see. Observation can reveal information we may not have known before.

Do you ever watch children at play? When we take the time to observe children during play, we gain understanding about who they are and what they can do. Our Play Facilitators observe children playing and learning throughout their day. In fact, observation is the first method of facilitation recommended for staff and volunteers who interact with our visitors. Watching and listening allow facilitators to take their cues from what they see and hear children doing before deciding whether to join in an interaction. It gives the facilitator pause to reflect on what the child's play agenda is before interacting with the child.

In their book, Focused Observations, How to Observe Children for Assessment and Curriculum Planning, Gaye Gronlund and Marlyn James identify seven facets of understanding about children, when we take time to observe them. Whether you are a facilitator, caregiver, parent or grandparent, observation can provide us a "thorough and well-rounded picture of what is important to know about children" (Gronlund and James 2005).

"Learning about the information and knowledge children are constructing" is one of the facets of understanding mentioned in Gronlund and Jame's book. Here's an example of what that means, as observed by one of our Play Facilitators in our Math Young Explorer Area.
A 26-month-old child playing on our Peek-a-boo Bridge exclaimed, "The Museum is green," when looking through the green triangle.
During this opportunity to watch her child practice the movements of walking up and down an incline, the parent discovered her child's beginning awareness of color. "Through their play and use of materials, children often show you what information and knowledge they are figuring out and what skills they are working on" (Gronlund and James 2005). Whether you are a caregiver or parent, discovering what children can do or know about their world is useful information for understanding and planning for their learning needs.

Stay tuned! Over the next few posts, we will examine some of the other facets of understanding gained through observations and how they relate to Museum play.

1 comment:

  1. What a great piece! I suggest reading "Take a Look:Observation and Portfolio Assessment in Early Chilhdood" 5th ed. by Sue Martin Pearson Canada, as a really insightful book on why and how to observe and make sense of what you are seeing!