One of the most exciting parts of working with young children is witnessing their growth and development. As we watch them develop and learn it is important to acknowledge, support and celebrate their growth. We do this by carefully observing and recognizing how children in our care/classroom are developing at their own rate.
Once we identify where children are in their development, it is our job to reflect on what we know, and then plan the environment and curriculum for further development and growth (see the Handout: The Curriculum Cycle). Observation and reflection on individual growth and development allows us to celebrate each child.
It is important to use the information gathered during observations on individual development to prepare appropriate curriculum, NOT to compare or label children. As we learned in the last module, each typically developing child will eventually master developmental tasks on his/her own time schedule and we want to encourage and support them where they are. For example, one child may be walking at nine months and another at 15 months, but both children are considered to be typically developing. Or one five year-old may be reading text and another still reading pictures to tell a story from a book.
Consider the following highlights of understanding and observing development:
- Children have individual temperaments, development, learning styles, experiences and family backgrounds.
- Understanding development helps us to scaffold our interactions and curriculum for young children. Scaffolding is a teaching concept introduced by researcher Lev Vygotsky. It means that teachers are providing children with sufficient support when they are learning a new skill. Through observation you can determine what a child can do independently, what they can do with help and what additional support they need to take them to the next developmental level.
- In order to fully understand where children are in their development you must observe over time, and observe them in a variety of settings.
- Teachers benefit from observation by getting to know each child well, building respect and appreciation for each child and their unique developmental timetables.
- DEL’s Early Learning and Development Guidelines book can help you determine typical development and needs of each child in your care/classroom. Use the Guidelines to help you create meaningful curriculum, share development with children’s parents, and inform your own understanding of individual developmental expectations. All of this helps your classroom or care setting to run smoothly.
- Because children each develop at a different rate, we as providers must have realistic expectations for learning, behavior and interactions. Realistic expectations allow us to challenge and scaffold children who are ready in one area of development, and ease up on challenges in areas where they are not ready. For example, a child who does not have the fine motor skills necessary to button their own coat may need extra time to get outside while the teacher scaffolds this learning opportunity (taking the time to help start the button and let the child finish). A child who is proficient at this skill may be given the challenge of helping another child or working towards tying shoes.
- We use the observation information we gather about children in order to assess their needs, assess our program effectiveness, and build an effective program.
- According to the NAEYC Position Statement on Early Childhood Curriculum, Assessment and Program Evaluation’s indicators of effectiveness, the information gathered through observation and assessment is used to understand and improve learning. (see Handout, “NAEYC & NAECS/SDE Position Statement...”).
- Using observation to understand development is essential to effective teaching.