What Is observing?

Observing is a way of gathering information. It is a natural human activity; the moment we are born, we start to look, listen, smell, taste and feel everything. This information gathering continues throughout our lives, because it helps us learn about our world and understand what is happening around us.


As a way of gathering information, observing plays a pivotal role for early childhood educators. Educators look and listen (and sometimes taste, smell and feel, but this is more rare) as they move through each day, in an effort to gather as much significant observational data as possible. 


What constitutes significant data? This is actually quite a complex question and the answer depends on a variety of factors. In fact, it is the individual observers who decide what is significant by taking into consideration such things as the goal of their observations, the development of the child or children being observed, the physical setting, the time of day or period of the year, and many other factors. 


For example, one educator might consider it significant that a specific child is using a certain skill for the first time, while another educator might want to record the fact that a child is still exhibiting a specific behaviour after a period of many months. As well, an educator might consider it significant that a child has not yet mastered a specific skill, or even that a child is no longer exhibiting certain behaviour or behaviours. Each of the 200 short video clips featured on this site presents examples of the behaviours, interactions, incidents, etc., which early childhood educators would consider significant. 


Why do early childhood educators observe?

The most important reason why educators observe is to get to know the children in their care. By having a deep understanding of each child as a unique individual, educators can identify and respond to each child’s needs.


Educators also observe so they can get to know parents, co-workers and even themselves. As well, educators observe their surroundings. For example, educators might look and listen in order to gather information about their classrooms, and how they influence the behaviour of the children and adults that use them.


How do early childhood educators use their observations?

Primarily, educators use the information they gather through their observations to make decisions. Gathering information is actually just one step in a larger . Educators observe, then analyze their observations, then plan their responses. Click here to access a separate page dedicated to analyzing observations. 


As they implement their plans, educators observe the outcomes of their decisions, then analyze their findings, then make new plans. In this way, the cycle is repeated over and over again. Although a full discussion of the types of decisions that educators make is beyond the scope of this website, it is important to at least note that these decisions can take many forms. To name just a few examples, an educator might use his/her observations and analysis to plan an individual intervention with a specific child, to make decisions about how best to share observational data with a parent, to adjust the furniture in the classroom, or to plan the curriculum for the coming week.


How do early childhood educators observe?

Educators take a professional approach to the task of observing by using specific methods and tools to record their observations. Educators do not simply rely on their memories because it is too easy to forget important details or to get confused. Furthermore, educators recognize the importance of objectivity. Click here for a more complete discussion of this concept. 


The most popular methods for recording observations are anecdotal recordsrunning recordsABC recordstally sampling and checklists/rating scales. Each of these methods is discussed in detail along with examples.



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