Finding Ways to Extend Observations

During the past week I have discussed a lot about observations. One thing that I have found when talking to educators is that they are not quite sure what to do with their observations once they have made them. Here is a list of ways that I use observations:

1. Complete Developmental Assessments

During an observation, I am completely in tune with a child. I am following his actions, his language, and his social interactions. These aspects of observation can come in handy when completing developmental assessments, and it doesn’t require you to ask a child to try to perform a task out of the context of play or life. We have all heard of, seen, or experienced test anxiety. Asking a child to perform out of context can bring test anxiety to life, but in a classroom that uses observation as a tool, children can experience this anxiety less because we can see the development happening in and throughout the classroom.

2. Develop Learning Projects and Activities

This is where the creativity of the teacher can really shine through. By using the amazing amount of information that has been gathered through observation, teachers can sit down and plan extended learning projects and basic activities to expand children’s knowledge. There are many wonderful resources to help with this, as well. Pinterest is where I get a lot of ideas for the classroom, as well as different educational blogs and sites. The early childhood online community is a treasure trove of ideas, information, and inspiration. Many of the blogs I read are listed in the “What I’m Reading” section on the right.

3. Define an Effective Classroom Environment

The interests and ideas of the children are always changing. Therefore, the environment that they learn in should always be changing as well. I have never viewed classroom design as a static process for this reason.

There are many aspects of the classroom that can be affected by observing children. The first is the overall layout of the classroom. If the furniture arrangement allows for too much high-energy movement, it may be time for a change. Likewise, if an area of the classroom sees a lot of attention but is cluttered and cramped, it may be necessary to either expand the area or move it to a more accessible area of the classroom.

One of the most dynamic aspects of the classroom should be the materials that the children interact with. Providing new materials on a regular basis can allow the children to be continuously exploring their environment because it never grows old. I have read stories of teachers who found curious objects, trays, or items in thrift stores and added them to the classroom environment simply because they were curious about how the children would interact with it.

Maria Montessori maintained that children should be surrounded by materials that are aesthetically pleasing (Lillard, 2007). The reason for this is that children are drawn to them, as most people are to beautiful objects. Different textures, weights, and beautiful colors are calming to a child. Have you ever picked up a “worry stone” at a tourist gift shop? The smooth texture and features of the stone are supposed to have a calming effect to those who use them. One item that I have always loved to hold in my hand is a glass sphere. The smoothness of the sphere, along with the weight of the glass, never fails to trigger a calm in me. Usually I wonder how someone goes about making a glass sphere like that, or wonder about why it is so heavy. If a child’s environment can trigger these kinds of questions, true learning can begin.