Child Observation Essay

Keywords: child observation analysis

Observation of young children allows for a naturalistic insight into child development, which more experimental methods fail to provide. The method of observation also means social workers can develop skills that would usually be difficult to learn, such as observing without taking notes – a practice that is applicable in a professional social work role. Trowell and Miles (1996) emphasise the importance of observation as one of the foundational skills developed in social work, relating to the social worker’s role in making judgements, decisions and juggling the issues of race, gender and sexuality whilst making important decisions regarding people’s welfare.

The observation took place across 5 weeks involving 5 different observation sessions, allowing the child to be observed across a variety of different times during the day. The observation study was based upon the Tavistock method emphasising not taking notes, becoming completely absorbed into the observation and placing importance on the observer recognising their own reactions and responses to what behaviours and dynamics may be displayed. The Tavistock model encourages observers to

“see what there is to be seen and not look for what they think should be there”

(p. 2, Reid 1999).

This encourages the observer’s use of non-judgemental perception – and not creating inferences about situations based on instinct without evidence.

Whilst the Tavistock model traditionally uses weekly observation across the first year of a baby’s birth this observation was across 5 weeks. It would be hugely beneficial from a child development perspective to observe a newborn infant for a year, however I can imagine the process to be very emotional. I found it difficult to complete my ‘goodbyes’ to the child I was observing, as I had become a relatively constant fixture in the child’s life. Also from the process of observation I felt as if I had begun to ‘know’ the child, as I had watched her intently and picked up upon habits, favourite activities and began to recognise and understand her personality traits. The age of the child being observed was also very different from the Tavistock model, however I feel that observing a child at the age of between 3 and 5 was incredibly useful. Observation of newborn infants can inform social workers of attachment development and the very first milestones. However an older child can start to inform social workers of the way children interact with other adults, develop speech and how children themselves relate to others and the wider ecological system (Bronfenbrenner 1990) which can help inform practice, especially direct work with children.

The use of the Tavistock model also helped me understand the usefulness of not taking notes, and I think it is a skill I have developed and already put into practice when working with children. Due to learning how to perceive what is going on around me and what is occurring for the child I have been able to transfer this to listening to children talk about their home life (specifically in wishes and feelings work) whilst being able to observe the child’s body language. I have made it a point to not take notes when talking to a child, so that they feel I am fully focused on their story.

The observation took place in an early years class, in a Roman Catholic School in a deprived area of Suffolk. The school’s mission statement is “to educate young people to meet the challenge of life courageously, to use their abilities to the full and to live the values of Christ’s gospel” and there is an emphasis on a Catholic education, including religious iconography in all classrooms, regular prayers and a prayer garden in the school grounds. Children are also encouraged to take their first holy communion and attend mass regularly. The school itself is recognised as ‘good’ by Ofsted, and whilst it’s main student population is from the nearby area and would describe themselves as White British, there are a small, but growing, population of ethnic minorities. This includes Philippines, Korean and Polish and due to the high incident of non-English speaking parents the school’s website offers a translate service. The Ofsted report also discusses that the school has a higher than average number of pupils with special educational needs.

The area is predominately working class, with an increasing problem with unemployment and poverty. Whilst it is well evidenced that children growing up in deprived areas are more at risk of health problems (McLeod and Shanahan 1993) and at greater risk of varying types of abuse (Aber, Bennet, Conley and Li 1997) the child for this study is developing within the considered ‘normal’ boundaries, is not known to social services, and is white British.

I fortunately already had links to the school due to previously completing work experience- I was therefore already known by members of staff, and had already gained their trust that I would behave in a professional manner. I approached the school and the school agreed to the observation study. I was then invited to come in and speak to a potential parent as she brought her child in to school. The teacher had chosen this child as she had no developmental concerns, describing her as ‘average’, the child, siblings and other family members were also not known to social services and come from a stable family. I approached the mother as she entered school and explained the project to her, she was interested and expressed no worries or issues with her child being the subject of the child observation. I was very surprised at the ease of permission, as there is a negative stereotype regarding social workers (Gibleman 2004), however when I spoke to the parent of the child she said that she understood that everyone needs to learn. This made me feel positive regarding the observation as I wasn’t immediately challenged or questioned and the parent did not ask for any feedback on the child’ development – which I was initially concerned may be asked of me.

I completed the observations on a Tuesday at a variety of times. Due to starting at the end of September I started my observation at 9am as ‘C’ (as the observation subject shall henceforth be known) had only just begun school and was not yet attending full time. As time progressed I was able to complete observations during the afternoons. I chose the observation to focus on as ‘C’ participated in a range of activities that appeared to demonstrate numerous facets of child development, including imaginary play, shared play, scaffolding (Vygotsky 1978) and cognitive development (Piaget 1964). I chose not to use the first observation I completed, as ‘C’ cried for the most part of the observation and was very unresponsive to any task the class teacher had set and refused to participate in any activities, instead she remained on the lap of a teaching assistant. Whilst this in itself obviously indicated a great deal regarding development of attachment this essay would then primarily be focused of attachment rather than the other aspects of child development. The observation I have focused on was the second observation I completed, and is therefore still relevantly soon after ‘C’ had started school, I could therefore begin to make inferences related to ‘C’s’ first relationships with her peers and could observe how these developed across the following observations.

Analysis of Observation:

This observation was the second observation in the series of five. I chose it as I felt the child demonstrated a range of facets of development, including participating in shared play, imaginative play and I began to understand more about the child’s individual personality.

Language development:

Language and communication development begins very early, with very young infants using eye contact and changes in the infant’s behavioural state in order to communicate their needs to adults. These responses begin to become more complex and reciprocal between adult and caregiver and the child begins to learn sounds ultimately developing language, an important tool in communicating to adults (Sheridan, Sharma and Cockerill 2008).

The observation and school day began with the children asked to practice phonic sounds; in this observation the letter O. ‘C’ (the child) used gestures as well as sounds to practice the letter, encouraging ‘C’ to recognise the sound and value of the letters, however by 4 years and 3 months ‘C’s language development was such that she could already construct sentences, engage with other children and instigate games and jokes (Pecceci 2006) This is evidenced with ‘C’ asking another child to play the ‘row your boat’ game. ‘C’ is demonstrating her grasp of complex sentence structure using relative clauses (Clark 2003). Similar evidence of developed language acquisition is ‘C’s ability to ask grammatically correct questions, for example when she asked for milk ‘C’ demonstrated that she had developed an understanding of auxiliary verbs.

Social and emotional development:

Play is a central part of a child’s social development including solitary play (mastery play, generative play), constructive play, locomotor and sociodramatic play.

‘C’ participated in a range of play indicative of gender stereotypes – for example playing ‘brides’ with a friend, pretending to be a kitten again with a friend, all examples of imaginative and co-operative play.

Piaget (1965) discusses the importance of peer interactions to the child’s moral feelings, values and beliefs. In the above examples ‘C’ is engaging in play where the two children involved are expressing their interests and desires (i.e. interest in animals and the desire to have a pet kitten) when the same interests do not exist, an ‘disequillibrium’ occurs (DeVries 1997) and dependent on the value of the relationship, the child may try and re-establish equilibrium, which is why Piaget suggests peer friendships, and ultimately peer play is essential to a child’s operational and co-operational development. ‘C’ participated in a game with three boys, which involved building a structure. ‘C’ had to work with her peers, this game was more structured and therefore more implicit rules – which is how Piaget (1965) explains the development of childhood moral values.

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Alternatively Vygotsky (1978) believed that the life long process of development is dependent on social interactions and this leads to cognitive development, which is also known as the zone of proximal development. ‘C’ worked with three other students to work together to build using the wooden planks, ‘C’ resolved the problem of where to put the planks to build the most sound structure – independently problem solving.

There is also an emphasis on play leading to the development of an imagination. This can be evidenced in ‘C’ becoming a kitten, and behaving as a kitten would- licking her hands as paws etc. Vygotsky (1966) argues that all play involves the creation of an imaginary situation, liberating the child from realistic situational constraints, ultimately Vygotsky implies that childhood play and the transition to adult imagination are both rule bound, and this first develops through imaginative play as observed in ‘C’.

Emotional development, self-regulation and containment largely derive from the quality of the child’s early attachments (Bowlby 1969). C’s mother bought ‘C’ into the classroom and ‘C’ appeared reluctant to leave her mother, but she was comforted by the teacher and waved goodbye and did not appear to be distressed. This observation was completed at an early stage of the child attending school full time, therefore a certain amount of separation anxiety could be expected. However ‘C’ was easily comforted by the teacher suggesting ‘C’ had developed a secure attachment to her mother but was able to leave her without being anxious. This has important implications for ‘C’s future adjustment at school. Granot and Mayseless (2001) suggest that those children with secure attachments adjust to school better than those with disorganised, avoidant or ambivalent attachment styles.

Intellectual and cognitive development:

Piaget (1957) theory of child cognitive development states that the child constructs and understands the world around them by experiencing discrepancies from what they already know and what they begin to discover. There are four stages of development, which Piaget discusses – sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational and formal operational. Due to ‘C’s age (4 years 3 months) Piaget (1957) would describe ‘C’ as being in the ‘pre-operational’ stage – mentally representing objects and engaging in symbolic play (seen throughout the observation).

The pre-operational stage also links to Piaget and Inhelder’s (1948) stages of drawing. ‘C’ demonstrated that she was in the later stages of the synthetic incapacity stage of drawing – ‘C’ had drawn a circular, closed figure with limbs but these were not in proportion, ‘C’ has also not grasped a sense of perspective and the human figure did not fit the background feature – in ‘C’s case a bathtub. The synthetic incapacity stage of drawing runs parallel to the pre-operational stage hence why the picture was also in 2D, as ‘C’ could only draw from her perspective – replicating a bathtub from her internal mental representation.

However Vygotsky’ (1966) theory of cognitive development varied from Piaget’s (1957) and he placed a greater importance on the cultural and social environment of the child being a vital part of the construction of knowledge. Learning through interactions with their peers, and the expectations, beliefs and traditions of their own cultures.

Vygotksy (1966) also placed an importance of peer collaboration, as well as adult assistance in promoting the zone of proximal development, also known as the scaffolding process (Wood, Bruner, and Ross 1976). Scaffolding is very much used a teaching strategy and can be seen with ‘C’ and her classmates. The teacher demonstrated the letter ‘O’ and asked the children to copy both sound and movement, providing encouragement and reward when the task was done well. In this situation the teacher also split the task of recognising ‘O’ down – first explaining to the children, then asking the children to sound the letter out, before drawing on the whiteboard and asking the children to copy the writing action. ‘C’ was then asked to draw the letter on a piece of paper, using the technique previously used by the teacher. ‘C’ did this task well, suggesting the success of the scaffolding technique.

In this observation ‘C’ also began to demonstrate the beginnings of the development of theory of mind. Perner, Lang and Kloo (1999) suggest an intellectual and developmental shift in a child of around 4 years of age, including the acquisition of theory of mind and self-control. In this observation ‘C’ and another child hid from a boy, they hid behind the shed, and therefore developed the understanding that if they hide from another that he will not know where they are. However Perner Lang, and Kloo (1999) also suggest a link between acquisition of theory of mind and self-control, but in the hide-and-seek game the two girls called the child’s name and giggled, suggesting their executive control has not yet fully developed

Moral and spiritual development:

As previously described the school is a Roman Catholic school, and there is religious iconography in the classroom, including a picture of Mary and Jesus on the wall. The children are expected to pray three times a day as well as attend mass, collective worship and religious assemblies. There is also a greater emphasis on religious education starting from the early years class.

Whilst the child’s family are not religious, it is important to consider the impact that such a religious education may have on the child’s concept of self and their moral, religious and spiritual development. Eriksson (1964) drew attention to the importance of religion and spirituality, emphasising that if successfully ‘resolved’ at an early stage it can bring about the virtue of hope, transferring over time to mature faith and the ability to believe without evidence that the universe is trustworthy (Roehlkepartain, Benson, King and Wagener 2006). Eriksson (1964) also asserted that religion could provide a transcendent worldview, moral beliefs and behavioural norms.

‘C’s religious development can be witnessed through her joining in the prayer at the end of the lesson time. ‘C’ knew the words to the prayer and actively demonstrated the actions that accompanied the prayer. Whilst I only witnessed 5 sessions, if following the true Tavistock method, there may be more evidence of how ‘C’ develops religiously, and whether attending a religious school affects her later outcomes in life as it has previously been suggested that religious schools have better discipline, school harmony and less racial discrimination (Jeynes 2002).

‘C’s moral development was also demonstrated several times during this observation. On several occasions C helped out adults, as well as listening to the teacher and following instructions when asked. C did not demonstrate any behaviour that may have been construed as ‘mean’ or ‘selfish’. The fact that ‘C’ tidied up when asked would suggest that ‘C’ has reached the pre-conventional level of moral development (Kohlberg 1971). ‘C’ is responsive to the rules of the classroom and aware of the consequence of not following instructions. It could also be argued that ‘C’s willingness to help at milk time could be seen as evidence of Kohlberg’s stage 3 (1971), with ‘C’ beginning to participate in good behaviour, to please and be approved by others. However Kohlberg’s (1971) theory is considered to be gender biased with females typically scoring lower than males, Gilligan (1982) argues that females and males have differences in moral development. Without doing further observations it is not clear how ‘C’ may continue to develop morally and how she would react to Kohlberg’s moral questions.

Concept of self:

School is an incredibly important arena for a child developing it’s own concept of self, for it is the first time the child begins to identify itself in relation to a number of characteristics such as gender roles and racial identity. ‘C’ is beginning to develop an internal model comprising of personality, self-esteem, stability and self-efficacy (Markus and Kitayama 1991).

‘C’ is marking the beginning of her concept of self, by already demonstrating preferences for the type of play, peer relationships and her interests. She showed an interest in artistic activities – such as painting and drawing (also seen in future observations) and mainly playing games with girls, however she did also participate in a game of construction with boys.

However many children in early childhood cannot express their concept of ‘self’ instead seeing the mind, self and free will as physical body parts (Damon and Hart 1982). This lies with children believing that animals, plants and some inanimate objects also possess a mind, whilst this did not occur in this observation; ‘C’ clearly demonstrated this belief in a future observation believing a soft toy had feelings and thoughts of it’s own.

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How the child experiences their world:

I felt that during the observation that ‘C’ had a positive experience. Whilst she was initially reluctant to leave her mother, as soon as the teacher had led her into the classroom ‘C’ appeared to forget about her separation anxiety and immediately became involved with the class.

‘C’ appeared to do well at the educational task, and when she was given free time to choose a task she participated in several activities – including playing with other children but also drawing on her own. She was very giggly appeared happy during the observation – running around and playing.

However as Piaget and Vonèche (1929) reveal the difficulties in using the observation method to understand how the child experiences the setting and the culture within the school, as ‘C’ does not spontaneously communicate her thoughts and feelings about her experience, and rather it is the observer who makes these judgements.

Analysis of the observation as a series:

Language development:

‘C’ was the age of 4 years and 3 months when completing the observation, she has therefore begun to manage the concept of language and was beginning to experiment with more complex sentence structure and asking more complex questions. As would be expected of a child between the ages of 4-5 ‘C’ was also developing her ‘receptive’ skills and demonstrated an understanding of spatial concepts (McLaughlin 2006). For example the teacher asked ‘C’ to retrieve the box of beads, which was behind the curtain and next to the green box of letter shapes and ‘C’ was able to do this. She demonstrated that she could follow step-by-step complex instructions as well as the spatial concepts of ‘behind’ and ‘next to’.

However whilst ‘C’ is developing what would be considered ‘normally’ she also still has difficulty in pronouncing slightly longer words. For example ‘C’ was playing a pretend game of ‘hospitals’ with one child being ill and ‘C’ playing the nurse, however ‘C’ had difficulties in pronouncing the word ‘hospital’ and instead pronounced it ‘hopital’. Children between the age of 4 and 5 are still developing their linguistic skills and word distortions do occur, and it is expected that in time ‘C’ with encouragement from parents and teachers will be able to progress (Owens 2005).

‘C’s continued behaviour continued to be much along the same level as the first observation and I was not surprised at her occasional mistakes, as she is not yet linguistically competent and neither would she be expected to be at the age of 4.

Social and emotional development:

As already discussed, the quality and nature of ‘C’s early social interactions with her primary caregivers gives a template for future social relationships and is also integral to their general social and emotional development (Fabes, Gaertner and Popp 2006).

During this observation and the other observations ‘C’ appeared to have a very good temperament, disregarding the first observation ‘C’ remained friendly and happy to be interacting with other children. During the 4th observation ‘C’ was observed to share her own personal toy she had bought in for show and tell because another child had forgotten theirs, thus suggesting ‘C’ is becoming socially competent and the beginnings of empathy.

Sanson and Hemphill (2004) suggest that temperament has the potential to influence several behaviours including how children interact with peers and adults. This in turn suggests that ‘C’ is able to self-regulate her own emotions. As Eisenberg Cumberland, Spinrad, Fabes, Shepard, Reiser (2001) suggests, those children who are able to self-regulate are more likely to seek out peer relationships and therefore are recognised as more socially competent. This was evidenced in ‘C’s relationships with the other children in the class. ‘C’ was observed to share her toys without pressure from adults, and she demonstrated an emergence of the understanding of others wishes and beliefs.

Fabes, Gaertner and Popp (2006) also suggest that the development of social competence in school age children can be evidenced through the reciprocal relationships between peers, with positive interactions and the maintenance of social contact. Again during the observations I did not observe a negative interaction between ‘C’ and another child.

However I was only in the classroom for an hour a week, it is very likely that ‘C’ had not completely developed socially, and is likely to have had negative experiences with some of her classmates. There may also have been the added effect of investigator bias, with the children realising that I was observing and therefore modifying their behaviour.

Intellectual and cognitive development:

Three of my observations were completed first session of the morning and included the routine of the register and phonics and learning to link the letters with the sounds of the letter and introducing an action to help the children represent this – therefore using all aspects of learning (visual, auditory and kinetic). During one of my observations I arrived after lunchtime and before the children were again allowed to choose an activity. The class teacher had planned a numeracy session, with the children sitting on the carpet. The teacher would use an abacus and ask the children to count the beads along with her. I observed ‘C’ and she participated in the task, and was able to count the beads. The teacher then moved three beads across and asked ‘C’ how many beads were left to which she was able to respond ‘7’.

This is concurrent with Piaget’s (1980) pre-operational stage described previously. This is also suggested by Gelman and Gellistel (1978) who identified two types of numerical knowledge. The first being numerical reasoning and the second being numerical abstraction. Numerical abstraction ability is the process by which the child can abstract and represent numerical value. I observed ‘C’ doing this when she was asked to move two beads on the abacus and work out how many were left, again an activity she was able to complete, indicating the development of counting principles and basic numerical abilities.

As ‘C’ was in the very early stages of her school life, there is very much an emphasis on play rather than academic activities, as this begins to be introduced later in the school year, therefore much of the evidence of ‘C’s intellectual and cognitive development arose from the occasional structures activities and her interactions with peers and adults.

Moral and spiritual development:

Piaget (1965) suggested that moral development was a gradual process, running parallel to the stages of intelligence with each stage characterized by a different process (i.e. the pre-operational stage already discussed). He suggested that children go through a ‘heteronomous’ stage guided by societies rules and boundaries – which can be seen as very much enforced by school. As the child matures this becomes more ‘autonomous’ as these rules and values become an ingrained part of the child.

‘C’ is learning the rules of the classroom, and these eventually become fairly implicit (though occasionally children need reminding of the basics). Often I observed the class teacher telling the children to sit still, be quiet and to raise their hand when answering a question. Considering the age of ‘C’ she did not break rules frequently. Occasionally I observed the teacher warn ‘C’ if she was giggling and talking to a child sat next to her (not unusual behaviour for a 4-5 year old child) and ‘C’ would stop the behaviour. There were children in the class who did not respond to verbal warnings and they were either asked to sit on their own in a corner, or as a more severe punishment sent to another class. ‘C’ was therefore able to see the consequences of other children’s behaviour and realise that this could be applied to herself if she did not follow the ‘rules’. Bandura and McDonald (1963) also evidenced the influence of social reinforcement upon a child’s moral development. They found children’s moral judgements could be altered using reinforcements and social modelling, much the same as teachers use during lesson time.

Concept of self:

‘C’ continued to display a marked preference for playing with children of the same sex. Whilst she would occasionally join in with ‘boy’ games – such as playing with cars and construction games she demonstrated an overall preference for playing dress-up (she participated in a dress up game in two other observations, including dressing up in an apron and playing out a cooking scene) and taking an interest in animals- expressed through enactment, picking a story about a tiger and through drawing (I observed ‘C’ drawing a picture of herself walking 3 dogs.)

As I found out when observing ‘C’, with the exception of her dad, she comes from a predominately female family. She has two older sisters who have also previously been at the school who are twins. Due to the predominately female environment that ‘C’ has grown up in, it may be her preferences for gendered stereotyped activities may be learned behaviour, with children often learning perceived sex roles from parents and older siblings (Fauls and Smith 1956).

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Again it is difficult to discuss ‘C’s concept of self, as it is largely based upon my observations. Whilst these observations were largely free of judgements it was difficult for me not to say how ‘C’ appears to be developing in her concept of self. She appears happy and content during her time at school (excluding the first observation) as she could be quiet she had begun to establish good relationships with other children and appeared to be developing healthy self-esteem and positive self-concept. I felt this was due to her close and supportive relationship with her mother and class teacher – both of whom appeared to take an interest in her work, encouraging ‘C’ when she had done something well.

How the child experiences their world:

Only during the first observation did I feel that perhaps ‘C’ might not be enjoying her school experience. During the first observation, conducted in very early September starting at 09:00 ‘C’ was what could only be described as very distressed when her mum dropped her off in the morning. She clung to her mums skirt and was crying refusing to let go. The teacher took her had and led her in to the classroom and then arranged for her to be sat with a teaching assistant, who had the child on her lap. When ‘C’ was encouraged to sit with her classmates she refused and began to cry again.

This suggested that ‘C’ was displaying separation anxiety (Bowlby 1973). However as Bowlby (1973) discusses this reaction will largely be due to a new and strange setting, considering it was one of ‘C’s first days at school ‘C’ was finding herself surrounded my new people without the knowledge that her primary caregiver was there so she could explore whilst having a secure base to which to return.

However as I progressed through the observation series ‘C’ began to settle into her surroundings and the new routine of school life. I observed two more sessions at the beginning of the day and ‘C’ gradually became less distressed, though she still said goodbye and gave her mother a cuddle, suggesting a continuation of the secure attachment.

Process of observing:

Experience of being an observer:

I initially felt very nervous of the whole project, though I felt this was largely down to the difficulties in securing not only a place to observe but also approaching a parent of a child who was going to be comfortable enough to allow a student social worker to observe. It is widely known that many people, especially parents of small children, have developed judgements of social workers largely due to the portrayal in popular media (Gibelman 2004). Fortunately I have very good links to the school I chose to complete my observations in – having already completed work experience a few years ago, therefore there were no problems in securing a placement as they already knew and had built up a level of trust.

The early years teacher introduced me to a parent, and I was expecting the mother to ask me lots of questions regarding the observation, whether they would be allowed a copy of my observations etcetera but the mother simply stated that it would be fine and that another of her children in the school had also been previously been involved in a study similar. I must have accidentally expressed my surprise at the ease of getting consent (I also thought that due to the age of the children many parents would be wary of their child being observed, with my preconceived ideas of parents with young children being very protective) as the mother also said that students need to learn and this was a very good way of learning child development.

The first observation I also found very difficult, it was one of the first full days the child had been at school, she was also very reluctant to say goodbye to her mum and consistently cried for the hour of my observation. She refused to participate in any activities and instead chose to sit next to me at one of the tables I had chosen in the classroom (due to it’s central position for ease of observing). This obviously made things difficult and I was worried that this might end up being a pattern, which whilst would inform about attachment style perhaps would not have given me the scope of the full range of development I had expected to see. However my fears were unfounded and the following observations I felt were very successful – I based this on the child participating in a range of activities and interacting with other children – giving me information I could draw parallels with from my own experiences, placement and information I had previously learnt.

One of the hardest things was not joining with the other children. Due to a previous job (play worker) it seemed very unnatural for me not to try to interact and help the children if they asked me. I deliberately placed myself in a central position in the classroom – this was because of the layout of the class (if I had been in a corner if would have been difficult for me to totally observe and be able to hear the child). However this did mean the other children felt I was there to be involved in the classroom and did occasionally ask for help from me or to show me work they had completed. However the teacher did explain that I was there to watch and this did help.

What I learned from the experience:

The most surprising thing I felt I took from the observation is how I developed at being able to observe and recall specific details without taking notes. I decided that from the beginning I would not take notes as I felt it would help me develop this skill quickly. I feel this has very real relevance to social work practice and I have already been using it in placement. Due to my placement being on a duty team I am often required to speak to children about their home life – and I make it a point not to take notes. I feel this can mean I can concentrate on what the child is saying, but also able to watch their body language which can help build a bigger picture. The child also feels like you are really listening to them, which helps build a professional relationship. This has been evidenced in a case I worked where I was able to pick up on the child acting very nervously (pulling at her sleeve, hand over her mouth etc) when speaking about particular relationships. I think that the child observation certainly helped develop this skill.

I also felt is was very beneficial to have time to be able to concentrate on just the one child and absorb myself into their world and almost experience their experiences at school on a daily basis. Whilst I initially found this aspect quite difficult- there were 29 other children in the class, running around, having their own conversations and participating in their own activities, by the end I felt I could strip away (what I felt to be) a chaotic environment and fully concentrate of the child I was observing, allowing me to access their internal and external world through a naturalistic method (Trowell and Miles (2004).

Relevance to social work practice:

As already discussed there is a lot to be learnt from being able to observe a child in an environment such as school, not only in challenging my own preconceived ideas of child development but also enabling me to make links between theory and practice. Naturalistic observation also allows social workers to

“Ground their knowledge of children in direct experience. Enabling a more sensitive and critically informed use of theoretical knowledge and procedures.” Le Riche and Tanner (1998) p.10

It also develops a focus on the child, which in turn can aid social workers in developing child-focused communication skills including what activities children respond to and recognise child led communication processes. McMahon and Farnfield (1994) also describe how introducing child observation to social work students can equip them with essential assessment skills as well as developing reflective practice abilities – essential in social work practice and continued professional development.

Understanding the level of moral development in children has important implications for social work practice. During achieving best evidence (ABE) interviews it is very important for the social worker to establish whether the child knows the difference between the truth and a lie, and whether the children are disclosing factual evidence, whether they have been ‘coached’ by parents or whether their statements are fabricated. However if the child has not yet learnt the difference between a truth and a lie it can be very difficult for social workers to judge the evidence as being factual or not, though if a child has lied about abuse for example, then this also needs to be discussed.

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