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Observation: Why and How

“Each child is a mighty learner who is actively engaging his or her dispositions to learn-playing, seeking, participating, persisting, and caring.” We, as educators, need to build connection to the child and to know their interest and capability. Observation will help us know each child and plan individualized and developmentally informed activities. Before and during the observation, we often ask ourselves the following questions: Why am I doing this observation? What is my intention? What were the child/children’s learning previous to this observation? Is this a new emergence of play? Answering these questions help us understand the child’s interest, struggles and capability.

To further understand about the child, we need to reflect on our observation in a valuable way. Reflecting on our observation cause us to have further questions: What were my first thoughts about what the children were doing? What impressions do I have? What does the child/children appear to know? What theories about their world do they already have? What do I think the child was trying to accomplish in his/her play? What questions did they need to answer for themselves? What questions arise for me? What do I want to know more about as you watch children engage and explore? What are my “I wonder” statements? How do the principles of constructivism (hands-on learning) apply to what I saw? What dispositions did I see children nurturing? How can I nurture those dispositions further? What other dispositions can be nurtured and how?

These questions guide a way of being with children, a way of thinking about what children know and can do and want to be doing; what we can do to extend and expand children’s participation with others and within a responsive play and learning environment. We, the educators, are co-learners; we observe, document, and think about what children are doing with materials, ideas, and others. We are co-researchers; we gather insights and information to reflect on and interpret what we understand about what children are experiencing. The process of observing and documenting and reflecting and interpreting support our planning and taking action in ways that can expand, extend, and enhance children’s engagement with ideas, materials and others. We are also co-imaginer of possibilities; we may work with families and coworkers to take action through designing of play spaces, gathering materials, or planning a visit into the community that enhances the children’s experiences. This co-inquiry process helps us to co-construct knowledge with children and deepen our understanding of each child. In turn our insights of each child, “as an active and agentic social learner, help us design responsive care, play and learning environments”.

In early childhood, curriculum is focused on broad holistic goals rather than specific outcomes for each subject area. Our curriculum is embedded in children’s daily experience with their families and in local communities informing interactions, routines, experiences, and curriculum decisions in early learning and child care programs.


Makovichuk, L., Hewes, J., Lirette, P., & Thomas, N. (2014). Play, participation, and possibilities: An early learning and child care curriculum framework for Alberta. Retrieved from


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