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10 top tips on observations and planning

date October 6, 2020Rebecca Martland


Online learning journals like Kinderly Together are often seen as a breath of fresh air: they free early years practitioners from the reams of paper and glue of paper journals, enabling them to spend more time interacting directly with children.  They can be a valuable and time-saving aid.

The main reason for this is that online learning journals provide the means for recording the observation, assessment and planning cycle. The new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) uses the terms ‘intent, implement and impact’ instead but the premise is the same. Through observing children and analysing these observations, practitioners can determine what progress children are making and what opportunities and experiences they want to provide in order to support further learning and development. 

1. Describe what you see

You are observing all the time, instinctively absorbing what children are doing and saying. Sometimes however you will want to observe formally. These observations should be purposeful, for example, to note acquisition of a new skill. You should look to observe:

  • Children’s interests, skills and abilities.
  • How children use their time, space and resources: what are they doing, touching, saying?
  • How children respond to activities, the environment, routines and unplanned events.
  • How children respond to others and interact with adults and other children.
  • Any schematic behaviours and other ways in which the child learns.
  • The child’s mood and level of wellbeing and engagement.

children playing while being observed by an adult

2. When to observe

Timing can impact on what you see, for example: has a child just arrived and feeling unsettled; is it nearly lunch time so they are hungry; is it naptime and they are tired; is it nearly home time and they are unsettled or excited anticipating being collected soon?

3. How many observations

Think about quality over quantity and don’t observe for the sake of it. Avoid setting targets of x number of observations per child per week/month etc. Observations should be proportionate to the amount of time the child spends in setting and determined by a purpose.

woman observing children

4. How to observe

The observation method chosen will be determined by the observation purpose, for example, snapshot, narrative (detailed), longitudinal (over time), sociogram (social interactions), target child (environmental interactions), time or event sample etc.

5. What to record

The EYFS does not require any written observations. The progress check at age two and the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) which is completed at the end of the Reception Year are the ONLY mandatory pieces of record writing in the EYFS. However, written observations can still be useful! Memories fade so it is useful to have them to refer to when we come to:

  • Update a child’s progress report.
  • Share their development with the child, parent, professionals or another setting.
  • Demonstrate progress to an Ofsted inspector.
  • Plan for the child’s interests and abilities

a male childcare practitioner helping two girls

6. Evaluate your observation

It is important that you do not simply file and forget your observations. You need to evaluate what you saw and decide what this is telling you about the child, then use this information to inform your planning:

  • What you think the child is learning and understanding
  • Are they developing typically and are there any concerns?
  • Are there any areas where the child needs support or greater challenge?
  • What particular interests or fascinations were seen

7. Build up a picture

Each observation you make will enable you to build up an accurate picture of the child’s development and progress in order to:

  • Identify their current stage of development, needs, perceived interests, skills and abilities.
  • Track their progress and milestones.
  • Identify what they are ready to learn next, and where they need help or be challenged.
  • Identify any areas of concern or additional need/SEN.
  • Identify any schemas or preferred ways of learning/playing (CoEL).
  • Identify how they access and engage with the environment and resources so you can adapt these accordingly.
  • Assess wellbeing and health concerns to keep children happy and safe.
  • Share information with parents/carers about their child/children and other professionals.

8. Plan ‘next steps’

Did you know the term ‘next steps’ doesn’t actually appear anywhere in the EYFS? Nonetheless, it has become the commonly used phrase to refer to for ‘planning’…

‘’Practitioners must consider the individual needs, interests, and stage of development of each child in their care, and must use this information to plan a challenging and enjoyable experience for each child in all of the areas of learning and development.’’ (DfE 2017)

9. Keep flexible

Planning must start with your observations of the child and assessment of their needs, interests and abilities. It is impossible to plan for weeks ahead as these change rapidly and unpredictably, so any plans and routines must be kept flexible. Approaches like ‘In the Moment Planning’ can be a great tool and adapt well to being used with online journals like Kinderly Together. This approach is even more important in the current Covid-19 situation where we are facing so much daily uncertainty.

woman with laptop and child

Planning should involve:

  • Preparing the environment and providing resources in response to observations and assessment.
  • Providing opportunities, activities and resources that support the child’s development, interests, learning, CoEL and schemas.
  • Providing time and opportunity for children to develop their own ideas and explorations.
  • Enabling children to consolidate existing learning: gain depth and breadth, before moving on.
  • Providing challenge to extend children’s learning.
  • Being responsive to children’s emotional needs and creating positive relationships.
  • Introducing new vocabulary.
  • Providing additional support or strategies where children need more help.

Teacher monitoring children

10. Don’t forget the children

The important thing is that we do not let recording our observations detract from our being WITH children. This is especially important when using digital devices. We do not want children to think our iPads and tablets are more important and have greater significance to us than them!

To find out how Kinderly Together can help support your observations and planning, why not trying Kinderly for free?

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rebecca martland kinderly expert

Rebecca Martland has 20 years’ experience in the early years sector: as a childminder, she has received an Outstanding grade from Ofsted for four consecutive inspections. She is an Early Years consultant, trainer, author and Nursery World Awards judge. She is also a qualified teacher and Early Years Professional.