The Power of Observation - DuPage Children's Museum

The Power of Observation

April 7, 2015

The past few weeks I have provided many different ideas of activities to do and ways to play with your children, but this week I want to talk about taking time to sit back and watch. Now I am well aware of what goes on in many of our minds the instant we see our little angels independently engrossed in their play – something along the lines of, “quick, where’s my to-do list!” or, “finally, a moment for myself!” Now, I am not suggesting that we sacrifice these moments altogether. Your own personal sanity is not only important to you but to your children too. What I am suggesting is that the next time you get down on the floor to play with your child, spend some time sitting and observing them. Observation is a powerful tool that can reveal information we may not have known before.

When we take the time to observe children during play, we gain understanding about who they are and what they can do. The Museum’s Play Facilitators observe children playing and learning throughout their day. In fact, observation is the first method of facilitation recommended for staff and volunteers who interact with our visitors. Watching and listening allow facilitators to take their cues from what they see and hear children doing before deciding whether to join in an interaction. It gives the facilitator pause to reflect on what the child’s play agenda is before interacting with the child.
In their book, Focused Observations, How to Observe Children for Assessment and Curriculum Planning, Gaye Gronlund and Marlyn James discuss the fact that “through their play and use of materials, children often show you what information and knowledge they are figuring out and what skills they are working on” (Gronlund and James 2005). Whether you are a caregiver or parent, discovering what children can do or what they know about their world is useful information for understanding and planning for their learning needs.

“Learning about the information and knowledge children are constructing” is one of the facets of understanding mentioned in Gronlund and Jame’s book. Here’s an example of what that means, as observed by one of our Play Facilitators in our Math Young Explorer Area. A 26-month-old child playing on our Peek-a-boo Bridge exclaimed, “The Museum is green,” when looking through the green triangle. By observing her child practice the movements of walking up and down an incline, the parent discovered her child’s beginning awareness of color.

So what does all of this mean for you at home? As I suggested, spend some time observing your children play. As you observe think about ways that you could make something they seem really interested in slightly more challenging or how you could support them in mastering something that seems a little too difficult. Maybe you have a little one obsessed with crashing cars. The next time they are playing with cars try suggesting that you build a ramp. After letting them experiment with the ramp, propose an experiment – “do you think that the blue car will go faster than the red car?” A little time spent watching will help you enhance your ability to support your children learn through play, and maybe you will get them independently engrossed in something new giving you a little extra time just for you.

If you try something new this week I would love to hear about it! Post your success stories, questions, or comments here or on Facebook!