Holistically capturing the child within Observations

Project author:

Project summary:

An investigation of ways to value the child’s learning, using child friendly observations that are continually reflected upon not only by practitioners but also children and their families.


This project focused on how children can be involved in the documentation of their learning beyond the in the moment observations. A chance observation of a group of children exploring photos of themselves highlighted their interest in reflecting on their learning. The project investigated literature to inform why the children can be involved in all stages from planning right through to documentation and reflection and this invoked conversations within the setting.

The purpose of the project was to implement continuity and deepen the settings value of children as autonomous learners putting them firmly  central to why change is required.


The setting is new to Froebel, so the project involved upskilling practitioners to the Froebelian principles ‘knowledgeable, nurturing educator’ and how these relate to child documentation.

During the focus group the setting identified a lack the continuity not just of observation style but planning and this was impacting how the setting valued childhood as a continuous process. Currently documented learning was primarily done during development time and in no way involved the child in their learning. The research suggested what Scottish guidance and literature expects of observations and it introduced the observational styles anecdotal and learning stories. Both these involved continuous reflection with not just children but families. It was agreed that for these to be valuable to all then we needed to get the families point of view through a questionnaire. Research indicated that everything is interconnected, and improvements could be most sustainable if the families shared the online learning portfolio’s with the children, creating a culture of respect and value beyond just the setting, ‘relationships matter’.

The project was initially planned to be qualitative observations of the children and a focus group meeting with the team. However, when responding to the children’s interest and considering the parental ways to promote families within this journey the method evolved to include questionnaires and it became a mixed methodology.

Prior to starting the research permission was obtained from the families on behalf of the children, as they are too young to give informed consent. The children have free flow access to all areas of the setting, and I did not want to prevent this as that was the child’s only way to choose to not be involved.

Permissions for the focus groups was obtained and practitioners had the freedom to leave at any point, it was through the focus group that lead to the family questionnaire.

Families where given anonymous questionnaires using Microsoft forms, permission was obtained within the questionnaire. With a description that explained the project and questions throughout the questionnaire regarding consent for use of any data gathered. All data is kept within the limitations of the Data Protection act and are only accessible to authorised personnel.

“In Froebel’s view the educator needs to develop observational expertise rooted in the understanding and knowledge of how children develop, which become a resource from which the educator can draw”.

Bruce, T. (2021:116) Friedrich Froebel: A Critical Introduction to Key Themes and Debates


At the beginning of the project, I aimed to work on developing my own leadership skills and I looked forward to actively learning about observation style’s and how they could promote change.

The children lead the project from the outset, they initiated looking at folders of past learning and shared their opinions of what the images meant to them. The children spoke about past practitioners and how they valued seeing images of their learning, “I miss **** she told me put that in and I was making things. Look I do it myself”. These observations lead the focus group conversations. Practitioners explained that they did not reflect on the learning moments with children as documentation of the learning moments where done off the floor. That children could not navigate their online portfolio and when accessing technology they just want to use a well-known video app. We discussed using video’s and photo’s, while we where apprehensive as they did not want the child only being viewed through the lens. We explored observation styles ‘anecdotal and learning stories’ that asked for reflection during learning, this meant taking a series of pictures and then collated these into an observation.

These styles where shared in the family questionnaires and the data appears to favour the learning story style and they state that they would prefer updates to be weekly. While some staff were rightly apprehensive of the increased workload. Others were optimistic to see the benefits of using photo’s to accompany the learning story and how this involved all in the observations. The setting decided that for children to regain the power of their learning they had to be involved in the whole process from autonomous learners to authors of their learning. As a setting we are at the early stages and we have recently been talking with the children about their online portfolio’s. Children are familiarising themselves with the capabilities of the app and Froebelian principles would describe this currently as ‘freedom with guidance’ from highly skilled practitioners.


Through this project the team has a shared vision of continuity and unity in how all aspects of the children’s nursery experience is interlinked. It highlighted the importance of involving the children in the observation process and documenting their learning. Children experience freedom with guidance to revisit their learning and this is also being documented in their portfolio. The setting are already continuing to adapt how we develop the project for the future and that in itself is down to the open-mindedness of all.

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

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