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The task of observing a child in a natural setting seemed relatively simple. As an unmarried uncle with plenty of free time, I am frequently asked to observe and look after my twin ten year old niece and nephew. Most of the time I watch the children at my house or at my brother s house, which for the most part is as natural a setting as can be found. The task of observing the children is reduced to just another enjoyable evening watching television, snacking on junk food and sitting around with the kids.
When the task involves observing a child who for the most part is unknown to us, in a natural setting which is unfamiliar to us, the activity becomes significantly more difficult. In order to observe and remain objective in our findings and conclusions we must observe on a scientific level which involves planning, set guidelines, and discipline. A basic understanding of accepted methods for observing and recording the observations is required in order to make the best use of time.
In addition, a certain amount of common sense must be exercised so as not to give the wrong impression to the children and most importantly any adults present in the area while observing. Some consideration must even be given to one s appearance in this situation. As most would agree, an observer in a park observing some unknown young children, wearing a long trench coat and sunglasses is probably destined for trouble. The final and probably most important consideration is finding an acceptable setting for observing the child.
After considering my options, I decided that observing a young student attending day-care at a local school would be an ideal setting for accomplishing this assignment. As a substitute teacher as well as softball coach on occasion at Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac School in Temecula, I am familiar with the day-care staff and school procedures.
I notified the day-care staff and arranged to observe in day-care on Wednesday afternoon. The day-care hours begin at 3:00 and end at 5:30. Due to the day-care environment and time constraints, I decided to observe and record my observations in a running record. Using this method of narrative recording allowed me to keep a sequential record of behavior as it occurred while documenting individual situations that had influenced the behavior. I chose a student who attends day-care on a daily basis and is picked up at 5:00 consistently, thus assuring me that the child is familiar with day-care and would be observed in as natural a setting as possible. I selected a boy of around 10 years old for my observational study. For purposes of identification throughout this exercise, I will refer to the observed student as the Boy.A Running
3:05 The Boy arrives at day-care escorted by home room teacher and is checked in along with 12 additional students of varying ages.3:10 After several minutes of standard check-in confusion, all students are asked to take seats and begin homework. The Boy sits down but clowns with friend sitting directly across the table and continues acting up while opening books.
3:14 Sister Ruth (day-care teacher) walks over to the Boy and friend, and threatens to separate the two of them for the day. Both sit very still while holding back laughter and glance at the books seemingly attempting only to appease Sister Ruth temporarily and avoid the inevitable separation.
3:20 Sister Ruth is releasing a student to a parent which allows the Boy and friend to once again clown. Several minutes of quiet clowning go by until Sister Ruth once again focuses her attention on the duo, and with a wave of her hand, gestures for them to separate. They both laugh until she gets up and begins to approach them.
Before she takes two steps, the friend quickly gathers his books and papers and within seconds, gets up and takes a seat two tables away. The Boy is now seated alone at the end of the table. He smiles at the friend and several classmates, puts his head on the table and decides to at least make a casual effort to read and finish his homework.
3:40 Surprisingly the Boy has been very quiet and is actually finishing his work along with the other classmates. He has remained relatively unaffected by the fact that several students have been picked up by parents and have left day-care. He remains diligent in his homework efforts until snack time.
3:45 Sister Ruth instructs the remaining students to get up and retrieve their juice boxes and snacks. The Boy gets up and approaches his friend and catches up on where they left off before being separated. Sister Ruth allows the two of them to sit with several other classmates and for the next ten minutes or so they all seem to clown around and generally enjoy each others company while keeping the noise within Sister Ruth s limits.
4:00 As the afternoon progresses, several more students are released from day care leaving just six students in the class. It is evident that the smaller the group gets, the more individualized each remaining student becomes. At this point in time the Boy has lost his close friends and is quite content with finishing homework or reading. It appears that the day-care setting has changed from a fun and friendly setting to one of just necessary boredom while awaiting the arrival of his ride and ultimately an evening of television and dinner. The next twenty minutes go by without incident until Sister Ruth allows the homework to be replaced by Legos, building blocks, and the drawing of pictures.
4:20 The group is now down to five students. The overall behavior of this remaining group indicates to me that the remaining students are well-seasoned day-care participants and are all too familiar with the boredom associated with the daily two hour regimen that is regularly endured and at best, tolerated. Each of the remaining day-care participants seems to serve out his or her time on an almost unconscious level and the Boy is no exception. His clowning around and antics have been replaced by stacking Legos and constructing non-recognizable shapes and objects. The Legos occupy his time for a good twenty minutes or so or until two more students are picked up and released.
4:45 The day-care is occupied by just two students and Sister Ruth. Oddly enough, the role of Sister Ruth has changed for the Boy.
At first she was looked upon as a strict disciplinarian, but, as the day progressed and the Boy found himself without peers, Sister Ruth became his friend and now the two of them are seated together at his end of the table amidst legos, building blocks and beginner chapter books.
4:55 At last the Boys parent arrives and after a hello hug for the Boy and a sincere thank you conveyed to Sister Ruth, the Boy leaves and the day-care closes up for the night. Interestingly enough the behavior of the Boy upon seeing his parent wasn t as jubilant as I expected. His expression instead seemed to indicate a feeling of complacency as if waiting at day care was just another job to be completed, knowing all to well that tomorrow is another day and this will have to be repeated all over again. On a lighter note, Sister Ruth s expression is one of overall joy. She told me that she enjoys finishing up the day and looks forward to a relaxing evening at the residence. I tend to believe that she was both thrilled and relieved at finally getting rid of all those brats!
It is obvious that observation plays a key role and is a most useful tool in child psychology. While observing a child in a natural setting we can gain valuable insight into that child s specific behavioral characteristics and traits. By observing a child in a natural setting, we see how that child normally interacts with his or her peers or how that child reacts to normal influences on their lives. We can also observe how a child reacts and behaves in different settings and unfamiliar surroundings. We must remember though that observation should not be the only criteria to be used when drawing conclusions regarding specific behavioral problems that a particular child may exhibit. Observation as well as direct interaction with that child is required before any behavioral conclusions can be formed. If I had formed impressions or conclusions with respect to the Boy I observed in this assignment based entirely on my observations I would have concluded incorrectly that the Boy was a trouble maker and class clown. In addition, he did not display any sense of focus while at his schoolwork.
After speaking with Sister Ruth on the following day I found out that although he did display these characteristics at day-care he is quite focused during regular school hours and is considered to be the at the top of his class and probably the entire fifth grade when it comes to grades. He is also thought of as being exceptionally well behaved during classes and has never caused problems for his teachers. Summary John Donne once said â€oe No man is an islandâ€â€1 (Devotions, 1624 ) which means that we cannot as individuals, stand alone. In order to survive and prosper we must look at ourselves as part of something big. I would like to go down in history for saying â€oe When discussing child behavior, no method is an isle â€ce, which means that no single method, theory, principle or opinion is effective on it s own. The combination of accepted theories, methods, correlations, and ideas is the key to finding effective answers and solutions. We could call it â€oe Pete s Mix and MatchRule for Observing Child Behaviorâ€o or if you prefer â€oe Dr. Ed and Pete s Mix and Match Rule â€oe.
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