Photo/Activity of the Day - Playing with Model Animals
The most recommended Montessori at home DVD - Edison's Day

Observation - Part Two. Observing the Child at Home.

Otis with geo puzzle 1
It took me a long time to grasp the concept of observation. Now it comes naturally. As you will read I've found observation key in providing for and meeting Otis's needs. For many parents this may be instinctual, but if like me you need some help or ideas please read along. .

Observe not correct, then work on improvement 
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One of the main reasons I observe Otis completing a task is to see where he is going wrong or how his movement might be improved. This is often with practical life activities but can apply to almost every activity he does. Take for example pouring milk, I observe Otis, (while standing next to him making my own breakfast) observe his hands, his little fingers, how he grips the container by it's handle and spins the lid around. I observe how he puts the lid on, so lightly (not tight enough to prevent Caspar from spilling it next time he uses the milk). Next time I am pouring milk and Otis is with me, I slowly and deliberately put the lid on the container, pause, don't say a word, and tighten the lid. Another example is with Caspar doing up his shoe laces. When I am doing up my laces I emphasis the areas I observe he is lacking (which is tightening the laces and pulling them firm). Another area I'm actively working with Otis is  putting on and taking off an apron. It's only through observation that I can determine the area he is having the most problem with. 
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Observe in order to offer the least amount of assistance necessary

I recently heard a mother talk about observation in relation to providing her toddler the least amount of help necessary to complete the task. She was observing her toddler doing up a coat. Rather than do the coat up for the child she observed how her daughter attempted it. She realised the child was able to pull up the zipper if she (the mother) held the zipper straight. This does so much for the child's self esteem. The child didn't need someone to do it for her, she just needed help with one very specific action. This is also a great tip with the zipper and I now have been doing the same for Otis. This principle applies again to almost every activity but I find myself applying it to practical life, I will loosen the tap for Otis not turn it on for him, I will squeeze out the toothpaste but he puts the paste on his toothbrush. 
 
Observe to improve demonstrations
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Observation can help to improve demonstrations. I remember observing Otis as an infant trying to get down from his floor bed. I would observe how he attempted to do it and then tried to replicate this action. It helped me to work out how it is best for him to get off the bed. I learnt to back off the bed feet first and then slowly with my arms push myself down. I would demonstrate this to Otis and (as he was an infant) help him to swing his feet off the bed and slowly lower him until he was able to do it for himself. Otis is right handed as I am left handed so there are times when I've needed to observe him to understand how he might hold something (for example scissors, a fork or knife), this has helped me understand how he does things and improve my next or following demonstrations. This has also applied when demonstrating to Otis how to get on and off a bike and also when doing actions like sweeping or using a rake. 
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Observe to better understand the child

Making time to deliberately observe a child help us to better understand the child. What is it about  play-dough that they like? Do they like to use tools or use only their hands? Do they favour certain textures, do they favour certain themes? How high can they reach to get their materials or hang an item on the hook? Observation helps us better select materials and prepare their environment. How does the child move, do they need assistance with grace and courtesy (are they always banging their chair)? What are they comfortable with, what do they avoid or what makes them feel uncomfortable, why? It's true that you don't know what you don't know! You might be surprised at what you find when you take some time to sit and observe. 

Observe to provide materials and environment relevant to the child's stage of development

It's said so often that all children are different and it's true. What your child is interested in doing or capable of doing at 12 months Otis might not do until 24. It can vary that much. Observation is needed to determine the exact stage of development your child is in. You need to know exactly where the child is in order to provide the next step. Observing not only a child choosing which material to work with but also how they do the work/for how long can help determine if that material is right for them and will give you ideas on other materials that might be suitable. The concept of activities that support and challenge the child is important. We want activities that the child can succeed with even if it's step by step improving each time. Some of our materials are rotated over a period of 12 months or so because Otis is still improving or still appreciates the repetition of the material. If you observe a child not using a material you can ask yourself why and perhaps take it out of rotation. Observation can help us prepare the child's environment, the right chair so the child can independently get in and out, the right sized table or shelving, observing the movement of the child can help determine if the layout of the room is suitable. 
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Otis with geo puzzle
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When and how I observe
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Observation is key in knowing your child. It's often why people can't make suggestions on which activities your child might like or how to improve an area of their behaviour. Observation is necessary. If you feel like you are just sitting there watching your child, that's ok, just keep on going but don't let your mind wander, stay focused on your child. Often when I observe Otis I have questions I am looking to answer. How can I help Otis to turn the pages of the book so he doesn't tear them? Why can't he get his arm out his sleeve when taking off his shirt? How can we improve his sweeping, is he holding the broom right? Often when observing Otis I do so with an open mind, this usually happens when he is doing an activity, usually I focus on his hands and I observe his movements. 

I am fortunate that I am able to observe Otis when Caspar is at school. I find it hard to observe when Caspar is around.  When I am observing Otis I really focus on him and tune out the rest of the world. Sometimes I even tune out sound. 
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Often I don't plan to observe Otis I take the opportunity when it arises. As many parents have mentioned toddlers like to be with their parents often not wanting or able to work independently. This doesn't mean that there isn't an opportunity for observation. While Otis sits on my lap I observe his hands, how he holds the book, in the photographs accompanying this post Otis is working on his table while I am sitting next to him. Often we will do puzzles together. If I observe he is struggling or feeling deflated I might suggest turning the puzzle piece or show him how a piece fits if you wiggle it a little. So by doing an activity with him I can still observe. Other times I might be working with him on an activity (like a puzzle) and I can see he is really engaged. I can pull back a bit and just observe.
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A couple of tips that I've read about observing. Be prepared and make time, observation isn't something you can do while waiting for a phone call or when there is a time restriction (within reason). Be prepared to see nothing new and see ordinary everyday things. Make notes if you like. I have never taken notes but I do make lists really for new materials I need to look for, for example a larger tray might be needed to store the materials or a smaller jar or a container with a different (easy to open) lid is required. It may even work if you are having trouble with observation to make some notes or write down questions you have to keep you on task. If you have any questions to ask the child, you could also write these down but save them for later. 

Most of all, spending time with your child should be enjoyable. If observation as I've mentioned it doesn't connect with you, perhaps keep it in mind. There may be a time when you are observing and you don't even know it.   

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