Frame the action

Observing children moving is a wonderful privilege. Visual and audio recordings are two of the most effective mechanisms, which allow for staff collaboration and objectivity.

Dr Lala Manners

Jan White talks of ‘noticing and recognising’ children's physical play in order to plan effectively ‘for movement and physicality’. Noticing and recognising are two very different processes. As she says, they are the ‘what and so what’ of the planning cycle and should both be critical components of any meaningful observation:

  • Noticing implies an initial moment of, ‘Hmm, that's interesting!’ – something that informs a previous niggle or may be completely random. In terms of physical development, this may involve a new interest (e.g. climbing), a recently acquired skill (e.g. catching, skipping), a different area in which physical activity is experienced (e.g. in a movement corner or outside) or a change in collaborators and friendships. Noticing, as Jan says, is the what of the observation process. It is not really suggestive of action.
  • Recognising, in contrast, is definitely full of actionable possibilities. It involves making connections between previous ‘noticing moments’ and an understanding of precisely what may be useful or helpful to support and extend movement experience. Recognising also includes an element of where links may be made between physical activity and other developmental domains including communication, language and emotional wellbeing.2

For physical development, two of the most effective observation mechanisms are visual and audio recordings. Visual materials provide not only snapshots of individual children but also how they operate physically within a group. Comparing and contrasting footage over time is very useful. Parents and children may contribute their own material, and all parties may benefit from reviewing film together. It gives you time to reflect and share observations with fellow professionals if this is deemed appropriate or necessary. It also minimises subjective bias as your interpretation may not always be the most useful or valid.

Audio recordings of children discussing their experiences often provide a welcome addition to observational data: how they remember an activity, what it felt like, who did what, how they could do it better. Again, their views may not align with your reflections at all.

So, notice all the time and recognise when some form of action is warranted. Both feed into effective observation that in turn is an important factor in the assessment of children's physical development. Remember that, although the EYFS requires practitioners to make observations, their frequency and type are unspecified.

In 2014, researchers at Loughborough University studied the provision for physical activity in Early Years settings in a Northern county of the UK. The issue of assessing children's physical development emerged as a source of considerable debate between practitioners, parents and health professionals: ‘There was a strong feeling among some participants that care should be taken when referring to measuring or assessing development, with one respondent arguing that we need to problematise the notion.’ Some respondents felt that the concept of measurement against some fixed standard (e.g. developmental milestones) was too rigid and ran the risk of labelling children unfairly. Some individuals favoured alternative terms such as ‘monitoring’ or ‘tracking’, while others suggested that more thought needed to be given to the consequences of assessment.

There was consensus from all parties that assessment regarding physical development was valid. The health check at age two was considered useful in that it flagged up potential problems around physical development, but concerns were raised that basing physical development assessment around developmental milestones may be somewhat inflexible, and linking expectations of physical development too closely to chronological age may erroneously identify problems.

The Loughborough study makes clear that a more collaborative approach to the evaluation, monitoring and assessment of children's physical development is needed.

Standard training opportunities should also be provided for all those involved in the monitoring and assessment of physical development to ensure a holistic, realistic, relevant, valued and authentic picture of each child is gained.

About this book

This is an extract from The Early years Movement Handbook, A Principles-Based Approach to Supporting Young Children's Physical Development, Health and Wellbeing, by Lala Manners; published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers; ISBN: 978-1785922602.. Taken from Chapter 8 ‘A “Canopy Approach” to Movement Provision Is Created and Implemented’ pp162 – 164

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