Observing the observers Encouraging the children to really look at the world around them

One of the most fascinating aspects for the early childhood teacher is student observations. By looking at the children's independent interactions the teacher can learn so much.......

When Nursery adopted two small turtles the children were obviously innately curious. Ms Izzy sat with them as they observed the terrapins, noting the conversations and supporting their learning. The children had some prior knowledge and shared this; Carolina, who has a tortoise questioned, 'why do these baby tortoises live under water'? obviously questioning why her own pets were only allowed access to the grass. Lupo had more understanding and was able to add to the conversation explaining that these are two different animals, ' One lives in the garden and one lives in the water'. This initial discussion led to many more questions, ‘where do they sleep, what do they eat, how big will they grow? Ms Izzy was able to answer some questions, for others she suggested they ask an expert, and knowing that the grade 2 teachers had turtles proposed they Skype the grade 2 children.

The discussion on turtles led to further observations and the children showed an interest in their physical aspects. Therefore the teachers encouraged observational paintings of the animals.

The teachers put the turtles into the centre of the table with a large magnifying glass strategically placed so the the children could see the finer details on the shells. The students at once noticed that the two turtles were actually very different, 'One is very green, but this one has yellow lines', noted Grace. 'That one has black dots on his tummy,' Zoe added. Ms Anna asked if this would make it easier when we need to call them by name, would we know which one is which. Of course they replied 'It's easy, we just look at the black dots and that's Mimi'.

The success of the observational paintings of the turtles led to more opportunities to look at nature in depth.

The children noticed that flowers were blossoming in the trees around the school, Spring was definitely in the air. A beautiful bunch of flowers was introduced and the children were asked to look at the different colours in detail and the teachers asked many questions to provoke more interest; ' is there just one pink flower or are there different pinks, are the leaves all the same shape'? The children were then given a palette of watercolours that respected the colours of the flowers. More questions and dialogue followed and the children became engrossed in the observations, noting minuscule details, 'Look this flower has small green flowers inside,' Ginevra remarked as she mixed the dark green with white to make the shade more realistic. As the children observed the flowers the teachers again observed the children, noting how they pondered over the details and the colours before mixing the paints and actually putting the brush to the paper. Allowing children to take their time and look at nature in detail enhances their own perspectives. The teachers questioning helped the students reflect and perhaps notice the particularities of the flowers. The students were allowed to leave the paintings and return to them at a later time, this also gave them the opportunity to look at the flowers from another angle and go into even more detail. On returning to the painting one child remarked, 'look the flowers are bigger than before', noting that over time the petals had spread out.

You can see the precision, thoughtfulness and concentration of the student in this video.

From flowers to fruit...

Over the past few weeks the children have expressed a desire for pineapple so the obvious next step was to introduce this exotic fruit. This was to serve a dual purpose, both for observational drawing and as fruit tasting experience. Adding some of the fruit we eat at snack we managed to create a beautiful basket. This time instead of paints we introduced a choice of different writing implements, pencils and crayons, therefore the possibility of many colours and diverse textures. By using very open ended questions the teachers discovered what the students were seeing, taking time and giving value to each thought process expressed by the child. The vocabulary used by the students was enlightening, ' Zoe commented that the pineapple, 'It looks like a palm tree, I see them at the beach'. Celeste was very interested in the forms and size of the fruit,' the orange is round but the kiwi is like a squashed round'. This allowed for the language of maths to be incorporated as the teacher and children looked at size, the children were then able to replicate this in their drawings. Nico knowledgeably commented that, 'the orange was bigger, the apple a bit smaller, but the biggest is the pineapple'. Then at the end of the activity, when all of the creational juices were spent the children had a healthy feast!

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