University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
FCS 3215: Observation Assignment
Dr. Isabella, this project requires that you observe two preschool-age children in the Child and Family Development Center (ground floor of the Alfred Emery Building) and, on the basis of your observations, report on a particular aspect of their development. In the following pages, three options will be presented–you may focus on either language development, play, or emotional behavior. Thus, the option you select will determine the nature of the observation you conduct, but it is also true that all projects must follow the same guideline.
First, you must decide which of the three options you will pursue. Second, you should become familiar with the objectives of your observation (based on the descriptions presented in the following pages as well as any reading from the textbook that would prove useful in this regard). Third, you should begin planning your observation; this should include decisions regarding what you will focus on during your observations (e.g., behaviors, specific features of the physical and social context), what kinds of things you will try to take notes on in the course of your observation, which preschool class you will observe, and when you will plan to conduct your observation to assure that you will leave yourself enough time for a second chance should you fail to gather all of the necessary information on your first observation attempt. Fourth, you should conduct your observation, paying very careful attention to the behaviors and situations that you have (beforehand!) decided are most important–in all cases, you will have to observe two children for 15 minutes each. Take notes and remember that these notes are all you will have to work from when writing your paper. I also would recommend that you allow yourself approximately 1 hour for your observation. This would allow you at least a few minutes at the beginning of the observation to get a feel for the classroom and the children in it and to identify the two children you will observe; ample time to observe each child for 15 minutes (which may be split into 5 minutes now, 5 minutes in a short while and 5 more minutes at the end of your hour); and even some time to make up for observations that don’t result in any useable information. Fifth, you must rely on your notes and the details of the assignment to prepare your paper. In all cases, I am asking that you provide some general, objective information about what you observed in each child, and that you interpret your observations in terms of what you’ve learned about preschooler development. In addition, the introduction of your paper should provide a brief description of who you observed, when you observed them and what was going on in the preschool classroom during your observation period. Finally, at the end of your paper, briefly comment upon your experience as an observer. For example, How easy or difficult was it? What did you learn? How confident are you in the representativeness of the behaviors you observed for each child? As usual, all papers MUST BE TYPED. You are limited to 3 typewritten pages so think carefully about how best to organize all of the information you wish to present. Papers are due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, April 15.
The preschool schedule is as follows: There are three different preschool classes (children ages 3-5): one meets Mon/Wed/Fri, 8:30-11:30, one meets Tues/Thur, 8:30-11:30, and one meets Mon thru Fri, 12:30-3:30 pm). In all cases, there should be no problems if you observe (quietly) from the observation booths attached to each classroom, or from outside the playground fence. If you wish to observe from within the classroom, or if you wish to go onto the playground with the children, you will need the permission of the head teacher. Simply tell them about the project, mention the class and instructor’s name, and there should not be a problem (do this ahead of time!). Following are descriptions of the three options, each focusing upon a different feature of preschoolers’ development. [Adapted from Bentzen, W.R. (1985). Seeing your children: A guide to observing and recording behavior. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers Inc.]
I. LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
A. Background Information
Language is one of the more prominent behaviors in the preschool child. The preschooler is rapidly acquiring speech vocabulary and is refining his grammar to conform more closely to adult speech patterns. For many people, language is an indication of intellectual and social progress. In this exercise, you will be concerned with describing and analyzing the child’s
speech and determining such things as the depth and variety of his/her vocabulary.
1.It is important to look at the child’s speech in terms of Piaget’s concepts of egocentrism and sociocentrism. Egocentric speech is speech that does not take the other person into account; it is speech that, for all practical purposes, is private. There is no real effort to communicate with the other person; therefore, whatever is said is meaningful only to the speaker. Piaget identified three types of egocentric speech: (a) monologue, in which the individual talks only to himself and with no other persons present; (b) repetition, in which the individual repeats words and phrases over and over again as if to practice them or as if he simply enjoyed making the sounds; and (c) collective monologue, in which two or more persons are talking together but none of them is paying attention to what the others are saying. Each “conversation” is independent of the other conversation.
Socialized speech, on the other hand, is public speech. It is intended to communicate with someone and each person takes into account what others are saying and responds accordingly.
2.Does the child engage in egocentric or socialized speech? What are the circumstances under which these types of speech are used?
Vocabulary is the foundation of speech. We communicate by putting individual words together into properly constructed sentences and paragraphs. Presumably, the greater the number of words in our vocabularies, the greater the number and variety of sentences and ideas we can utter and transmit to others. Words have different meanings and serve different purposes. Moreover, words must be placed in the correct position within a sentence; thus, there are rules of grammar and syntax.
What do you observe about the child’s vocabulary?
In particular, examine the child’s speech for words that express relations and oppositions, for example, words such as and, or, not, same, different, more, less, instead, if, then, and because. Also, how varied or rich is the child’s vocabulary when he/she talks about the world and the people/things in it? Think in terms of general classes or categories of objects, persons, and events, then assess how many different words the child uses to discuss those categories and/or how many different categories the child uses.
B. Observational Objectives
To learn about the language production abilities of preschool children, and how children of preschool age use language as a means of social interaction.
For this exercise, your purpose is to observe and record the language behaviors of children as they are engaging in social exchanges. Basically, you will need to write about the vocabularies demonstrated, the ways in which children use their language for the specific purpose of communicating with others (either adults or other children), and the degree to which language appears to be influenced by the setting in which it occurs. For this purpose, select two children and observe each of them for 15 minutes during a time when they have opportunity to interact with others in a small group setting–free-choice periods are probably best. (Do not try to observe two children at the same time!). As you observe, take notes regarding the nature and variety of words used by each child (writing down exactly what the child says would of course be very useful), the child’s specific use of language to communicate with others, and the context in which all of this is going on.
For each child, your paper should include a brief description of the language used (including information about vocabulary, communication and context) as well as an interpretation of each child’s language behavior in terms of what you’ve learned about development during the preschool years.
II. PRESCHOOLERS’ PLAY
A. Background Information
Play is considered by some psychologists to be the most important activity in which the young child engages. Indeed, play activities pervade the lives of children from infancy throughout childhood. Some play seems obviously linked to the child’s observation of adults; other play seems to stem from the child’s fantasies and from experiences that she finds particularly enjoyable. There are a number of explanations of the major purposes of play. These range from play as getting rid of excess energy to play as a means of socioemotional expression. Play can be a group or an individual activity. Play is distinguished from non-play by its special characteristics, the most important of which are its voluntary nature and its complete structuring by the participants, with little regard for outside regulation. When play is governed by consistent rules, we say children are playing games. These rules give play a social dimension. The participants must put their own personal wishes into the background and abide by the requirements of the game and the wishes of the larger group. It is important to note that not everything children do is play, although they will sometimes try to make play out of what adults intend to be serious.
Parten (1932) has identified six types of play, which are given in an accompanying list (next page). Remember that play, like all behavior, occurs in a physical and social context. Therefore, include in your report information on the equipment and materials the child was using in his play and who the child was playing with, if appropriate.
B. Parten’s Six Classifications of Play or Social Interactions 1. Unoccupied Behavior: Here the child is not engaging in any obvious play activity or social interaction. Rather, she watches anything that is of interest at the moment. When there is nothing of interest to watch, the child will play with her own body, move around from place to place, follow the teacher, or stay in one spot and look around the room. 2. Onlooker Behavior: Here the child spends most of her time watching other children play. The child may talk to the playing children, may ask questions or give suggestions, but does not enter into play. The child remains within speaking distance so that what goes on can be seen and heard; this indicates a definite interest in a group of children, unlike the unoccupied child, who shows no interest in any particular group of children, but only a shifting interest in what happens to be exciting at the moment.
3. Solitary Play
This is play activity that is conducted independently of what anyone else is doing. The child plays with toys that differ from those used by other children in the immediate area within speaking distance, and she makes no effort to get closer to them or to speak to them. The child is focused entirely on her own activity and is uninfluenced by other children or their activities.
4. Parallel Play: Here the child is playing close to other children but is still independent of them. The child uses toys that are like the toys being used by the others, but he uses them as he sees fit and is neither influenced by nor tries to influence the others. The chid thus plays beside rather than with the other children.
5. Associative Play
Here the child plays with other children. There is a sharing of play material and equipment; the children may follow each other around; there may be attempts to control who may or may not play in a group, although such control efforts are not strongly asserted. The children engage in similar but not necessarily identical activity, and there is no division of labor or organization of activity or individuals. Each child does what he or she essentially wants to do, without putting the interests of the group first.
6. Cooperative or Organized Supplementary Play
The key word in this category is “organized.” The child plays in a group that is established for a particular purpose: making some material product, gaining some competitive goal, playing formal games. There is a sense of “we-ness,” whereby one definitely belongs or does not belong to the group. There is also some leadership present–one or two members who direct the activity of the others. This therefore requires some division of labor, a taking of different roles by the group members, and the support of one child’s efforts by those of the others. C. Observational Objectives
To learn about the distinguishing characteristics of different forms of play, specifically according to Parten’s classification of play behaviors.
Familiarize yourself with Parten’s classifications of play as described above. Select two children in the preschool and observe each of them for 15 minutes, preferably during a free-choice period when the children are free to move about the room and play with who or what they wish. (Do not attempt to observe both children at the same time!) As you observe each child, look for examples of each type of play or social interaction as described by Parten. Also, in addition to classifying each child’s play behaviors, observe whether there are any patterns to their play. For example, are there particular situations in which a child tends to be an onlooker, but in other situations he/she engages in parallel or cooperative play? As you observe, you should take notes regarding these relevant issues so that you will have something to work from in writing your paper. For each child, your paper should include a brief description of the types of play exhibited (including information about which type(s) are exhibited most frequently) and the social context which characterized each type of play. Additionally, you should provide an interpretation of your observations based on what you’ve learned about development during the preschool years.
III. EMOTION BEHAVIOR
A. Background Information
Emotions are such a basic part of our psychological beings that we sometimes take them for
granted. Some of our emotions are clearly identifiable by us. We know when we are angry, frightened, or joyous. At other times, however, we can have feelings that are not so clear; we may not be able to label what we feel. Whatever the case, emotions are internal experiences that are private and directly accessible only to the individual experiencing them. This being so, we cannot state with certainty what emotion another person is feeling. She
must tell us, or we must infer the emotion on the basis of the individual’s behavior, facial expressions, and the event that preceded and might have caused the feeling. A child’s emotional behaviors become more refined and extensive as she matures. Therefore, a four- or five-year-old will typically be more emotionally expressive than a two-year-old.
In this exercise, you will be trying to gain some understanding of the child’s emotional behaviors, of the range of her emotions and the kinds of situations that prompt these behaviors. Again, you can only infer what the child is feeling and cannot observe emotions directly. Therefore, be cautious in your interpretations and concentrate on the child’s obvious behaviors and the contexts in which they occur.
1.There are several emotions that are commonly found in preschool children: aggression, dependency and fear. Aggressive behavior is frequently defined as behavior that is intended to physically or psychologically hurt another person (or oneself) or to damage or destroy property. An important issue is whether a behavior is intentionally aggressive or simply an accidental occurrence. Further, it is argued by some that in order for a behavior to be termed aggressive, the aggressor must feel anger or hostility toward the “victim” and must derive satisfaction from hurting the victim. This kind of aggression is called hostile aggression. In contrast to hostile aggression, there can be cases where the aggressor is interested only in getting some object from the victim or achieving some goal. This is called instrumental aggression, and it need not involve anger or hostility.
2.Observe the child’s behavior for instances of aggression, either toward another child or an adult, or towards objects in the environment. Be certain to differentiate between intentional, hostile and instrumental acts of aggression.
What kinds of situations or frustrations make the child angry? What behaviors by other people anger the child? How does the child express his/her anger?
Dependency consists of such behaviors as clinging or maintaining proximity to adults or other children, seeking approval, recognition, assistance, attention, and reassurance, and striving for affection and support. It is important to recognize that all of us are dependent. The issue is to what degree and under what circumstances we show our dependency. It is also useful to distinguish between two basic types of dependency: a) instrumental dependency, which essentially is the necessary reliance we have on others for certain things that are beyond our capacity to do; and b) emotional dependency, which is a need to be near others and to have their support, affection and reassurance. It can also be the unwillingness or the selfperceived inability to do things for oneself that one can or should be able to do. It is important that, where possible, you distinguish instrumental dependency from emotional dependency behaviors. It is also important to note that as children mature, the characteristics of their dependency behaviors change. Very young children are likely to show clinging and proximity-seeking behaviors, whereas older children, who also have greater cognitive abilities, will likely seek attention and approval.
3.Fear is demonstrated by such behaviors as crying, withdrawing, seeking help, and avoiding the fear-producing situation. Fear can promote both dependency and aggressive behaviors. Nonetheless, fear can be expressed in such a way that it, and not aggression or dependency, is the primary emotion.
4.In what situations or activities is the child dependent, and, for example, seeks the presence, direction, or assistance of others? In what situations is the child independent and does not seek direction or assistance from others?
What kinds of objects or situations appear to scare the child? In what ways does the child express his/her fears? How does he/she deal with his fears (e.g., by withdrawing, confronting the fearful situation, seeking help)?
In addition to the emotional behaviors just discussed, there are other feelings that children are capable of experiencing and expressing. You should be alert to as many of the child’s affective states as possible. For example, there are the feelings of pleasure and displeasure, frustration, boredom and sadness. Like adults, children will differ as to how accurately they can identify and/or express what they feel.
What kinds of things does the child find pleasant? What activities, play materials, stories, games and so on, seem to be particularly attractive to the child? How does the child express that pleasure?
What kinds of things are unpleasant or uncomfortable for the child? In what situations does the child appear to be ill at ease? How does she express her displeasure?
Are all or most of the child’s feelings expressed with equal strength, or does their intensity vary with the particular feeling or situation?
B. Observational Objectives
To learn about the differences in children’s emotional behaviors and the range of emotional responses in preschool children.
Select two children, observe and record each child’s behavior for a 15-minute period (do not attempt to observe both children at the same time!). Record behaviors in as much detail as possible (attending to the kinds of things that would help you answer the above questions) and be sure to include descriptions of the physical and social context as they apply to the emotional behaviors observed. IT IS RECOMMENDED THAT YOU OBSERVE CHILDREN DURING THE VERY BEGINNING OF THEIR PRESCHOOL CLASS SO THAT YOU WILL BE ABLE TO SEE THEM AS THEY ARE BEING DROPPED OFF BY THEIR PARENTS AND THEN MAKING THEIR INITIAL ADJUSTMENT TO THEIR PRESCHOOL SETTING.
Your paper should include a brief description of each child’s behavior (including the different kinds of emotions, the contexts in which they occurred and the relative frequency of each expression) as well as an interpretation or comment on each child using some of the questions and background information provided above. Finally, compare the two children, looking at the range of emotional expression, intensity of expression, and what evokes the emotional responses. In short, summarize how the children differ from each other in this area of functioning.