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Child Initiated Play Observation


I am currently working with a group of 12 children in a nursery ‘Red’ Classroom. As I watch the children during their initiated play activity, I make the following observation. The individual selected for observation is Child ‘M’ 3 years old female. Permission from the child’s parent for observation was obtained. The physical observation consisted of simply remaining in the area where the child is involved in different activities with other children and supervised by the members of staff and me. Using a pen and paper tick chart observation reporting method is recorded for a period of forty minutes. My observation of Child ‘M’ took place in the play area during their outdoor and indoor activity time.

Aim: To observe a child in a play activity. My objectives for this observation are as follows:

  • To assess how the child’s overall development is supported
  • To comment on the milestones observed during play
  • To comment on how what I observed is supported by a specific theory of learning or development
  • Explain what I have learnt about the type and level of play observed
  • To comment on the role of the adult
  • To make future recommendations to support and promote child’s learning and development.

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Observation – Child ‘M’

Date and Time: 04/11/11

Child’s identifier: Child ‘M’

Room: Playing area (both indoor and outdoor)

Child’s age: 3 years old (female)

Brief Description of Child: Child ‘M’ is a girl of 3 years old. She is wearing a pink jumper, black trousers and boots.

Context: Child ‘M’ was observed on Friday 4th November 2011 at 9:20 am. She was indoor playing in the sand pit with 3 other children, socks and spoons to play with. She also went to play outside with another child, running around.


Time : from 9:20am – 10:20 am

Observed for an hour

Level of Play/ Type of play

Method: The method I have used to observe a child’s initiated play is the time sample method.

9:20 am

Child ‘M’ is playing indoor in the sandpit with 3 other children. The play area is safe and comfortable for children to play around. In the room, there are activities like a small kitchen set, sandpit, wooden blocks in corners, water buckets and clay adding materials. There are 3 red sofas and a wooden rack full of storybooks like musical books to attract children, there is a painting stand for children to choose from several colours and paint. , and a CD player that plays nursery rhymes in the background.

Child ‘M’ is using a spoon to fill up a sock. She is holding the spoon in her right hand and the sock in her left hand. She is carefully putting the sand into the sock. She is also interacting with the other children – ‘My sock is nearly full to top’. This level of play would be referred to as cooperative because the child ‘M’ is playing and interacting in the same play theme with other children. It helps to improve and develop muscles in children’s arms, as well as aiding their hand-eye coordination.

9:35 am

At the writing table by herself. She is drawing a picture of her ‘mummy and daddy’ with a red felt tip pen. She has made two irregular circles and made straight lines for hair in the same colour. This level of play would be referred to as solo, as a child is playing by herself. The type of play observed here is creative play. By examining the marks it begins to show some control in the use of tools, equipment and movements on paper.

9:45 am

Child ‘M’ is at the playdough table playing with other children. She is making cakes for everyone at the table, using a baking tray and cutters. She carefully puts the ‘circle cakes’ into the tray. Again this type of play would be creative play, and the level of play would be collaborative play. This is a fine motor skill, using her hands and fingertips.


She is now playing outside by herself on the climbing frame. Wearing her jacket. She is waiting for her turn to down the slide. This level of play would be solitary because the child ‘M’ is playing by herself and shows the development of norms for motor skills.

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10:10 am

She is playing with another child- running around playing chase. She is laughing and screaming. This level of play would be referred to as cooperative because the child ‘M’ is playing and interacting in the same play theme with the other child. This is an active play that requires physical movements and allows child ‘M’ to burn off energy. It will enhance her physical development as it affords her to use muscles and develop gross motor skills and fine motor skills.

10:20 am – End of observation

Advantages and Disadvantages of using a Time Sample Method

I think this time sample method was quite effective to record children’s activity at fixed regular intervals of time to note what is happening at that moment. It is a useful way to collect and present observation data over a long period of time. It does not require a great deal of training and understands not only what behaviour occurred but also the context in which behaviour occurred. However, it was not as easy as the tick chart was because the time sample requires time to get the information down and important information may not have been recorded. Otherwise, it was useful because it gives a wider picture of the child and more information was collected.

A better method to use for this observation would have been the tick chart because all you need to do is tick what a child can do. All the areas of physical development and compared with the norms of development for other children of the class. This way it would have given a wider picture of the child but preparations beforehand would have been required. Time sample works well for observing an individual but is difficult to use when observing a group.


The aim to observe child ‘M’s physical development at the same time interacting with other children during the activities. The above time sample indicates the physical development of a 3-year-old child. Child ‘M’ managed to do all activities mentioned in the time sample which encourage the physical development of the child. Child ‘M’ possesses enough control and strength in her hand to draw and to fill the socks with sand and transfer back the objects into the sandpit in a consistent fashion. As she works with these objects, the small muscles in her hands are developing. Control of the hands and fingers also improves greatly during early childhood, allowing children to cut and paste effectively (Berk, p.31 2, 2001). Child ‘M’ demonstrates she can manipulate the objects well enough.

This observation can help to track child ‘M’s physical development, it indicates her development stages at the moment, for example, she draws a picture, made two irregular circles and straight lines. This shows fine motor skills she is heading for holding pen and drawing objects. It is a good skill to observe her at this stage and ensure to keep track of all her development stages using a time sample. Time sample would help me to plan different activities for the child ‘M’ to promote her physical development and growth.

From the observation, it can be noticed that the child is physically well compared to the norms, unlike other methods that would take a long period to observe the child’s physical development. It is a better option to observe a child’s development because all certain types of physical development in the time samples indicate child ‘A’s development and physical progress in detail. A greater understanding of the processes at work in these early years and their role in later success is therefore important to ensure that resources are appropriately targeted. I have been working with children in my placement who are developing skills through a wide range of physical activities, these may be gross motor skills such as beginning to walk or fine motor skills like holding a pencil.


Child’s Learning: Whilst carrying out this observation on child ‘M’ I noticed that she was creative and enjoyed playing with other children. According to Penny Tassoni, (2002, pg375) “children aged 3-4 start to co-operate with each other and enjoy playing together. Most of their play is pretend play.” So this shows that child ‘M’ is in the norm of her development. Developmental milestones give a general idea of what is expected of a child at certain ages. Comparing child ‘M’s development to the milestones I found out that she is developing at the right pace for her age. For example, her hand and finger skills are at the right place. She can make vertical, horizontal and circular strokes with pencil or crayon and she can hold a pencil in a writing position.

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The physical development for her age is developing fine as well. For example, she

can she can run around and change directions, use the slide without help and tidy up by sorting big objects incorrect places. Her intellectual skills are that she can draw, name, and briefly explain recognizable pictures that she made. Her language is also developing right, she can recognize and identify almost all common objects and pictures, she can understand most sentences and she uses four- and five-word sentences. She co-operates with children at the same age and she can take turns in games and activities.

Connecting my observation on child ‘M’ to Johann Pestalozzi theory ‘that every child has potential but that without love neither physical nor intellectual powers can develop naturally’ (Pound.2005) P9, is that with the support and care of the staff and her family child ‘M’ is physically developing well.

When I was doing this observation I noticed that child ‘M’ did not take much notice of me when I was observing her. I think this may have happened due to the fact I was not with her at all times, I came back to her after 15 minutes. However, when I did go to observe her she would keep on looking at me rather than continuing to play but it was

not that much as last time I did the observation. So next time when I do an observation again I will try not to get her attention towards myself by standing away from her and observe her from a distance.

Physical development plays an important role in these processes (Bjorklund, 2000). The most important insight gained from the observation is that Piaget appears to have been generally correct in his assessment of the different stages through which the developing child moves. Children perform well on tasks that are developmentally appropriate and may become frustrated if they are asked to perform in a manner that is not consistent with their developmental stage. Bjorklund (2000) has pointed out that children do not develop uniformly. There are many important factors that directly impact upon development sequences and stages.


The two recommendations I would like to make are that firstly we extend child ‘M’s creative play on drawing by providing her with a better range of materials and equipment, such as objects to draw around, more variety of drawing pens and pencils, and different textures of the paper. This will encourage her to express her feelings as well as give her more confidence in drawing freehand and by drawing around objects. She will also gain good hand and eye coordination. This will give her the opportunity to and experiment, drawing with other equipment and materials.

Secondly, what I would like to recommend is that the adults should encourage her to do more creative play like, painting, printing, junk modelling and dancing because

she is only practising one type of creative play which is drawing. By doing this child ‘M’ will have more opportunities to express her feelings by showing them through different play. For example, if she is encouraged to do dancing, she may want to dance to music that is slow and peaceful to express that she is in a happy peaceful mood. She may decide on another day to dance to fast loud music to express that is angry or upset mood. This will encourage her to do more creative activities and give her the opportunities to express herself in different ways.

Personal Learning

After this physical development observation, I understand that infancy is a time of intense development. Children start out with little more than instinctual reflexes and an innate ability to learn. They progress to the point where they have recognizable personalities; are able to move from place to place and manipulate things; and understand how certain important aspects of the world operate (such as object permanence; the understanding that objects continue to exist even when you are not looking at them).

Observing a child is a fascinating experience. It is amazing to see how differently children view certain things than adults view them. The observation is actually of great use to me in my attempt to understand the theories of the development of children. A positive, safe environment is very important for indoor or outdoor play. Parents or carers should safely supervise all activities, especially if they are near water. Being outdoors has the added benefit of providing children with space to carry out ‘gross motor’ activities such as jumping, running, climbing and leaping at different speeds. Outdoor play also allows children to get to know their environment and connect with nature.

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Child ‘M’s level of play could be described as co-operative and creative. I think this because she was involved in creative activities with other children. The play theory that would link with this would be the Margaret McMillan and the Susan Isaac theory, because

McMillan believed that access to wide varieties of material is important for children’s play which helps them develop as a whole person. This is also linked to Isaac’s theory because she believes that play should encourage children to explore their innermost feelings.

Every child developed at a different rate and some may miss out few of the development milestones because every child is unique and that links to the EYFS. I have understood that there are many different materials and activities that can be utilized to help young children develop small motor skills. Develop activities for children, of the same chronological age often function on many different developmental levels. To observe each child carefully to see how we can adapt the activity to meet individual needs. By providing the children with a wide variety of materials, they can use the ones with which they are the most comfortable. The most important thing that I have learnt during observation is to remember that children develop small motor skills just like every other skill – at their own rate. Our responsibility is simply to provide them with a variety of materials that promote development in this area through daily activities.

This observation helped me developed my understanding and skills about the milestones and how to observe a child using the time sample method for the child’s development. Piaget posited that ‘children learn actively through the play process. He suggested that the adult’s role in helping the child learn was to provide appropriate materials for the child to interact and construct.

An adult’s role in creative play is to make sure all the materials and equipment are ready for the children to come and use when they wish. They also have to make sure that the equipment are safe to use.’ Children learn when they are given appropriate responsibility, allowed to make errors, decisions and choices, and are respected as autonomous and competent learners.’ (DfES, 2002).

We all learn best when highly motivated. Children are motivated by play, especially when they have chosen it themselves. They are more likely to persist when things get difficult and have a sense of real achievement when they succeed. This is because they are learning in a style that suits them, at their particular level of understanding, and (as we know from our own learning experiences) are more likely to remember what they have learned if they have discovered it for themselves rather than being told. Children need to learn through experience and doing, and they are very active in their play because it is through action that new connections are made and reinforced in the brain.

For example, the thrill of discovering how to mix primary colours to make the colour green helps to develop strong connections in a child’s brain, as he or she will want to communicate the discovery to others. Reliving and retelling the experience consolidates the child’s understanding and gives him or her real ‘ownership’ of the knowledge. Research has shown that the ability to retain information that we teach others is up to 90% successful, as opposed to a retention rate of 5% for a piece of information that a person has simply been told. (Meighan, 2004)


Beith K. Tassoni P. (2002) Diploma in Childcare and Education- Heinemann- Oxford

Meggit. C (2006) Child Development-An Illustrated Guide Oxford: Heinemann

Meighan, R (2004) ‘Natural learning and the natural curriculum’ Educational Heretics Press

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