(1996) defines observation as a kind of perceptive watching, an informed way of
looking that raises awareness and sharpens understanding which helps to bring
to notice what might otherwise be overlooked. It is a tool for social work
practitioners that informs their interactions, assessment and analysis
(O’Loughlin and O’Loughlin,2014). This child observation was carried out as
part of the assessment criteria for the Human Growth and Development course.
observation was based on the Tavistock model which involves observing a child
one hour weekly from just after birth till the second birthday. Due to time
constraints this observation lasted only six weeks. An important feature of
this model is that no notes may be taken during the observation, but a report
is written as soon as possible after the observation(Rustin,2009). Initially I
wondered how much detail I could recollect after the observation but
surprisingly I was able to vividly recollect all the essential aspects of the
The report aims to capture not only what has
been observed but also the thoughts, emotions and feelings of the observer
during the observation. The Tavistock model enables the observer to gain
insight into the internal world and emotional states of a young child (Hobart
and Frankel,2009). Another feature of the model is that the observer must
remain unobtrusive and non-interventionist as much as possible (Rustin, 2009).
This was quite a challenge as the observer loves to interact and play with children,
but this was not permissible, and it took a good deal of self-control to act
against this natural inclination.
observed actions and behaviours of Child D during the period of observation
have relevance to several child development and behavioural theories. These
include attachment theories, social learning theories and cognitive development
postulated that a child needs to develop a close attachment to their mother who
is their primary care giver to be a healthy and well-adjusted individual(Howe,2005).
He believed that the first five years of a child’s life were crucial for
developing this attachment. Mary Ainsworth identifies four types of attachment,
namely (Shemmings and Shemmings,2011):
Secure attachment: The
child trusts that its needs will always be met as it consistently receives
protection, care and comfort from its primary care giver.
Avoidant attachment: The
child minimises attachment behaviour and tends to pull away or ignore its
primary care giver.
Child maximises attachment behaviour by staying close to the care giver.
Child cannot organise their behaviour to achieve proximity or anxiety due to
inconsistent care being received from mother or care giver.
my first visit the child did not show any special attachment either to her big
sister or to the staff apart from when she was doing her homework with the
minder. In terms of Bowlby and Ainsworth attachment model the child seems to
demonstrate secure attachment, being confident that her needs will be met always.
This suggests that she has a healthy attachment to one or both parents at home.
On the other hand, she might be exhibiting symptoms of avoidant attachment.
second visit, the child showed so much attachment to Head of Club who is male
and the minder who is female. She enjoyed playing with the Head of Club and
whenever she was upset or needed anything she would go to the minder. Both seem
to be like the father and mother figure for the child outside her home.
However, contrary to Bowlby’s theory, the child did not demonstrate any symptom
of separation distress in the absence of her primary care givers.
Social Learning Theory
theory pertinent to the observed behaviour of Child D is the social learning
theory. According to the social learning theory postulated by Albert Bandura
(1977) behaviour is learnt from the environment through the process of
observational learning and differential reinforcement. Bandura (1961cited in
Mcleod,2014) suggested that children observe the people around them behave in
certain ways as illustrated by the Bobo doll experiment. Such individuals who
are referred to as models may be parents, TV characters or friends within the
The child showed some learned etiquette of
good behaviour such as saying, ‘thank you’ when receiving her meal and promptly
returning her plate after eating. On one occasion she tried to imitate some
older children who were writing on the whiteboard, but she had to climb on a
chair to do this. She was however accidentally pushed down in the process and
ran to the minder to console her. She did not attempt to write on the
whiteboard again after this incident. The fall was a negative reinforcement for
her. She is learning to pray at the start of each session like other children
by the saying the words after her sister. She also plays ‘Tipple Tower’ with
other children which involves making a tower by piling small pieces of wood on
top of each other.
cognitive development theory identified four distinct stages in the development
of children, namely, sensorimotor (0-2years), pre-operational(2-7years),
concrete operations (7-11years) and formal operations(11-15years) (Beckett and
Taylor,2016). Child D falls to the pre-operational stage where children start
to use mental symbols to understand and interact with the world. Her home work
consists mainly of pictures and symbols rather than letters. When birthday was
being celebrated for two of the other children Child D could not understand why
her own birthday was not being celebrated on that day and she started to cry. However,
Child D was observed on one occasion gazing contemplatively out of the window.
This suggests that some children reach milestones earlier than others and child
development cannot be rigidly compartmentalised.
Child Observation Presentation
looked forward to the power point presentation of the child observation with
some trepidation. Wineburg (2004) noted that it is natural to have nervous
feelings prior to a presentation whether one is a veteran speaker or new in the
act of public speaking. Effective presentation skills are essential in social
work for motivating clients, for advocacy and for creating social
change(Mankita,2009). Hence, I had to take on this challenge as a necessity for
my professional development in social work practice. I knew that the best way
to confront fear is to do what one fears, and I knew also that preparation and
practice were essential if I was going to make a success of the presentation.
I confronted the fear headlong by being one of
the first in the class to do the informal presentation and got very encouraging
feedback from the lecturer and from my class mates. This prompted me to opt for
the first presentation date out of three possible options. The date seemed to
arrive very quickly as there were several other activities with deadlines going
on for the class at this period. However, despite the positive experience that
I had during the informal presentations and the preparation that I had put in,
the nervousness seemed to escalate as the presentation day approached.
from the fact that it was going to be my first personal power point
presentation another reason for nervousness was that I was not sure of the
required format for the presentation. It turned out that there were as many
formats as there were students and each presentation was unique in features and
style. After the first two presentations I was still feeling that my format was
not good enough, but I soon realised that everyone that had gone before me had
their own peculiar style and there was no best style.
it was my turn, I summoned courage and put up my best performance. The feedback
from the class and from the lecturer were delightful. I was commended for the
details of the two observations compared, the reflection on the qualities of
the child, and my understanding of the importance of the relationship that a
child has with peers and adults in the environment as well as the application
of relevant theories. Areas for improvement include raising the volume of my
voice, making the slides less dense and maintaining eye contact with the
audience rather than just reading from the slides. Referring to the background
details of the child as biodata was also criticised.
experience has greatly boosted my confidence level and enhanced my presentation
skills. I realise that although I am naturally soft spoken, I need to raise my
voice when speaking in public. I also need to maintain eye contact and read
less from the slides. It was also gratifying to see some mates borrow from some
of my style in later presentations.
Relevance of Observation in Social Work
to Fawcett (1996), observation is an informed way of looking that raises
awareness and sharpens understanding. It helps to draw attention to what
otherwise might have been overlooked. It is an essential part of social work
practice which provides practitioners with the information for assessment,
analysis and decision making (O’Loughlin and O’Loughlin,2014). However,
observation on its own is not effective unless coupled with reflection. As
noted by Nutbrown and Carter (2010 cited in O’Loughlin and O’Loughlin,2014),
observations which are not reflected upon are wasted effort. The real worth of
what is observed can only be realised when practitioners reflect on what they
have seen to understand the inherent meaning.
observation serves as a tool for understanding normal child development, the
needs of a child, social interactions between a child and his or her peers and
between children and adults. It also serves as a key for understanding changes
in behaviour, and for focusing systematically in a non-judgmental manner. It
serves as a platform for gaining insight into a child’s world and for
application of child development and psychological theories (Fawcett and
child observation exercise has contributed immensely to my professional
development by enhancing my self-awareness and promoting my observational and
reflective skills. It has also enhanced my presentation skills and boosted my
confidence for readiness to practice as a professional social worker.