Understanding children and identifying needs

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     Understanding children and identifying needs

St Winefride’s Playgroup, Flintshire, makes detailed observations of the children’s learning in order to identify their needs. Practitioners keep a record of the children’s development using voice recording and film. Records are then analysed to identify individual needs and plan for their future learning. The playgroup works in partnership with parents, who are provided with the relevant resources so that learning can continue at home. Practitioners’ committed approach to recording accurate observations has enabled St Winefride’s to have a clear understanding of children’s stages of learning. The staff have noticed an increase in children’s desire to learn and a boost in their self-esteem.

Number of pupils: 25
Age range: 2 - 4
Date of Estyn inspection: May 2014

Context and background to sector-leading practice:

St Winefride’s Playgroup is set in St Winefride’s Catholic Primary School in the town of Holywell, Flintshire. The playgroup is registered for 25 children between two to four years of age. It offers places for Flying Start, Early Entitlement and Nursery Plus children. There are six permanent members of staff including a support worker.

We aim to support all children in reaching their full potential as they take their first steps towards lifelong learning.

To achieve this we needed a practical, effective method of:

  • gaining an in-depth understanding of the stage individual children are at in their learning; 
  • building on this in terms of children’s next steps, to challenge individuals and ensure progression;
  • establishing strong, clear links between observation and planning to meet children’s individual learning needs; and
  • working in partnership with parents to aid their child’s individual development.

Nature of strategy or activity identified as sector-leading practice:

A major strength within our setting is that we know our individual children extremely well. This understanding evolves from acknowledging that parents/carers are the child’s first educators. We embrace their involvement and aim to start build upon it as soon as children join us in the setting. Through detailed observations of the children learning actively, staff identify the progress children make and the next steps they need to take in their learning. 

Practitioners use a digital voice recorder or camera to capture accurately what children say and do. They also record children’s particular interests and spontaneous events. Using this information, each key worker compiles detailed records for each of their key children. Reflecting on and analysing these observations, both written and visual, enables practitioners to identify a child’s next step in their learning. In addition, practitioners plan to respond to children’s particular interests or schematic behaviour by providing appropriate activities.

Practitioners share observations during whole staff planning sessions. This helps to shape plans, ensuring they are responsive to each child’s individual targets. Collaborative planning informs all staff of the support individual children need and the extensions required in learning for the more able. Our planning clearly identifies learning intentions within focused activities which we carefully differentiate for particular children or groups of children. Each key worker has an up-to-date knowledge of their key children’s strengths and targets and this ensures that during together time and snack time opportunities for responding to individual children’s needs are maximised. In addition, practitioners record and respond to opportunities to support or extend individual learning during routine times, such as story time.

Our tight cycle of observing, planning and teaching/supporting underpins the progress children make.

Practitioners knowledge of child development, the key worker approach and our effective observation methods allow us to develop high quality individual learning plans for children. Key workers share and agree these plans with parents half termly and, in addition, they provide regular, useful, informal feedback to parents about the progress their child is making. This feedback celebrates children’s achievements and provides effective advice about activities parents can do at home to support their child. This practice has evolved further through the provision of tailored resources for parents to use at home with their children to reinforce and to develop learning. We provide these resources to respond to the needs and interests of individual children and also give advice to parents about how they can use them at home.

Impact on provision and learners’ standards:

Most children make good progress in their skill development across all areas of learning from their individual starting points. Practitioners’ committed approach to recording accurate observations has meant we all have a clear understanding of children’s stages of learning and this allows us to plan and respond appropriately to their needs. As a result, we challenge children at the appropriate level and ensure they make effective progress. Our tight cycle of observing, planning and teaching/supporting underpins the progress children make. We have found that through using cameras and voice recorders to capture spontaneous learning opportunities we have learned more about children’s personal interests. Responding to these through carefully planned activities and sharing ideas with parents has increased children’s desire to learn and boosted their self-esteem. The information and resources that we share regularly with parents enables them to be more involved in their child’s learning.

We continue to open our doors and welcome practitioners to our setting to experience how we observe, plan and respond to our children and parents.