Early childhood educators’ powers of observation have many nuances

Kindergartens are supposed to make systematic assessments. Pedagogical leaders believe that the question of how we see the children is important.


Photo: Freddy Wike


Early childhood educators agree that assessments are part of the exercise of their profession. ‘It is important devote more attention to this at a time when staff members at Norwegian kindergartens are increasingly spending time on taking surveys’, comments the researcher Bente Ulla. She wanted to determine how employees use their powers of observation in making assessments, so she studied how kindergarten staff see the children in that context.

In group interviews, pedagogical leaders describe how teachers’ powers of observation and discernment are part of the exercise of their profession.

Everyone agrees that observation is crucial. Teachers’ statements indicate, among other things, that observation has many nuances in kindergarten.


The interviewees emphasise the importance of seeing each child as an individual. Moreover, they mention the ethical considerations to be taken into account when making assessments. ‘When we use our powers of observation, we’re also engaged in mapping’, one of them points out:

‘We make a map. Of a child. I feel like we do this whether we want to or not. This takes place in relation to the other employees, those around me, and in relation to the children, the parents, and everyone else. We are all points that form a map. Armed with the information that I possess and my first-hand observations, supplemented by the views of my co-workers, if I still feel the need to take a closer look, then I’ll use a formal mapping form. But that is not something I would use as a starting point. I would rely on my, or our, professional judgement….yes, or on my own eyes… They are among the tools of my trade. And my knowledge.’


Several early childhood educators underline that it is important to be patient, always considering what makes a child unique.

Even though a child’s age is decisive for expectations, pedagogical leaders are sceptical of accepting the age-related expectations specified on mapping forms.

The teachers believe that each individual child has its own rate of development, and that this often takes place in “fits and starts”. They make it clear that they have strong confidence in their own judgement, which tells them that development rates can vary.


The child described on a mapping form does not exist in reality, according to staff members. ‘A mapping form is a description of an average individual who does not breathe, have blood coursing through its veins or a heart that beats. We don’t consider the word “normal” to be expedient in a kindergarten’, explains Ulla.

Several of the kindergarten teachers’ statements to the researcher refer to their knowledge of a whole and unique child. They resist the idea of categorising children’s progress into separate areas of development. All the same, they mention how restlessness and excitement are also part of their assessments.

‘The times I’ve had concerns about something, it is because of abrupt changes that have taken place very quickly. The children are from twelve months to two years of age. A great deal happens very quickly indeed at that age. Abruptly. The child I fear won’t develop good motor skills may turn out to have the strongest motor skills eight months later. Right? Suddenly they are bouncing around here, and I think: “incredible, simply incredible”.’