In order to conduct the investigation based on the known Piaget experiments, one child is chosen. For the purpose of confidentiality, the name of this child is changed to Jenny. She is a five-year-old girl, the elder one among her two brothers. There are only two people in this room: the girl herself, and me, an observer and experimenter.
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It is the afternoon of Saturday, May 16, 2009. The experiment does not take much time, as the girl demonstrates her interest and desire to communicate with a new person. The very experiment takes about 30 – 40 minutes. Before the experiment, her parents told that she could easy talk with unknown people, but only being in her room; this is why the place for this observation was obvious – Jenny’s room.
The first experiment is connected with conservation of volume. Piaget tells a lot about the abilities of children of five and six years and admits that their abilities to conserve are not perfectly developed. “Their thought processes are dominated by the appearances of things, and they do not realize that the volume of an object may not change just because the appearance changes.” (Hobart, 155)
Piaget points out that children at this age use rather primitive reasoning to answer any question and are not able to follow and think about the actions other people do. This is why Jenny does not pay attention to the volume of water, compare the forms of the glasses, or concentrate on the level of water; all she does is make conclusion visually.
Jenny sees two absolutely identical glasses of water. I ask her which glass has more water; she surely answers that none, as both of them has the same volume of water. I take another, thinner and taller glass and pour water of one glass to it. The girl smiles and admits that now, there is more water in the thinner glass. I ask her to explain why she thinks so; her answer is rather clear, because the second glass is taller.
The second experiment lies in conservation of mass. I present two equal balls of clay and ask her whether they are of the same shape. The girl touches both of them in order to play a bit and puts them on the table. In several seconds, she admits that they are of the same size.
However, when I roll one of them and change its form into the shape of a sausage, the child looks at them attentively and tells that the sausage is bigger than a ball because it takes more place on the table. Jenny does not take into consideration that the sausage was made of the same material, get them up in order to find out which one is harder, or pay attention that nothing is added or deleted, and, finally, she does concentrate only on its general view.
This experiment, as the previous one, proves the facts, offered by Piaget: a child at the age of 5 is disable to analyze the events, does react only on some visual changes, becomes very curious and tries to participate in everything, and cannot grasp how the objects with different forms may be equal in their weight .
The third experiment helps to analyze child’s awareness of length. Piaget mentions that a child is able to notices certain changes, however, does not concentrates on details, and can easily make fast decisions. I show her two similar straws; they lie parallel to each other.
After I ask whether these straws are similar, she looks at them and, in a second, gives a positive answer. Then, I put one of the straws a bit higher, and ask the same question. She tells that the end on one straw is far than the end of another straw, this is why the higher straw is longer. Her answer proves that a she concentrates on one end of the straw only and does not take any actions to compare the sizes.
It does not take much time to give the answer and follow the first impressions only. This experiment shows that Jenny is not able to conserve length and still trust her vision skills only. She may find enough reasons to prove that she is right and is ready to explain her choice. This is why it is necessary to remember one more fact regarding early childhood development: egocentric thinking, when a child is ready to tell why he/she make such choice or give such answer.
The next experiment deals with number conservation. Many children, who may count, pass this test in different ways, and it is rather interesting to me how Jenny passes it. There are two rows of pennies; each of these rows contains five coins. I ask Jenny whether the number of coins is similar in both rows; Jenny counts them carefully. Her counting is certain and correct.
She answers that there are 5 coins in each row, this is why she states that these rows are equal. Then, I change the space between each coin in own row, and it become longer. I pose the same question. According to Piaget, many children, who face some problems with conservation, give answers without counting and say that the row, where the coins are far from each other, have more coins.
His experiments still prove that 50% of children may demonstrate their perfect ability to conserve. Jenny is one of those who like to count guests in her house, toys she like, etc.
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This is why in order to answer my question, she does not pay attention that one row in longer than another, but does start counting the coins, and gives the right answer. The facts by Piaget that children don’t use logical thinking and ground on their visual abilities to answer are proved again.
Object grouping is one more experiment, Jenny is eager to participate in. We use several toys in her room. There are 2 dolls, 4 animals, 1 big car, and 5 flowers. I ask her to unite these toys into some groups, her division impressed me a bit. She unites 2 dolls and a big car, because she thinks that these dolls can be transferred on it.
Flowers and animals create two more groups; she explains her division this way “Animals have legs, and flowers do not.” She explains everything, and her explanations sound properly. It proves one more time that fact that 5-year-old children are able to give some explanations to their answers.
There is no concrete task to divide toys according their size or functions, so, she demonstrates interesting approach to this experiment. Classification may be done according to one of the following criteria: association, colour, or mobility. Piaget says that children classify objects by one single feature. To my mind, Jenny uses personal associations to each subject.
For my next experiment, I choose a story and read it to Jenny. It is crucially important to pick out not too long and boring story. I create something on my own: about mother, daughter’s duties to put all her toys at their places, candies, and encouragement. While I am reading the story, I try to observe Jenny’s reaction to the events, described in the story. She listens carefully to each word and looks around, maybe, in order to check whether all her toys are on their places.
After I finish reading, I ask how she finds the story. She says that she likes more the stories about adventures and sailors, she events wants to tell me another story of her own. I make an attempt to stop her and develop the conversation about my story. She says that the mother is too strict and mentions that her mother also gives her candies, when she cleans her room.
Then, she starts talking about chocolate and other sweets. Of course, she does not get the very essence of the story. She remembers only some final words and the major characters, the mother and daughter. She comprehends each of my word (I try to use simple English), however, she concentrates only on those words, she is interested in. Candies turn out to be the major theme in the story.
Her discussion about candies impresses me: of course, she does not use too complicated words and tenses, however, her mimicry is great. I even think she expects that I present you another candy. Vygotsky, Piaget, and Donaldson presented absolutely different approaches to language development in children, however, each of them are connected to children language development as a social phenomenon and their talks to themselves.
Jenny is eager to communicate, and her language seems to be properly developed. Piaget’s facts regarding early childhood development are easy to track during this experiment: ability to count, awareness about tenses (today, tomorrow, yesterday), ability to pronounce long sentences, the use of more or less correct grammar, awareness of antonyms – big-small, high-tall, and comprehension of the question and proper answer.
All these experiments show that Jenny’s development is good in some sphere, counting for example. However, as lots of children, Jenny demonstrates that her visual perception of information is more important than other abilities.
Approaches, offered by Piaget, help to analyze and even predict some Jenny’s reactions and admit that she turns out to be a normal child with all skills, inherent to the children at the age of five. In general, my experiment was successful; and the necessary results were achieved. Conversation with Jenny on her ‘territory’ was not complicated; and each of us was satisfied.
Hobart, Christine and Frankel. Jill. A Practical Guide to Child Observation and Assessment. Nelson Thrones, 2004.