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Testing and observation in kindergarten

During the last years there has been an increasing focus on documenting children's development in kindergarten. Arlene Gjestgjevarstad Thorsen holds a preschool teacher education and has a Masters degree and PhD degree in special education. We asked her about her thoughts and experiences related to the observation of children's development in kindergarten.

Some staff and parents react negatively to the increasing focus on documenting children's development and think this can stigmatize some children. Other staff and parents are more positive towards such a systematic observation of children's development.

- Observing children, adults and interaction in kindergarten happens every day, often unconsciously, says Thorsen. - Nevertheless, it may be to influence the way adults relate to other adults and children. My experience is that systematic observations in natural settings can be very useful for the work to be done in kindergarten. It is time, attention and concentration on specific situations and contexts. This can provide insight into what children cope and are interested in, as well as areas where they may need assistance and facilitation to improve learning potential and job satisfaction. It is also useful for employees to observe the same situation simultaneously. Different people may notice different conditions, and multiple perspectives on the situation and the interaction may appear. This may provide an enhanced image and contribute to better conditions that different children can benefit from.

The Skoleklar project will involve some testing of young children. What do you think about this?
- Testing can be so many things, and it is important to select appropriate methods and tests for the adequate age group that is relevant to the areas to be examined. In the research field there are strict ethical criteria for how this should take place, and it is particularly important for vulnerable groups such as children. Those who are testing must have good communication skills and ability to meet and maintain the child in a constructive way. When this is taken care of,  my experience is that children find it exciting and fun, although some can get a bit tired towards the end, answers Thorsen.

Could it be detrimental for children to participate in this study?
- This study does not focus on particularly sensitive topics. On the other hand, it can be a bit scary for children to relate to strangers. It is therefore important to spend enough time with a child to get acquainted and to explain what will happen before we start, "says Thorsen. - Respect for the child and his/her character is central. It is also important to achieve a good closure for the sequence and thank the child for helping out. My impression is that the children I have met in such contexts were both proud and pleased to have helped us. In a kindergarten project, a few years back, there was a child that told us: "It is so nice with you old ladies!"

Does Skoleklar implies that adult perspectives and measurement scales will be forced on children?
- Adults can give us valuable information about children, but they do not have all the answers. Children are active agents in their own lives and their voice should be heard in all that is important to them. This is supported in the CRC. The voice of children can give us additional information about their situation, what they think, feel and need. We have recently completed a Q-study of 5 year old children where thet were asked to sort a certain number of images that would resemble their daily life. By adopting a visual material, we avoided barriers related to oral or written language. The children who are generally familiar with the pictures were active and had conveyed their own subjectivity in a straightforward manner. Our good experience makes us want to use something equivalent in Skoleklar as a supplement to the testing and survey data from parents and teaching staff, says Thorsen.