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The Power of Noticing

I attended the TACTYC annual conference on Saturday, and over the next few weeks I’m going to write about the three keynote speeches and the workshop that I attended. The theme of the conference was Principled Early Years Education – Valuing our past, debating our present, inspiring our future.

Dr. Julian Grenier, headteacher, Sheringham Nursery School, delivered the first keynote on Assessing and Celebrating Young Children’s Learning: What can we learn from the past and how might we shape a future beyond levels?

Within Julian’s speech he reflected on the pioneers in the industry, for instance Susan Isaac and Jerome Bruner. Julian also eloquently read extracts from the works of Dorothy Cranfield Fisher and Margaret Donaldson.

Julian referenced Dr. Jayne Osgood’s points on how many educators see carrying out observations as a ‘chore’. This saddened me as noticing and celebrating children’s achievements should never be a chore and should fill the educator with more knowledge in how best to support children with their feelings, learning and development.

In short, the focus at times with educators has become more of a tick box mentality. Julian also referenced Nancy Stewart’s comment that linked to this regarding how Development Matters, in some settings, is not used as a celebration of children but more as this tick box approach.

I listened attentively to Julian. As an educator, I love noticing children, their behaviour and actions and listening to how they see the world around them. Educators can learn so much from being turned on and tuned in to children.

I noticed… when I worked in a setting and one of my key children learnt how to swing, and I wrote about it in this blog.

I noticed… on a train journey a four-year-old said to his dad, when the train stopped at Brockley Station, “I thought we ate Broccoli!” This reminded me of how as an educator we need to support children to make sense of the world.


I noticed… my son, aged two at the time, every time we walked past the pet shop would say, “let us see the carrot!” He meant parrot, of course. I thoughtfully showed him a carrot and we discussed the differences between carrots and parrots.


I noticed… a child crying on their way home from nursery. I reflected on this story within this blog. I recalled this story during the first annual child protection and safeguarding conference during Professor Dame Donna Kinnair’s keynote, where she spoke about our ‘moral compass’ in relation to safeguarding children.

I noticed… when aged two, my nephew (who I had not seen for over a year as he lives in a different part of the UK) was using a lot of echolalia, flapping his arms and was carefully lining up trains and had limited speech for his age.  I had a sensitive conversation with his parents, advising them to speak to their health visitor. It turned out that, as my ‘gut instinct’ had told me, he was diagnosed on the autistic spectrum.

When I share this story with other educators, they ask how I knew this.  In short, it comes from robustly studying child development and knowing where a child should be in terms of developmental norms, which I studied nearly 30 years ago during my NNEB qualification.

I was also emotional on the day of the conference as one of my former lecturers was also in attendance and is now lecturing at a university and was involved in the research regarding training and qualifications – more on this in another blog where I will reflect on Dr Jayne Osgood’s keynote speech. We briefly chatted about the robustness of the NNEB and oh, yeah, the 60 observations that we had to complete within a range of settings on children from birth to seven. This, I believe, is my foundation that has helped me to notice children’s ‘normal’ behaviour and when their behaviour maybe a cause for concern, for instance a health, disability or indeed a safeguarding concern.

Another coincidence was that whilst Julian was speaking I received a photograph of my nephew reading my book. He is now aged five and his mother noticed that despite his challenges he loves reading and looking at picture books.


Therefore, we should not only be noticing children’s learning and development to tick a box, but should also notice for more important reasons and to celebrate the child as a unique little person on their own powerful journey of learning and development.

Julian also posed a provocation on the value of electronic learning journals (ELJ) and whether they add value to children’s learning and development. This is very topical with educators and academics alike, who anecdotally state that ELJs do not allow educators to reflect in detail on children’s learning and development as the ELJ pre-populates the information. I know owners of settings who claim that ELJs have increased parental engagement between home and setting, with other educators and academics stating that ELJs and recording devices are a barrier between the educator and child and should be put down to allow effective interaction with children.  My short opinion is that settings do need to be clear about the rationale as to why they use ELJs and the impact they have on children’s learning and development.

The reflective question is whether educators are still able to notice the awe and wonder that happens spontaneously and use what they have noticed to effectively support children whilst using an ELJ, and whether educators are clear about why they are using them and what their purpose is.

Thank you Julian, for reminding me of the power of noticing children.

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Self evaluation and reflective practice:


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  • Lucy

    Laura, that was brilliantly written! I have been in the nursery sector for 11 years, from untrained to now the Supervisor of a small charity pre-school. I, too, have learnt to follow my gut instinct, having a meeting with a mum & H.V as i have concerns….. another child i observed has a rotation schema, you can learn such alot from just taking a step back & observing, I keep trying to filter this info down to the other staff! I learn such alot from reading fantastic articles like this one! Thank you

  • Naomi Nokes

    Brilliant work. I am also NNEB trained and have sound knowledge of Child Development. This is a great written piece of information about the importance of noticing children and the importance of how we as practitioners embrace them and move them on in their learning

  • Sue

    Laura, I was really interested in what you say about ELJs, I am doing a masters in early years education and I am researching the use of these to track progress. You say in your piece that this is very topical and that educators and academics alike anecdotally question their usefulness and limiting nature – can I ask is there anywhere I can find this anecdotal information? I love your work!

  • Wendy Baker

    Thank you Laura.I am a NNEB and I agree those 60 to 80 child observations where the foundation of child development and other things we did. I still remember the lesson we had in observations ( along time ago, at the Bristol Nursery Nurse college) I moved away to do my. But yes they have and still form a great part of my work,practice and in my training. Shame students not doing as many and the detail we had to do in them.

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