I conducted a naturalistic observation in which I detailed the behavior and learning ability of a three-year-old child. The study involved a home visit for 60 minutes. I looked at a family that consisted of a working single mom, her teenage daughter, and a three-year-old son. Using unstructured observations, the study recorded verbal and nonverbal behaviors along with positive and negative behaviors. The child I observed was a three-year-old boy who shall be referred to synonymously as “Kaiden”, of Vietnamese heritage living in an English-speaking household.
All of my observations took place in the family’s small rented home that Kaiden, his mom, and his teenage sister live all in. As this was my first-ever naturalistic observation, I felt a bit awkward watching Kaiden for such a long period of time, and thought this could be an interference to his play space. For example, at first, Kaiden was not acting upon anything and I initially thought that he was acting this way because I was there.
Another thing was the fact that Kaiden and I belonged to the same ethnic background, making my observation a less diverse one since I was not sure whether I would a obtain sufficient learning experience about children in general.
I did not step outside of my ethnic group when I selected a child to observe. This was not done intentionally, but rather because this is where I have formed more connections in the community. Kaiden was barely talking the first 20 minutes of observation. Just from my prior knowledge, I know three-year-olds are supposed to start talking by their age.
When I asked Kaiden’s mom regarding his ability to talk, she revealed that he has a delay in speech. After that, I found it hard to grasp the situation Kaiden was going through as I had no previous knowledge on speech delay. It was my understanding that he is not able to develop speech at the same rate other kids do.
I tried to relate this back to my experience and thought of my cousin who was able to speak full sentences by the age of two. However, page 13 of the WA State Guidelines states that “Every child and family has unique gifts and abilities.” In this case for Kaiden, he has a speech delay that disables the typical interactions he makes with people. He is learning the culture of speech at his own pace, and for him personally is just an area he needs more support in. What is considered “normal” in regards to Kaiden’s ability to develop language is measured and interpreted differently.
Based on what I have observed about Kaiden, I thought that his family should seek a professional in speech therapy, and at home, the TV should be turned off and the time Kaiden spends on the ipad should be reduced. Children tend to communicate better when they make real-life interactions. A study was done on American children between the ages of 6 and 12 months to compare the learning abilities of those who were exposed to native Chinese speakers in person and to the same native Chinese speakers on video. Infants who interacted with real people were able to distinguish Chinese sounds and words whereas the infants who watched the speakers through a video were not able to respond to specific phonemes. (Meltzoff, Kuhl, Movellan, & Sejnowski, 2009) This means human interaction is critical in an infant’s language development.
The more time a child spends watching TV and playing on the iPad, the more detrimental it is to their learning capabilities because there isn’t enough room for parent interaction either. The time that Kaiden spent watching TV or playing the ipad could have been a factor to his delay in speech. Towards the end of my observation, Kaiden was playing with his similarly-aged cousin, who will synonymously go by Michael, and this provided me a chance to view Kaiden in a more naturalistic setting. Regardless of his inability to speak fluidly, his ability to play was just like other kids. He was able to play by himself and with Michael.
They were also clearly learning from each other as Michael picked up a ball, and so did Kaiden. I found that page 45 of the WA State Guidelines states that children may “Observe others’ activities. Then imitate their actions, gestures and sounds.” This was most consistent with Kaiden’s learning style. He would look to see his cousin picking up the ball with his right hand first, and then do the exact same. Children learn by example and are prone to copy what they hear and see. The guideline proposes that a child’s development has a lot to do with the social interactions they make. Furthermore, a child’s immediate interactions such as parents, teachers and peers are pertinent to their cognitive thinking. Kaiden’s behavior was precisely how the guideline depicted based on the social interactions Kaiden and Michael made with one another.
Throughout the observation, I realized that while Kaiden was not able to create his own speech, he was able to say or do something after someone else does it first. I was pleasantly surprised by the way he was able to play with Michael so well. He couldn’t communicate with words well, but he can communicate with his actions perfectly fine. Despite Kaiden’ adverse aspect, it doesn’t stop him from developing like other kids do. In conclusion, my perspective on child behavior has changed due to the eye-opening aspects from my naturalistic observation. Being able to clear up the misconceptions I had about a child’s nature makes me much more open-minded towards children in general. My knowledge of child development grew immensely as I had little to no experience with children who had speech delay before taking upon the observations.
Being aware of my surroundings and self‐reflecting post-observation has allowed me to re-think and re-shape my own generalizations and preferences. Additionally, I mentioned previously that the child I observed shared the same racial background as mine, and felt that I didn’t get the sufficient amount of exposure to other ethnic groups. As an aspiring elementary school teacher, I know it is vital that I be exposed to, and branch out to other cultures in order to diversify and adapt my teaching style. Proud to say, I have learned that this observation boosted my understanding of child development – not all children speak and grow up at the same rate. It is true that negative effects such as speech delay can impact ‘normal’ child development, but it definitely does not seize it.
Understanding the different concepts of language development help guide us to understand how children such as Kaiden develop their own sense of language and communication skills. Thus, it is important that everyone understands the course of human growth and how children such as Kaiden acquire learning abilities.