Making Connections to Children, Families and Peers
When we describe ourselves, we usually compare ourselves in relation to others. We say we are a parent, teacher, writer, sibling, etc. That’s how we define ourselves. What this means is that our relationships define us and that everyone has a story. Learning Stories, are an important self indicator for children and helps build these relationships as the stories are shared and responded to.
Words matter. The words we choose to tell a child’s story can:
- Form identity
- Build confidence
- Be a vehicle for the child’s agency and voice
- Build community and relationship
Learning depends on relationships. For early childhood educators that means first and foremost they must have a desire to know children well. They can build that connection by exploring the ways children approach learning, by celebrating a child’s strengths and by being curious about their interests. That connection is deepened by regular communication with the important adults in a child’s life.
Meaningful assessment requires communication. Relationships are the building blocks of education. But if we all know this…. Why do the majority of early childhood assessment practices not support:
- Observing children to know them well?
- Reflecting on children positively?
- Communicating these insights to children and families?
What does early childhood education look like to you?
There is magic in early learning, unpredictable steps forward, unevenness, steps forward and back. The journey of a 3 year old does not conform well to a spreadsheet. And yet, that’s the state of assessment in the United States.
Enter Learning Stories
There is power in storytelling. A blank page provides the room to capture the magic of early learning, the twists and turns, the scrapes and bumps, the laughter and joy of learning something new. A story:
- Binds people across cultures and space
- Reinforces ideas and values
- Builds identity
- Ignites and sustains relationships
People forget facts, but they remember stories. There is a mind-heart connection. Learning stories lets the families be a part of the assessment process that allows us to form healthy relationships. Photos are a good thing. But images which are accompanied with a story are much more impactful.
There are three parts to Learning Stories, there is the story itself. Then there is outlining what learning is happening during the event.
Lastly, there are the opportunities and possibilities which helps us determine what comes next. This is where the assessment comes in and you get to touch base with the family, involving them in their child’s education. This shows parents the emotional connections to a child, presents information in relation to the past, and show the families their children’s interaction with their peers.
“Childhood is when human beings should fall in love with the world” – Jim Greenman
Observing a child is the most respectful thing you can do for them. Observing is deep listening. When using Learning Stories, children get to be a part of that world. And listening shows that you respect the child.
Learning Stories is more than just building relationships. It forms strong bonds between caregiver and child. It also improves parent engagement and involvement, and provides a voice for cultural identity.
Which is more subjective?
Fiction or Non-fiction? The answer is both. Learning Stories build relationships through subjective language. Relationships are not clinical and you should embrace the subjective nature of early childhood education.
Images are also subjective. What picture we take and why we should do it should be embraced.
We are not writing reports, instead we are providing authentic assessments by writing subjective, heart-felt narratives of how young children interact with their world, and also is the story of how we connect with the children.
Include the Child’s Voice
Add the child’s words in quotes. It’s powerful in building relationships. You can also dictate the child’s written learning story. Adding audio dictation or video of child’s input or reaction also will have an effect. It will show the family that you are really listening to what the child has to say, fostering open communication and growth.
How are we as teachers represented in the Learning Story?
Remember that a person can glean a lot of information about you by reading these stories. We show the educator’s role, the school’s relationship with the child, our belief in the child, and our decision to observe, write a story, and identify what is important about the story.
By sharing an experience with a through a carefully crafted Learning Story, you are putting yourself in the role of Narrator. By showing how you care for their child, you will build a relationship with these families that will affect their children for years to come.
Be aware though of how your perceptions influence your writing. Your personal touches are engaging for families and make your writing more approachable. For instance, an emotive response to the observation proud, happy, an “aha” moment.
Bear in mind also the reaction of reader (families) and the listener (the child) and remember, the story will has historical impact – it will be a keepsake and will be read for years to come. And that the story is way to collaborate and build shared understanding with peers, and inform class activities.
Above all else, families want to know that their child is: known, understood, and cared for. A great way to engage the families is by asking if they see the same thing the teacher noticed at home and get them involved in future activities, planning, etc.
Show Families that you SEE their child as unique:
- You notice emerging skills and interests
- You engage the child in discussions on their learning
- Help them while the go through challenges
Make predictions for future learning:
- Plan activities related to a child’s interests or skill. Wonder. Anticipate.
Take it one step further with meaningful questions:
- Ask open-ended questions
- Are you seeing this at home?
- What type of play down Fatimah like at home?
- How can I support Tali with this new challenge?
- Do you have any suggestions of ways we can engage Anne with this new interest?
Meaningful Engagement Examples:
I wonder if Elijah will continue this interest in cars and if this interest may grow into an exploration of the train table in our classroom….
Now that I know that Hugo loves to count small items, I will off him the opportunity to count different objects – including his favorite, dinosaurs!
It was clear Carson enjoyed building with loose parts. Next week I will introduce her to a number of items with varying shapes and sizes. What direction will her play go?
Remember these sorts of questions for future Learning Stories so you can make that connection and see if she has changed, showing further involvement with the learner.
Families know children best AND differently. Encourage them to write their own stories. There is no degree in education necessary to write a Learning Story and parents can do it in their own language.
It’s about writing a love letter to your child. This will help families: value play, recognize the learning in play.
Family Stories written by parents describe an observation or moment in their child’s life. Couple of photos and a couple of paragraphs. It means a lot to your child when you write a story.
Pointing Out Connections and Connectedness
Learning Stories allows us to:
- Name roles children play (leader)
- Connect children to class
- Reinforce presence of caring loved ones
- Emphasize family connection to center
- Incorporate beliefs and ideas of community – “I belong, I am heard, I am loved”
Encourage Belonging in your Learning Stories
Learning Stories help create belonging: to family, school, class, neighborhood, town, country and Earth.
You can do that by:
- Identify roles e.g., Leader, communicator
- Mention family members, caregivers, loved ones
- Reference home, school, class, other groups
- Emphasize the child’s contribution as a whole – “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known”
Group Learning Stories allow you to emphasize community:
- Conflict resolution
Learning is Social
Reading Learning Stories to Children:
- Reinforces relationship
- Names and supports learner identity
- Provide child with self-awareness, importance and confidence
Learning Stories answers the following questions:
- Who am I?
- How am I special?
- What type of learner am I?
- How do I fit in or belong?
- How do YOU feel about me?
Learning Stories Teach Children about Themselves
Remember Learning Stories are powerful. Learning can bridge the home to the center. Like it improved Fah-Lin’s connection with the center because they could see how she connects learning at school with home.
Learning Stories foster mentor-peer relationships.
Teacher Learning Stories Portfolio:
- Self reflection
- Peer to peer
- Mentor to Peer
Do you envision assessment practices that build relationships between teachers, families, and children? What are your values? Put relationships are the forefront of your program. What is you mission and vision? If your mission and vision don’t align, you need to reassess and align it with your assessment. Does your assessment align to your values?
Learning Stories make relationships.
Make Relationship Building part of your center’s:
- Teaching Practice
- Classroom Design
Design you center with relationships in mind including:
- Physical spaces for children – do you have them and do they help build relationships
- Physical space for adults?
- Does it have objects and activities that promote interaction, imagination, communication and collaboration? This builds relationships with other children and adults
- See the good work you are already doing. Focus on your work you are doing
- Think about how you can highlight the relationship building of play