ECE Documentation Your Teachers & Families Will Love!

Make it about the child, using learning stories

Assessments can be time-consuming with unclear benefits. Or they can be life-affirming and precious for teachers, families and children. 

Many early educators around are not fond of documentation, defined here as assessments with supporting evidence. They see documentation as:

  • Time-consuming,
  • Of questionable value for helping learning outcomes, and
  • Not engaging for parents.

In other words, wasted time.

However, most early educators agree that taking time to reflect on a child’s learning is worthwhile; that a journey book or child portfolio has value; and that informed parental engagement is helpful.

So despite the pushback, there is interest in benefits promised by documentation.

Assessment Types

There are two primary types of assessment:

  • Summative – documentation “of” – where a child stands at a point in time.
  • Formative – documentation “for” –  part of the program cycle, used for next steps.

Examples of evidence to support an assessment include images, videos, sample work, learning stories, and other physical products with interpretation.

Documentation has real value

Most center owners recognize the value of documentation in early childhood education. For example:

  • It records a child’s journey which has value during the year and as a keepsake
  • It can be a catalyst for real conversations with families
  • Teachers can hone their craft through documentation and reflection
  • It can provide context for families, helping them better understand a service’s approach

However, while service managers see these values, efforts to introduce more rigorous documentation is almost inevitably met with resistance from educators, who already feel pressured and time poor.

Learning Stories

These were the exact circumstances in New Zealand a few years ago.  A government-funded early childhood sector that required checklist assessments struggled to get compliance from its educators.  In addition to the factors listed above, New Zealand early educators fretted about the deficit-seeking mindset that checklists encouraged.

And so, a national review by sector thought leaders came up with an alternative assessment approach.

Learning stories.


A learning story has these elements:

  1. An event – described with text, images or videos
  2. Learning analysis – what learning is happening here?
  3. What’s next – opportunities and possibilities
  4. Links to curriculum goals and/or plans for the child

Written To Be Read

Learning stories have a narrative style that emphasizes readability. They are generally written from the teacher.

To the child.

Early education is personal, and learning stories reflect that. They give teachers permission to be subjective, to write from the heart. For most teachers this comes easily, it connects them to what gets them up in the morning.

There is also a conscious focus on success and strengths.

Each learning story is an invitation for parent feedback. Print them out and read to child, over and over! And add them to a portfolio that goes with the child through life.

What makes a learning story an assessment

Learning stories are assessments because they have:

  • A learning analysis
  • Reflections around next steps
  • Links to framework goals or development milestones

Learning stories are both aspects of documentation in early childhood education in one compact package – an assessment and the story, which is the evidence to support the assessment.

In Educa learning story software the format is templated out. Simply create the story using our smart editor, link to plans and framework goals, post to a child’s portfolio and share with families — in just a couple of clicks.

Why Learning Stories For Your Service?

For center managers wanting to add more rigorous documentation, learning stories:

  1. Help teachers connect to their passion for education, celebrating learning success.
  2. Engage families, inspiring feedback that helps teachers differentiate learning.
  3. Help educators hone their craft – observation, reflection, learning analysis and planning.
  4. Provide a valuable keepsake – a collection of stories where children are the heroes of their learning journeys
  5. Help you explain your approach, e.g, why it’s not just play.

Starting Out

Although learning stories are less of a burden than checklist assessments and evidence gathering, they do take time.

Most centers new to learning stories start with a mix of individual and group stories, posting one story to multiple child portfolios. The goal is to work up to one story per child per month.

The best way to start using learning stories is online, even better using Educa learning story software. Writing learning stories online has instant rewards:

  • Easy to share with families – local and around the world
  • Enables mentor or peer collaboration and oversight
  • Link to any set of learning goals conveniently in Educa
  • There’s a print option – for reading to the child or for a folio

Opening New Doors For Families

While writing learning stories is life and career-affirming for educators, they open up a whole world for parents.  It brings them into the tent, giving them a chance to collaborate authentically in their child’s education.

And who doesn’t want that?

Afterall, parents are the world experts on their child, they have a tremendous amount to offer, even if to confirm that a teacher’s “what’s next” plan is on the right track.


Educa Learning Story Webinars and Workshops

Note: Educa has regular webinars on how to write and/or use learning stories. See the webinar schedule here. We also teach workshops and provide training on learning stories and other aspects of documentation in early childhood education to our customers as part of our onboarding and support process.