How a trip to Italy inspired an Educa customer to raise the quality of their ECE documentation

Seeing the “amazing Reggio documentation” on her Reggio Emilia tour of Italy last year prompted Educa customer Carlingford Kindergarten owner/director Gabriele Oly to lift the quality of her early learning service’s documentation.

“They were working smarter, not harder and the documentation I saw around the room was amazing. It was beautifully presented, there wasn’t a lot of writing as photos took precedence. They’re such a powerful tool and there’s not much of a need to write beyond linking it to the outcome,” says Gabriele, whose service operates in Sydney, Australia.

“We visited different Reggio services and were lucky to see the children engage while we were there. Staff have a camera around their neck all the time. It’s not invasive and they create amazing photos. They did a whole learning story on shadows, took photos of each child’s shadow, printed them out and they went on an excursion with them. It’s doing simple things, but having the children take ownership of that.

“When I saw what they were doing, I knew I needed to get away from the folders and hard copies to document and that’s when we started looking at documenting on a digital platform.”

Your choice how to document

Maybe it’s a good thing that early learning services decide how they document children’s learning. After all, for Australia, the Early Years Learning Framework, the National Quality Standard, and flow-on regulatory standards don’t prescribe how to do it.

The Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority talks about a range of ways to document the cycle of observing, planning, reflecting and evaluating children’s learning. They include portfolios, narratives, learning stories, photographs, videos, reflective journals and observations.

A report in the international journal, Early Child Development & Care, found that documentation was “inherently connected with child-centered and carefully planned early childhood care and education practices and the children’s participation, well-being and ability to learn”. The study actually urged educators to develop documentation further.

A robust system

When Gabriele started discussing digital documentation with parents, some were concerned about how secure the photographs would be and who would be able to see them.

“We had to make sure that whatever platform we’d use was secure and what I loved about Educa was the fact that they store their images here in Australia. We also wanted a platform to upload our policies and handbooks to save us printing out all the time. Educa also met the criteria of a colleague who works for a council. I know councils are very strict on their guidelines and privacy,” she says.

Time-saving

“Educa is really easy to use and is doing the work of one or two staff members.”

Using a digital platform to create, store and share your documentation should save you time. You’d want one that offers you a range of templates so you don’t have to fuss over compiling your records, but that will still look good.

Gabriele, who’s run her service since 1992, says Educa worked for her because the “formats are already doing the work for you”.

“Educa is really easy to use and is doing the work of one or two staff members,” she says.

“We used to write the observations on the computer, print them out, stick that in the child’s file, mark it off, put it into their folder so the parents could look at it and then make sure they mark it off.”

“I love that you can use video in Educa. It’s so lovely for parents to see that. We can add snippets to let parents know how we’re extending on activities the children do with their families, too.”

Children’s roles in documenting

Educa asked director Gabriele how children are involved these days in documentation of learning.

“When children build things, we can’t always keep them, so we photograph them. Often a child will say ‘have a look at my building and take a photo’ and we’ll do that and give them a print out so they can revisit it, rebuild it if they like.

“We also have floorbooks, a bit like a scrap book. We’ll do an investigation such as on stick insects. Children will draw in the book and cut out photos to stick into the book. Those books are now in our library as documents for us all. Children need to have visual prompts of their learning. We know it can’t all be on the Educa platform, we need to have hard copies, too, for children to engage with the program,” she says.

Carlingford Kindergarten uses Claire Warden’s Talking and Thinking Floorbooks® Approach. It’s used across the world to observe, document and plan in a child-led approach.

Focus on the learning

Gabriele urges educators to let photographs demonstrate and reveal the learning. She’s coached her staff to ease up on the detail by “not rewriting what the photo is showing, but write about the learning that is happening.”

Relationship are the key

Building relationships with children means your documentation process will become easier, she says.

“You’ll be able to pinpoint the learning that’s occurring be it big or small, but it will be significant to that child. It’s not about ticking the boxes and checklists.

“For example, if a child can’t identify the colour you point to, but you ask them to “give me the yellow crayon’ and they pick it up immediately, you document that and leave out what the child can’t do. That way you’re building on what they know. You can then plan for tomorrow to extend that learning.”

Connecting with a child’s interests

“Hook into the interests of children and their families, too, so your documentation is relevant to their interests.”

Educators should also delve into theories of child development and keep up with the research to boost their understanding of children and families, she says.

“Hook into the interests of children and their families, too, so your documentation is relevant to their interests.”

In a particular study, parents were found to have “little shared understanding of their children engaging” in learning outdoors at an early learning service. This was despite educators using a range of documentation approaches to make “visible the learning and development afforded the children”

So, while you may be doing great things in your service, you need to think about what parents consider meaningful ways to engage with you when it comes to documentation.

Gabriele says: “Share with the parents how the children are learning – a lot of them don’t get it and ask if we teach children the alphabet and to write. We don’t, but some children do write their name and we’ll support them. Children don’t need to learn by rote. Life experiences are so much more significant.”

The service notched ‘exceeding’ the NQS for Quality Area 1 – educational program and practice – at its last assessment in July 2013.

Where to from here?

You can explore Educa’s planning and online documentation features on this other blog post. And, if you’re a Reggio-inspired service, here are tips on documenting your approach and activities. Find out more about the benefits of documenting online here.

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