Documentation is a powerful tool in the early childhood classroom. Put simply, documentation is any evidence collected over a period of time that describes, narrates, or demonstrates a child’s experience. Documentation can involve teacher and parent notes, a child’s drawings and dictations, and recordings/photos of an event or interaction. Such evidence allows for parents, teachers, children, and other stakeholders to engage in meaningful discussions about children’s learning and growing.
As a provider, you may collect documentation regarding each child in a special place. You may use hard copy organizers such as binders or plastic containers, or you may use electronic organizers such as digital portfolios or desktop folders. However, another possible way to think about documentation is to offer families a narrative that tells the story of children’s learning over time and about a specific subject. Most of our parent-teacher interactions involve conversations about day-to-day needs and skills. They essentially offer an overview rather than a point of view.
In the schools of Reggio Emilia, documentation generally takes the form of visual evidence or documentation panels. The work of educators in Reggio Emilia has offered much inspiration to early childhood educators in the United States over the last several years. In Reggio Emilia, learning is experiential and child-centered. There is an emphasis on relationship-building and viewing children as experts in their own learning. Documentation panels are curated displays that allow an educator or provider to capture a child’s learning through visuals and language. They offer context for an activity or experience by showing artifacts of children’s work.
Imagine that the children in your setting are interested in farms, as many children are, and as you read books, they really start to wonder about tractors and their many attachments. You might start recording children’s unique expressions about tractors. As time goes on, the children might start drawing tractors or parts of tractors such as the tires or a plow. Maybe some of them start exploring with different tools in the sandbox or while playing in dirt to mimic plowing or harvesting. Perhaps you schedule a farm field trip or a visit from a farmer and take photographs. Suddenly, the children’s interest in farms becomes a weeks-long investigation, and this collection of writing/recordings, drawings, photographs, etc., becomes artifacts that you can use to show how children are thinking, acquiring information, and reflecting, all of which can be hard to capture in daily reports.
Transferring these artifacts to a documentation panel is as straightforward as mounting the children’s work, your photographs, and any anecdotal notes to a wall panel or a poster board. You can include brief captions where needed to offer explanation or insight. You could even include captions under children’s work with a simple sentence they narrate about the work or about their understanding of work on a farm or the uses of tractors. You could also include a photograph of the book that inspired children’s interests or post the panel near a table that displays the book. In creating such a panel, you might ask:
- Which pieces of information best represent the children’s thinking or questions?
- What information can I collect from the children themselves about their experiences?
- How can I organize this information to tell a story?
- What conversations did adults (teachers, parents, classroom visitors, etc.) have about children’s learning during this time that I can transcribe and include here?
You can showcase documentation panels for a few weeks, seasonally, or throughout the whole year if you have a large lobby or waiting area. Of course, the intention of creating such a display is to invite families into children’s learning. However, documentation panels will also be important to you as provider in engaging in reflective practice, inviting the children to reflect on their learning, and demonstrating to visitors the meaning making that happens in children’s lives. Documentation panels will support you in communicating the “big picture” of children’s work and your work with them.
- The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation by Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini, and George Forman (Eds.)
- The Language of Art: Inquiry-Based Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings by Ann Pelo
- Working in the Reggio Way: A Beginner’s Guide for American Teachers by Julianne P. Wurm
- MORE Working in the Reggio Way by Julianne P. Wurm