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Documentation: Pain OR Pleasure

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

I've always been drawn to documenting children’s learning and viewed this as an integral part of my early childhood professional practice.  I’ve also always found it a pleasure. 

However, I know this is not the case for everyone. After speaking with many educators who feel weighed down by various expectations and one size fits all approaches, I have noticed a trend that can easily take hold within any early childhood service.  It's where teaching teams lock themselves into cycles of documentation that become painful and result in ‘same, same different day’ type of outcomes.  Before you know it documentation becomes like quick sand, hard and difficult.

OK so this seems like the natural place to insert the conversation about 'templates' (lets go there early in this piece).  Don't get me wrong, I love a template to guide me when I am learning something new, but there does come a time when we need to let go of the template and go 'freestyle'.  It's like having your 'L' plates as a new driver. There comes a point you graduate, right? You no longer need the expertise sitting next to you because the expertise is now within you.  You have to trust yourself, what you know and what you bring.

A Common Language in ECE Now imagine the planning cycle as the thread that weaves together the story of documentation for learning

Once the planning cycle is ingrained in our everyday practice and thinking it really does become second nature in the flow of our documentation. So perhaps there is a time to do away with that template or better yet, if you are an educational leader, perhaps its time to offer encouragement for your team to go 'freestyle'? 

I think we should delve deeply into the planning cycle as a PRACTICE and not view it as a FORMULA. There is an important distinction to be made here so we do not get drawn into a downward cycle of over complicating documentation.  Too many processes, too many forms and sometimes too many boxes to tick, all of which just cause distractions from the real work of relationships.   

I'd like to share with you one of my favourite points of reference when it comes to reflecting on how I document children's learning.  I encourage you to reflect, ponder and spend time thinking about this statement and what it really means for you and your team.  Perhaps spend a staff meeting unpacking it if you dare. Turn the statement into a set of questions to explore. Imagine the possibilities for your documentation being a pleasure after that meeting!


is a subjective set of frozen moments that provoke, inform, record and provide opportunities for further thinking and wonder, able to be offered back to children (families) for comment and reflection".

(Fleet, Patterson, Robinson, 2012)

The part I want to unpack here is the concept of a 'set of frozen moments'.  What exactly are these moments?  At a recent conference I attended in New Zealand on learning stories, pioneer Margaret Carr shared that on any given day an educator makes around 900 observations!  WOW! That is a lot of observing, listening and noticing.  No wonder we are tired at the end of the day, right!  From the thousands of observations made across a week YOU must decide on and choose what those 'frozen moments' will be!  

The process of deciding on what value you place on any given 'frozen moment' is going to be subjective.  Your decision will be informed by your relationship and knowledge of the child, developmental theory, the context, your bias and interests in pedagogy, as well as your working knowledge and lens of the approved curriculum, such as the Early Years Learning Framework. This process of deciding on what frozen moments are worthwhile documenting helps us as educators to sharpen our focus on the important features of learning (Carr, 2003). Over time our skills become refined, so when the moment comes to document learning, we have clarity about the purpose for each piece of documentation.  The purpose then starts to inform the way we might present that piece of documentation. I want to emphasise over time and the importance time to learn should have in our early childhood services. There are no short cuts to learning, its sometimes difficult, it takes discipline and concentration. I know its worth it in the long run. 


Here are some simple points to bounce from so your documentation is a pleasure:

  • Always reflect on the planning cycle - in practice and in writing - do not over complicate it

  • Refine your ability to listen, notice and reflect on learning - documentation is always easier when you are present

  • Make time to collaborate with your team - regularly

  • Document together when you can, talk and decide on where to next

  • Change things up - celebrate the many ways educators document learning

  • Challenge the barriers and constraints reflectively and respectfully so documentation is transformative and not a checklist needing to be done

  • Documentation need not start and end sharply. It can be  continuous and occur over time to reflect continuity of learning

  • Write about what really matters to the child

  • Guard against isolation. We need to reflect and dialogue with others (child, family, colleagues)

  • Always consider time for learning, researching and documenting

Let's end with a question or two:  

  • How can I contribute to the conversation in my workplace to ensure documentation is a pleasure for all those involved? 

  • What do we need to protect or rethink in the way we approach documentation so it either maintains being a pleasure or becomes a pleasure?

If you require more direct support at your service please reach out and make contact with me, I would be happy to work with your team on ensuring documentation is a pleasure.


Carr, M.  (2003).  Assessment in Early Childhood Settings: Learning Stories.  Sage Publications.

Fleet, A., Patterson, C., Robertson, J.  (2012).  Conversations Behind Early Childhood Pedagogical Documentation.  Pademelon Press.

Semann, A.  (2017).  Let's not forget the planning cycle.  Pedagogy+ The Art of Teaching. Semann and Slattery Issue 1, pg 36-37

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1 Comment

Kristina Ramsay
Kristina Ramsay
Sep 14, 2020

Wow, I really enjoyed this read, and has brought clarity to my new role as Educational Leader

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