Childhood, Documentation

If a play experience is not photographed, documented and analysed – did it really happen?

Let me begin by saying that documenting children’s play and learning is an incredibly important aspect of the National Quality Framework. 

Lately though I have been wondering if documenting every last detail of children’s play experiences is really necessary. Over the last few weeks I have been working on some training presentations, which often have an abundance of photographs, and I have found a gap. I started working in a long day care centre over 10 years ago. The centre had just purchased a digital camera, but any observations or documentation were done by hand. I painstakingly put together portfolios for over 40 preschool aged children in my first year at the centre, hand writing my observations and reflections, glueing in the photographs. I was proud of these portfolios – they were meaningful. Since we had limited programming time “off the floor” and had to do it all by hand, we ensured that the things we documented were considered “important” in the child’s experience at the centre. Sure, there were thousands of other wonderful things that we would have loved to document but it just wasn’t possible. The downside to this is that I don’t have any copies of this documentation, no digital photographs that I can add to my training presentations, no photographs of the provocations to share.

The upside to this – I LIVED IT! I wasn’t so busy trying to photograph or capture the perfect moment that I missed being in the moment. Yes, documenting and reflecting on children’s play is important, but I think that somewhere along the way we have lost the balance. Do we really need to photograph and document a play experience to prove that it happened? Aren’t we proof enough? One of my favourite memories of my first year working in Early Childhood (apart from meeting Tash, my professional soulmate!) was engaging a group of football loving boys. Over a period of months we spent time extending their interest and supporting them to develop amazing skills in various areas including math and literacy. I love sharing stories about this time, but have nothing to “show” for it. I can still visualise the rocks and wood chips lined up to keep score in their football game, but can’t show anyone else that image. But I am okay with that, because I was in the moment. I was engaged with those children. I was a part of a wonderful play experience. Ask me now what areas of the EYLF this project related to and I could tell you in an instant, but it doesn’t really matter. The play happened. The families knew about it – we talked to them everyday!

I believe that we need to think about how much we are documenting and how much we are just being. How much time are we spending just engaging with those children? Listening to them? Giving them memories of a childhood filled with play? When I think about the hours spent documenting play experiences and glueing photographs into portfolios, I don’t really think of it as “wasted time” as such, but I don’t look back on it with the same fondness as I do the moments I was truly present with children. I think it is so important that as educators we are able to find a balance so that we are documenting and reflecting, but also just “being” with children. These “being” moments can still be shared even if they aren’t documented – your voice is powerful! These moments can still be reflected on, even if it is not written down – your mind is capable!

I understand that there is a concern that if you do not document everything, you will not be able to provide evidence for your Assessment visit. In my experience with the Assessment process, I did not find this to be true. If these play experiences and learning opportunities are an authentic, everyday part of your program and environment, they will be evident. Documentation definitely does support what you are doing, and again – it is important, but our relationships, environment, the contentedness of the children – this will all be evident as soon as an assessor enters your service! 

Take some time to reflect on how and why you document. Is it meaningful? is it all necessary? How does it benefit the children? – They are, after all, why we are here!

Nicole Sheehan

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