As an educator and carer, I see digital documentation from the perspectives of both the sender and the receiver. In my work with children, I observe them, document their learning and share it with their families online. On weekends I often care for my nieces Zoe and Chloe and catch up with their mother, my sister Olivia, on weekdays while they’re at their education and care service. It’s on these visits that I see digital documentation from the parent’s perspective.
Olivia receives regular updates from the service. These updates include photos of the girls playing indoors and outdoors, eating snacks, helping to set the lunch table and even having a rest. Olivia’s eyes light up whenever she receives an update, and she excitedly shows me the photos while adding her comments to them. She often saves the photos and refers back to them later when she asks the girls about their day.
On one of my visits, Olivia had not received any updates. She seemed concerned, constantly checking her app in case she had missed anything and wondering if something was wrong. She asked me if she should call the service and possibly even raise the issue of consistency with updates. While I assured Olivia there was no need to worry—as the educators were probably busy interacting and playing with Zoe, Chloe and the rest of the children—it got me thinking about the frequency of communication with parents and how digital documentation has become a balancing act for educators.
The purpose of digital documentation apps is to record children’s learning, improve family engagement and ease the workload of educators. The question is, do they really do all this and at what cost?
News coverage and sector analysis recognise the increasing pressure on educators to balance the sharing of documentation with interacting and being present with the children. Educators, like parents and carers, juggle multiple roles—we are teachers, entertainers, moderators, nurses and storytellers. Now, with the mounting expectation of sharing on online platforms, we are also reporters and social media experts.
Educators recognise the importance of documenting children’s learning. We acknowledge online apps are great platforms for providing updates to families. However, many of us prefer to do this in other ways, such as collaborative writing or art projects for children to take home to their families.
I have been fortunate enough to work at multiple services throughout my journey as an educator and have experienced different expectations regarding online documentation.
Some of the services I worked with expected educators to share stories and observations with families only for milestone-worthy moments (quality over quantity) or have paper-based documentation, prepared as a joint project between the educators, the children and their families. Other services expected educators to complete a minimum number of group and individual documentations each week; share checklists of photos, videos and learning outcomes with families via the online app each day; and send photos first, then continue with the daily routines.
Is there a correct way? Is it possible to meet halfway?
I can see the benefits of online apps for families, as they are a great tool for connection, engagement and spontaneous updates. But perhaps less is more. We need less ‘helicoptering’, less taking of photos trying to capture a moment, and more engagement with children. High engagement, strong connections and solid relationships between educators and children are what children and families deserve.
The Early Years Learning Framework does not prescribe any one particular way of creating and sharing documentation. Rather it encourages all services to do what is right for their own community and use their autonomy to judge which documentation process to use.
So, how might you find the right way of creating and sharing documentation is for you?
- Look at what you already do with a fresh perspective
Focus on individual children and list their strengths, interests, relationships and social skills. Compare the list to your documentation. How accurately does it represent children and their learning?
- Shake things up
Try out a few different methods of documentation to find the most realistic, achievable and relevant one for your service. What works best for the educators? What do the children enjoy the most?
- Get everyone on the same page
Communicate with families and let them know what to expect from your service in terms of documentation, i.e. how often they can expect updates and which medium you will be using.
The main indicator of high-quality early education and care is strong, reciprocal and nurturing relationships between educators, children and families. At the core of high-quality programs are educators who cherish their time with the children. Educating and caring for children should be their primary focus.
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