How to effectively reflect, record and engage children

By listening to children and identifying their interests, you can create a unique learning opportunity that excites and interests them. DR CLAIRE WARDEN shares part one of a three-part blog series on how you can make the most of Floorbooks and Talking Tubs to effectively consult and engage children.

Use Floorbooks for child-led planning

At our award-winning Auchlone Nature Kindergarten, Floorbooks are a staple tool in most of our work. They are a simple concept but, when used correctly, they can be highly effective.

Record a child’s thinking: Use Floorbooks to record children’s ideas and thoughts without re-framing or interpretation, so that they are a genuine record of their thinking and their expression of it. When children give a response to a question or contribute an idea that is far removed from the rest of the group thinking, you can record the idea as evidence of contribution, but not necessarily engagement.

Stimulate the child’s interest: Record open-ended questions that are asked in response to an interest originating with the children. You must pose questions as part of a conversation, and design them to stimulate thought rather than test knowledge. The flow of reflective talk is critical for creating a partnership of exploration and discovery. Use question and answer sessions to create a completely different atmosphere. Questions can be almost philosophical, for example: ‘I wonder what would happen if…?

Adapt to different learning styles: During a small group experience, you can scribe for the children to release some from the pressure of secretarial skills. You can also get individual children to record their idea in pictorial form or by writing on a thinking bubble.

Collate child-centred ideas: Rather than thinking of random ‘activities’ for children to ‘do’ yourself, you can use Floorbooks to analyse the starting points for learning ideas that children are suggesting. Responsive planning should be at the root of learning. If you are going to consult children, then you should be prepared to change our thinking and actions as a result of it.

Make the Floorbooks available to children: Joint ownership should give children the right to revisit their thinking whenever they wish. There has to be a feedback loop to the children, so they know that the process of consultation is actually changing something. In practice, this approach leads to a child-centred curriculum based on evidence collated in a child-centred way—a feature that many centres feel is being edged out by paperwork demands.

Create fascinating Talking Tubs to support child-led learning










Talking Tubs are a key part of the Floorbooks Approach, which will allow you to identify and explore children’s interests.

A Talking Tub is a box filled with a variety of objects about a specific subject. Create one for the children in your care and allow them to examine each item carefully, one at a time. Give them time to investigate and discuss each object.

Some of the best Talking Tubs are created from previously identified child interests, but there a number of great topics that you can cover at the beginning of a year using a tub.

Here are some suggestions for creating interesting Talking Tubs to kickstart your year.


Holidays and children’s activities during the holidays are a good topic to begin with. Many children return to the setting very excited about what they did during their time away. A Talking Tub will allow you to channel that energy. Include items such as: miniature airplanes; sand; pictures of the sea, a spade, a small home and a family; and season-appropriate clothing.

It is possible that children will have developed a number of new interests to explore during their time away. You should try to create as diverse a Talking Tub as possible, including any experiences you know the children had. For example, if you know a number of children went on beach holidays, include photos of beaches and the sea. A Talking Tub that is personalised to children will put any new children at ease.











If you are with children who are just beginning their education and care journey, a Talking Tub can be the perfect way to put them at ease.

Create an open forum to address some of their fears and highlight the exciting things that the care setting or school can provide for them. After a month or so, revisit the topic so that children can discuss how they coped with the transition. This will hopefully allow them to see that they have been able to conquer their fears.









Depending on when you go back to school, it may be the perfect time to discuss the changing seasons. Autumn, especially, is an incredibly colourful month that brings many learning opportunities. Autumn fascinates children due to the dramatic changes that they can see in the trees, and you can use this fascination to create great experiences for them.

In your talking tub you can include:

  • leaves of different colours
  • leaves from different types of trees
  • photos of forests
  • a thermometer
  • pictures or models of different types of animals
  • different types of fabric/clothing.

You can take the same approach for the other seasons as well. Seasons are also great for exploring different colours through dye-making, which is a great activity for measuring and art.

Local or national culture

To put children at ease, especially at the beginning of a new term, explore a topic that they hold dear or see as part of themselves. An investigation into local or national culture is a great way to explore what children have in common with each other, and to celebrate their differences.

This topic can be expanded to discuss diversity and different cultures from around the world. This can be a particularly good topic during the transition from early years to primary school, and can encourage shy children to talk about themselves.

The objects that you fill in the tub may vary from flags and clothing to photographs of local festivals and events. Some settings choose to begin with a Talking Tub about the setting itself to help children feel like they are a part of it, and to help them feel comfortable moving forward.

Natural elements

At Auchlone Nature Kindergarten, we begin every new term with a Talking Tub about fire. As a fully outdoor nature kindergarten, fire is an integral part of our practice, which we use for cooking as well as warmth. A lot of children who join us have never made their own fires before, and some have never had close access to the heat from a barbeque before.

By filling a Talking Tub with fire-related objects, we discuss the risks surrounding fire and teach children how to safely risk-assess any situation involving fire. We tell them about the safe distance they must keep around the fire pit; how to light a fire; and what they should do if they have any concerns.

This also lets us talk about the benefits of fire, such as creating charcoal for art and being able to cook food. We fill our Talking Tub with objects such as: wood, charcoal, ash, wooden figures of fire, flashlights, fire blankets, photos of the fire pit and the fire hut, and pre-cooked snacks. This wide range of items lets children look at what fire provides, while also giving them many opportunities to discuss all of the risks involved.









What topics will you be discussing in your first few weeks? What Talking Tubs have you used recently, and what did you fill them with?

Learn more about creating Talking Tubs with our online courses and webinars.

ECA Recommends 

Talking and thinking floorbooks: An approach to consultation, observation, planning and assessment in children’s learning (3rd ed) 
By Claire Warden

This book will tell you how to plan with children. It has been comprehensively revised to provide greater insight into child centred planning in the now well established Floorbooks approach. The strategies that are set out in this revised edition are supported by diagrams and case studies which enable them to plan effective child centred experiences. You can purchase your copy on the ECA Shop.

Claire Warden

Dr Claire Warden is one of the world’s leading consultants and writers on the use of consultative methods in education. Her approach to nature kindergartens has earned her international recognition as a pioneer in educational thinking. Her respect for children and families runs through the Floorbooks Approach that she developed. It is often used within Nature Pedagogy to incorporate children’s voices into intentional teaching.

5 thoughts on “How to effectively reflect, record and engage children”

    M liseby says:

    Great ideas thank you, it makes much sense to promote open ended responses from children. Then follow up with appropriate planning related to what children have said commented on etc.

    Di says:

    Awesome ideas
    I work in the babies
    How would I involve babies thoughts and ideas to further our discussions

    Geethani says:

    Thank you Dr. Claire, love the talking tub ideas. 😊

    Zaizai Zhang says:

    Thank you Dr. Claire! I am working with preschoolers. The floorbook and talking tub idea is fantastic. I am going to learn more about it during daily practice at work with children.

    Zaizai Zhang says:

    Great ideas! Thank you so much! I would keep asking open ended questions to children to stimulate children’s interests top find a useful and meaningful start of the floor book.

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