Find the time for meaningful documentation

The age old debate in children’s services about the time available for the completion of documentation versus time spent with children has been long standing in our sector. This often divides the sector as some view that you must either choose to document learning or spend time with children. The alternative to this is when educators are taking documentation home with them to complete following their paid shift time. The position of early childhood educator working in a children’s service is complex, sophisticated and requires many diverse skills. The low pay and lack of recognition that is associated with the sector is not in line with the expectations of the role; however, to view our sector as being a profession we need to have an appreciation and respect for the professional guidelines and quality framework that guides our work. The documentation of children’s learning is highly positioned by the legislation and framework, and for good reason. Children’s learning in the early years is important and worthy. A profession, as defined by the Professional standards council: ‘A profession is a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards. This group positions itself as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level, and is recognised by the public as such. A profession is also prepared to apply this knowledge and exercise these skills in the interest of others’ (

In order for the sector to move forward in terms of having the public acknowledge and view us as being a profession, we must firstly, as a group, stand behind our own professional guidelines. The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) expects that a cycle of planning is maintained for groups of children and for individual children. Educators must also be reflective practitioners and committed to improving their own professional development and quality of practice. Reciprocal, respectful relationships must be formed with children and families and this needs to be evident in interactions throughout the day. How these requirements are interpreted and enacted throughout the day by educators in the learning centre are key to the provision of a quality learning environment.

Successful early education teams firstly must understand why documentation of children’s learning is important and specifically what learning is important. Not everything in a day or week is worthy of documenting. This is the issue with having a day book, as it is often used to diarise or summarise everything that happens throughout the day rather than focusing on only the meaningful, relevant learning. The same can be said for interests—too often a fleeting interest can suddenly change the entire curriculum and detract from the flow of learning. This style of documentation is time consuming and often has little meaning. Good strategies for time management are required to assist educators to find the time to document and reflect throughout the day, as often the two hours of off the floor weekly programing time is not enough to capture, evaluate and present thoughtful, inspiring pedagogical documentation worthy of a child’s rich learning and discovery. This is something that can be worked on with teams and developed over time. Systems and strategies can be used to effectively record important pieces of information throughout the day.

‘Efficient and effective leaders in early childhood now work smarter, not harder or longer’ (Rodd, 2013). Working smarter to achieve documentation goals will yield many riches in terms of providing a clear picture of a child’s learning, interests and strengths. When meaningful, well-written documentation is displayed in a beautiful way, it draws in the reader. When we apply our craft, our skills and knowledge in such a way, the reader will take away new ideas about what children are capable of, the importance of the learning and a respect for the professional skill of the educator. This is the road to follow towards improving the way we are perceived within the community and how the sector is perceived by our nation.


Rodd, J. (2013). Leadership in early childhood: The pathway to professionalism (4th Ed.). Sydney, NSW: Allen &Unwin.

Amanda Wilson

I have worked in the sector for the past 24 years and am currently a centre Director at Goodstart Early learning Cromer. I teach the Diploma at the local community college and am an advocate for children’s rights and the sector. I have a Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) an Associate Diploma of Social Science (Child Studies) and a Cert 1V in training and assessment.

13 thoughts on “Find the time for meaningful documentation”

    Maree Aldwinckle says:

    As a tertiary teacher in early childhood who specializes in this area I have seen significant change over the last 30 plus years. I have come to the view that the shift in language from observation to documentation has shifted the focus from the process of observing and knowing children to the end product of documenting. A pretty piece of paper with words and pictures does not demonstrate knowledge of children or effective teaching and learning, but is a good marketing tool for selling the now commercialized product of early childhood education and care to the parent consumer. And of course the influence of digital technology has played a significant role. Finally, the anti-developmental lobby, the rise of socioculturalism and the embracing of learning ‘stories’as the a best practice method for capturing learning have all contributed to a sector in a constant state of confusion. There are many exploited and underpaid educators and teachers out there who are expected to complete impossible amounts of ‘documentation’as part of an already overloaded job role.

    Louise says:

    Such a complex and divisive topic, documentation. And add to this the confusion that educators must feel when a child’s interest is dismissed as detracting from the flow of learning. A few years ago, the child’s interests were paramount – look at the EYLF and interests are still up there with culture and abilities…
    Beautiful documentation does not mean parents will pay any more attention but it will take longer to achieve the beauty and it does lead to the commercial products that are so rife in early childhood. You can still present it in a way that is appealing and easy to read and understand. Personal conversations, in whatever medium, probably work best of all as the foundation stone , backed up with effective and efficient record keeping.

    Selma says:

    I have to concur that both as a parent and and an educator I found personal conversations about individual children to be the most efficient and worthwhile medium for the exchange of information. In this era of compliance however, practice that has no measurement or evidence trail is not valued. Early childhood educators wanting to foreground relationships are forced to preference documentation over this best practice. As a profession we need to find a more creative way of assessing excellence other than visual “proof”. Documentation is indeed a wonderful tool for consolidating learning and enriching the experience of belonging and agency with children, but it shouldn’t be the dominant medium through which we prove our professionalism.

    We need to document because there is no time, in the course of a day with young children, to stop and consider. None at all. So we notice, we photograph, we consider after school, we share with parents and colleagues, and we become reflective, grown teachers. There aren’t short cuts. The cell phone has become a most useful tool in making sure we pick up on what is going on in the room. I have written at length in Seeing Young Children with New Eyes: What We’ve Learned from Reggio Emilia about Children and Ourselves about this.

    Stuart Smith says:

    Finding time for documentation, which implies good observation and recording methods, can be made during sleep/rest time each day. For us it was about 60 minutes each day. We looked at the observations we recorded and predicted where the children might take their interests. Some were involved with an on-going project while others were focused on smaller projects. At the end of the day
    we showed photos to all the children of their learning on the interactive. We discussed what was happening, where it might go, what materials they might need. This involved all the children in the documentation process. Their voices mattered in the learning process. I do think that any learning is worthy of documentation but obviously we don’t document everything. When we truly observe and listen with patience we see so much learning in each child. I prefer to observe without any criteria in mind. Then I see and hear things which I would have overlooked if I had been focused on developmental outcomes. It is a beautiful experience!

    Vanessa Burrell says:

    Interesting article with thought provoking responses too. I do think sometimes ece teachers feel they need to document learning because they “have to” as opposed to when it’s meaningful. Taking the time to present information like this shows that the teachers are highly valuing the children’s learning process. Very limited paid non contact time can be a barrier for some teachers to be able to do this. How often do things like this get displayed and how long does the display last for before it’s replaced?

    Stuart Smith says:

    Hi Sydney,
    I was just wondering what you mean by no time to stop and consider?

    Maree Aldwinckle says:

    Hi Stuart, I really like what you said about observing without any criteria in mind. This allows us to be truly holistic and open minded in our reflection and analysis.

    Stuart Smith says:

    Thank you Maree,
    It is explained really well in the book from Gunila Dahlberg and Peter Moss – Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care from the series: Languages of Evaluation “Contesting Early Childhood. I met with Gunila Dahlberg in Stockholm at the Reggio Emilia Institute. It was an amazing experience that really challenges how we think about assessment and documentation. I highly recommend this book if you have not read it. I think that moving beyond criteria does allow us to see things holistically. We are completely absorbed in what is happening. We are not separate from the learning but part of it. That’s why I believe in participant observation in which the children and teachers learn together, observe each other, interact with each other. It gives the teacher and children endless joy in teaching and learning.

    Replying to Stuart

    You ask what I mean by ‘no time to stop and consider’. My experience with young children was one of being always busy, being asked to take care of this and that, or sort out the other thing, and no time to just THINK about what children’s behavior was telling me. Writing down what I remembered, especially with a colleague, made some of these child intentions clearer, and showed me where to focus my attention. Documentation grew and grows me.

    Violet Leonard says:

    Hello Maree for this article. It made me rethink about my practice as the EY practitioner.It is true that we do a lot of good and meaningful things with our little learners, the issue comes how do we document such meaningful moments. Most of us we luck the skills that will help us to do documentation.

    Stuart Smith says:

    I think that the camera can get in the way of our participation with the children. I have seen schools where the team leader tells the teachers and assistants that they have to document 7 children each week on Tapestry online journal or on Seesaw. Obviously this puts teachers under a lot of pressure to take photos that they probably would not have documented. I find giving a prescribed number to be ridiculous.

    For me I prefer to document on-going projects. This could be a group working together or individuals contributing to the project. I enjoy working with small groups on an agreed project. I guess you could call me a social constructivist. I’m interested in how children learn together. But not all children want to work in a group but they still want to contribute to the project. I also invite the children to take photos and I write down their thoughts/suggestions/theories during the project. Do you ever let the children take photos of their meaningful moments if they wish?

    The camera is a tool for reflection and presentation. Sometimes I will take photos of what is happening in the room. These are not for documentation purposes. They are simply used at the end of the day as a visual stimulus for discussion. These photos could also be used at the beginning of the next day in the morning meeting as inspiration.

    So for me, in terms of taking photos, less is better for good documentation. I hope that helps a little.


    Norah says:

    Hi Sydney, I’m very interested in reading your book ‘Seeing Young Children with New Eyes: What We’ve Learned from Reggio Emilia about Children and Ourselves’. Do you have a free or paid e-version of this book? Please email me with more information on how to obtain this book. Thank you in advance, Norah

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