Do you want me to ‘be’ with your child or photograph your child?

KAREN HOPE shares her perspective on another hot topic in the early childhood sector, delving into the pressure that educators face to photograph children in their care, to document learning. Do photos of children engaged with another child or an educational activity properly demonstrate what they learn? And is it time to re-evaluate the content that is shared with families to demonstrate learning in other ways?

As someone who spends part of the working week assisting early learning services to document richly and ethically, I am often in conversations about the amount and type of pedagogical documentation educators are required to generate. Increasingly, educators tell me they struggle to keep up with the demands for daily visual evidence of children’s learning and development—not only from employers and other colleagues but also from families.

It would seem that some families want photographs of their child every day!

Educators are feeling the weight of this expectation. The idea of pics or it didn’t happen’ seems to be a powerful driver behind what is photographed and why. This gratuitous use of photography has quickly morphed into a daily expectation from families, or worse, a service requirement. Whether photographs are emailed, printed, dumped into a portfolio or uploaded through an app, some families expect them each day.

The rapid expansion of technology in everyday life has meant early childhood educators have many tools available for pedagogical documentation. The early childhood sector has responded enthusiastically to these technological tools and a lot of documentation in children’s programs reflects the use of photography, which does make sense. Photographs frequently gathered over a period of time that are accompanied by strong narratives can contribute to evidencing learning and development.

It would be difficult to find a service that does not rely on some form of photography to document children’s learning, and there can be a lot of value in this. When someone stops to take a photograph of a child, or their work, it can communicate a powerful message to children that, ‘you and what you are doing matters; and this tells us something about you’.

However, I believe that a lot of current practices reflect a lack of authenticity around what is photographed and a disregard for the many ethical and consensual considerations that need to be taken into account when photographing children and their work. This is not the fault of families, nor is it the fault of the online platforms storing and distributing the images (though I suspect some might like to blame them). The platforms might give you the tools to capture the photograph but it is not responsible for the judicious thinking that should underpin our documentation decisions.

Gratuitous photography is what happens when we assume that a photograph automatically demonstrates learning, and it is what happens when we do not fully understand what we are required to do in line with the National Law and the National Quality Standard (NQS). Families do need to be informed about their child’s progress, but photographs are not the only way we can, and should, be doing this.

Photography in early learning centres has, in some ways, become a runaway train, and some services are grappling with how to pull it back into manageable, authentic and ethical applications. How are we going to communicate to families that a photograph of their child sitting in front of a puzzle does not always evidence learning, development or engagement?

A way forward may be to articulate and communicate to families what it is we do— why we do it and how we do it. We are the professionals in this space and we have a large body of pedagogical knowledge and theory sitting underneath the way we work with children and how we assess and communicate learning and development. While this might appear to be simplifying a complex issue, the practicality of applying professional knowledge here is the key to getting the train back on track.

We know that strong relationships with children and families in early learning spaces are vital and a cornerstone of what we do well. We also know that being present with children is important. But to be present requires educators to be interested and available. It requires educators to be attentive to the children and actively listen to them. To notice, explore, expand and celebrate the things that interest young children is how we come to know who children really are.

So … do you want me to ‘be’ with your child or photograph your child?

ECA Recommends

Box of Provocations for Early Childhood Educators 
by Anne Stonehouse

The cards in this collection are intended to support critical reflection, discussion, debate and deeper thinking about teaching, learning and what it means to be a professional educator. Their use will result in a better learning experience for children, families and educators. The provocations can be used with educators with all levels of formal qualifications and experience. There are many ways to use the provocations in a variety of settings.

Beautifully presented and made to last, these will be a popular resource in your service for many years to come. You can purchase your copy on the ECA Shop here.

Karen Hope

Karen is an early childhood consultant, lecturer and freelance writer who has extensive experience in a broad range of services within the early childhood care and education context. Her consultancy practice and teaching aims to provide teachers and educators with a disruptive approach to working with, and thinking about, children. Challenging taken for granted practices and dominant discourses is a feature of her work.

7 thoughts on “Do you want me to ‘be’ with your child or photograph your child?”

    Judy Swift says:

    Excellent long overdue article thanks Karen. Makes me think of my 1st grandchild when we photographed her every move.. “ no phots” was the firmly stated reaction by our darling 18 month old treasure! It is time for reflection and a rethink of ways we meet our professional requirements to break what has become an ongoing picture show. In my opinion very little surpasses conversation .. with a child and later with a parent.

    Charlene Holland says:

    A great article – thoroughly agree with your thoughts and concerns – Yes digital technology has been a powerful tool for Early Childhood Educators – However it needs to be thoughtfully and wisely executed… And I cannot agree more with the expressed thought … The beauty and power of ‘being’ present in a moment with children and not just madly snapping photos to just satisfy a ‘happy snap’ fest.

    Simon Fagnani says:

    Another spectacular article Karen!

    Your insight and perspective into the world behind the lens has made me critically think about how often I might be prioritising a snap over a meaningful conversation with children.

    More so, I have found myself pausing before I do react for the camera now. I now ask myself ‘who am I really taking this picture for?’ and ‘is this something this child actually wants me to photograph?’.

    Thank you again for your continued insight and for always challenging the status quo 🙂

    Karen Hope says:

    Thanks for your kind words about this article. I think it has a lot of resonance for many people. If we just stop and ask ‘why’ before we make the decision to take the photo it would make our documentation decisions a lot more robust.

    Penny says:

    great article Karen, I must agree that it appears digital photography and documentation seems to be overused and the pressure on early childhood staff and expectations seem to be huge. I have personally witnessed staff so caught up in creating these “learning stories” especially in the playground when children are missing out on valuable interactions with teachers because teachers are absorbed in their tablets trying to get stories completed. Very sad indeed, not to mention dangerous when there is limited supervision outdoors.

    Lea says:

    Parent wanting phots each day has become a demand. The Educators have become paparazzi’s instead of educator.
    It is easy to snap 30 photos and say this our day, but was that really there day, and what real learning came from these photos.
    Less photos and more meaningful moments.
    As a service centre manager we are getting a lots of kick back from families as we have pulled back on the photos.

    Riley says:

    There are no photographs in a school report card. Parents trust that the teacher is a professional and that their account of the child’s progress is accurate. We need to hold ourselves to that professional standard and trust that our knowledge and skills speak for themselves.

    There is so much learning that can’t be captured in a photo. I often set a goal for a child that I cannot rely on photography to document. One of my focus children is working on using their words to negotiate turn taking and cooperation. Another is beginning to learn some toileting skills, such as dressing and undressing. For vastly different reasons, this learning cannot be captured on camera! Even for activities that I do have a picture of, the important part is the analysis that we educators provide. Any parent can snap a pic of their child playing, but what does it MEAN?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top