When the term documentation is discussed amongst early childhood educators there is often a feeling of fear…a pause in time where professionals stop and hold their breath, the angst of the topic written clearly all over their face. What feeds this feeling in professionals and can we find some grounding through exploring the Reggio way of documentation?
The theories, philosophies and practices of Reggio Emilia are becoming increasingly spoken about and transformed into the international early childhood world. Reggio demonstrates unequivocal respect for children as competent social citizens, the educators in Reggio acknowledge and celebrate creativity and imagination as core components to intrinsic self-actualisation and of course, they place value on important components of early childhood through deliberately planned documentation processes. Educators in these learning environments help children to see, hear and feel their own ‘inner voice’ through a variety of media sources. But here is where things are taken to the next level – educators then display the children’s voice in ways that shape their developing knowledge of identity – opening the children up to be nurtured by their peers, adults, family and community members.
“Our task is to help children communicate with the world using all their potential, strengths and languages, and to overcome any obstacle presented by our culture.”
(Loris Malaguzzi, REAIE)
When looking at the purpose of documentation in this perspective, it is easy to see the role of the educator as being one that helps children to be heard – no matter the language they communicate in. The proposition that children have a hundred languages, and “a hundred hundred more”, challenges traditional perspectives on how we view children’s yearning to connect. Be it through connecting with the adult sitting across the room, connecting with their peers standing beside them, connecting with their family members through various media platforms, connecting with the resources they are playing with now and how this sits with their knowledge from the days before.
Through this lens of connection, it becomes easier to express what you are observing and easier again to put emphasis on the important developmental outcomes that our early childhood education framework is foundered upon.
Your image of the child
In 2017 I was lucky enough to head to New Zealand with REAIE as part of a study tour group. The image of the child is held in high regard in Reggio pedagogy and practice and this provoked deep analysis and reflection opportunities during the tour as we examined the Reggio philosophy, Te Whariki and the NQF from a variety of angles.
In order to appreciate and understand the authenticity of the documentation processes that Reggio facilitates, to feel the delicacies that they immerse in every learning story, every photo, every display of work; to be enticed to connect emotionally through carefully constructed sentences and phrases; educators need to consider their image of the child.
Held in the centre of both Te Whariki and the NQF is an acknowledgement of the child and the direct influences and identities that impact the growth and development of children. This is a stepping stone for the Western civilisations as societies are challenged to view children differently to the traditional worldviews. To see them as holders of rights, as holders of knowledge, as agents for change, as citizens of their community.
It is in power of perspective that educators are able to see why Reggio documentation is held in such high regard.
Making learning visible
When you view children’s learning as significant, the pedagogy for listening and the search for meaning-making is easy. As an educator, your biggest and most rewarding experience should not just be through celebrating children’s growth as individuals, but also through helping their families understand and appreciate this journey.
The hurdle often acknowledged at this point is found in the process of trying to help children to find some meaning and understanding of the things they do, the things they say and the things they experience. Educators can easily get lost in the looking or searching phase of analysing children’s involvements in play that they forget to listen. When you find yourself stuck in the search for meaning it is easy to become too focused on the future or the past.
The Reggio approach to documentation is founded in the balance between searching and listening and the achievement is identified through how traces of children’s learning and participation is made visible. However, this is complemented with an educator’s demonstration of humility where they show how their own understandings of the world and children are incomplete… and this is welcomed. This is where early childhood educators are reminded of the provocation that children are the holders of their own knowledge, that we as educators, can never truly know what they are thinking. We can only make visible our assumptions and the journey of belonging, being and becoming.
Translating perspective into text
Every service will hold a different image of the child to some degree because there will always be varying cultural influences that impact what and how they see children. This is what makes Reggio documentation so unique and if this process is something that you choose to facilitate it is recommended that you start with an acknowledgement that it is a ‘Reggio inspired’ approach to documentation. This is because no service can facilitate Reggio like Reggio Emilia – it is their culture and place of being and theirs alone to own. But the techniques that they use to portray their image of children can be transformed across any service and is easily adaptable when the intentionality is first examined. Asking the questions of “who is this documentation for?” “Where will this be displayed or made visible?” and “What learning process am I depicting as important?”. Some examples to consider if you are looking at experimenting with some of the Reggio approaches to documentation can include:
Educators displaying children’s artwork with a dictation of the child’s voice
The key to this strategy is remembering to identify who your audience is when you display children’s art. If it is for the children then the work needs to be at their level. If it is for the families then it is important to include a piece of text or documentation that explains the purpose and the value that you are making visible.
Educators can use photo sequences as children’s learning and work is transformed over a period of time.
Often this technique is utilised in project work, which sits in line with the educational philosophy of Reggio Emilia. Sequence photos make it easier to showcase aspects of learning and participation that is otherwise difficult to translate with words.
This particular element is significant and relates very much to how you view your children. By presenting, children’s voice, photos and artwork in beautiful ways you put greater value on your image of the child.
Pedagogy is significant to understanding the techniques and successes of those whom adopt a Reggio approach to documentation in early education. Critical reflection and analysis of how pedagogical documentation can be implemented and adopted in your service will form the foundations for the next article ‘Using pedagogical documentation as a way to make learning visible to families’.
Sarah is a university trained early childhood educator, who lives in NSW Australia. Sarah is the owner and operator of SREED, an early education consultancy business designed to enhance the access and availability of quality professional development in regional and remote areas. She also works as the educational leader in a long day care service, supporting and mentoring a team of educators to facilitate a curriculum that fosters children’s developing levels of wellbeing and involvement. In her spare time, Sarah enjoys family bike rides and walks with her husband and two girls aged 7 and 2.
Sarah is an advocate for sharing knowledge and understandings with other professionals which is the driving force within her passion for writing.