Documenting children’s learning – are we rushing the process?

When documenting children’s learning, it can sometimes feel like we are racing against the clock to gather information, turn it into a story, and hit publish. We rush to provide the evidence that we have noticed, recognized and responded to the learning. Early childhood educators have a lot of boxes to tick to ensure their learning service meets compliance requirements! 

But should we be rushing through the documentation process so quickly? Is there room to rethink our approach? Is it time to reimagine the documentation process to support the quality of learning programs for young children?

Dr. Susan Stacey recently hosted a webinar, ‘Reimagine Documentation to Support the Quest for Program Quality.’ Susan shared ways to reimagine documentation through new lenses and discussed how educators could improve the documentation process and make it more practical. She also explored the professional learning that can occur for educators when documenting learning. 

Save space for reflection

A strong theme that came through her presentation was the need for educators to reconsider the speed at which they document children’s learning. Rushing the process means we can sweep over what was occurring for children. It means we leave little room for reflection and can miss the deeper learning happening for them. 

Children learning while playing with blocks on the floor

Thinking about the ways you document, have you thought about saving space for reflection?  

For busy educators, the process of documenting children’s learning often looks like this: 

  1. We observe children engaged in learning. We notice them exploring their interests, curious about their world, and making discoveries and connections. 
  2. We might then reflect on what we have observed. Why is this important for this child? 
  3. Sometimes (but not always), we might share our observations with other educators and discuss what we have seen. We might hypothesize about the learning we think was happening for the children being observed. 
  4. Then we document, hit publish and move on to the next observation. 

Susan prompted us to reconsider this process with a new lens. What would happen if we made time for reflection during the spaces in between each step? Allowing ourselves the time to do this means we gather new thoughts and ideas as we progress through the steps that take us toward publishing a learning story. Would we consider things differently, from different perspectives, and on a deeper level? We might consider new ideas. Or reject ideas, confirm what we do and don’t understand about each child. The space between these four steps allows us to expand our views. It is like a waiting room where we have time to engage in deeper thinking. 

Expanding your ideas and thinking when documenting children’s learning

We might recall previous learning experiences that somehow link to the observation and strengthen our understanding of how a child learns. Or we might think back to a conversation we had with the child over lunch that helps us to add another layer to the observation. Could we remember something the child’s parent mentioned in passing that strengthens or adds another lens to what we initially thought the child was interested in? We may also look back at the child’s previous learning and identify patterns of behaviour or interest that help us see their learning progression or themes occurring in different contexts? Or perhaps discover a schema of learning that the child is exploring. 

When documenting children’s learning, the space between the four steps allows us to expand our ideas and thinking. This space gives us time to widen our views and deepen our understanding of each child. It can also prompt us to go back and observe even more with a broader perspective.

Reflective questions to help you allow space for “wondering”

Susan suggested some questions to ask ourselves to help us in this time of deep reflection. She described this process as ‘widening the spaces to allow for wondering.’ 

  • What would happen if I observed this type of play at a different time of the day?
  • How does my method of taking notes affect what I document?
  • What if all educators’ voices were present in the documented learning?
  • What would happen if our wonderings were given more time for discussion?
  • Who is involved in deciding what is documented?
  • Are we comfortable with disequilibrium?
  • Can we pause and use this as a place for growth?
  • Could our documentation contribute to the learning of other children?

preschool teacher documenting children's learning while working on a laptop

When documenting children’s learning, allowing space for reflection helps us tell a richer story. It can also positively impact our professional growth, provoke new ways of thinking for the other educators we work with, and help make our professional knowledge and experience more visible. Families, too, can feel more empowered and involved in their children’s learning journey. They can begin to develop an appreciation of the learning that happens through play! Using this strategy demonstrates our ability to listen deeply and trust in the documentation process rather than solely focusing on the end product. 

Watch the replay!

You can access the recording if you missed Susan’s webinar and are curious to learn more about slowing down and viewing documentation with a new lens. Get ready to refresh your thinking, gain deeper insight into children’s learning, and continue your professional learning journey.


Susan Stacey professional headshot photo

Susan Stacey has worked in early childhood education for over 35 years as an educator, director, college instructor, and practicum advisor. She obtained her Master’s degree at Pacific Oaks College, Pasadena, California. Stacey frequently presents across North America and internationally about emergent curriculum, reflective and responsive practices, inquiry, documentation, and the role of the arts in ECE. She supports adult learners throughout their journeys in ECE, working with new and experienced educators. Stacey has presented frequently at NAEYC and other conferences and has been published in Young Children, Young Exceptional Children, and Exchange. Her books with Redleaf include Emergent Curriculum in Early Childhood SettingsThe Unscripted Classroom, Pedagogical Documentation in Early Childhood, and Inquiry-Based Early Learning Environments.

Visit Susan’s website at

Posted by Sonya McIntyre

Sonya was born in Lower Hutt and went to Rata Street Kindergarten and Petone Kindergarten. A qualified ECE, she studied at Victoria University in Wellington and has worked with home-based educators, in community-based childcare and in kindergarten. With childhood memories of reading books and writing stories, combined with her passion for all things social media, Sonya segued into her role with us at Storypark as social media manager.

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One Comment

  1. Love this. A waiting pause to have different perspectives from educators and parents too that add another layer. I know this will deepen my observations for each child.


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