Meaningful Documentation in Early Childhood Education

Author Anne Houghton discusses how narrative approaches, such as Learning Stories, create meaningful documentation for the child, their families and educators. Meaningful enough to keep under the pillow.
Anne Houghton Meaningful Documentation

I’ll always remember a parent who said, “If my house was on fire, I’d grab my child’s kinder portfolio”. Another one claimed that her child slept with her portfolio under her pillow. Especially when meaningful documentation was accessible in a portfolio to take home.

These profound statements highlight the power and emotional appeal of the documentation by the early childhood educators. And how meaningful the documentation was to parents and children.

Families and children value documentation as precious and worth saving when it is accessible and written in a narrative format. As one example, that promotes the strengths, dispositions and learning occurring for children. For some children, it is worthy enough to be tucked under their pillow!

Meaningful documentation is accessible
Accessible journals for children and families where they are prominently positioned and promoted

Authentic documentation of children’s learning becomes a living record of the child. It has the potential to showcase the educator’s unique role and insights into the child’s learning and development. Documentation should be written to engage children and their families when they listen or read. The narrative becomes a powerful source of communication.

Learning Stories are one approach that provide this potential.

“They are observations in everyday settings, designed to provide a cumulative series of qualitative ‘snapshots’ or written vignettes of individual children displaying one or more of the five target domains of learning disposition. The five domains of disposition are translated into actions: taking an interest, being involved, persisting with difficulty or uncertainty, expressing an idea or a feeling, and taking responsibility, or taking another point of view” (Carr, 2001, p 96, cited in Goodsir and Houghton, 2023, p 11).

Narrative approaches for meaningful documentation

Learning Stories have evolved as an approach at an international level. Whilst they have their own unique conventions of interpretations of the child’s dispositions linked to the narrative of the story, a short-term review and ‘what next?’ for learning, there are also other documentation approaches.

In Documenting Children’s Learning: Disrupting the myths (Goodsir and Houghton, 2023)  Kelly and I refer to a range of different observation methods. Including Ken Blaiklock’s (2010) design of learning notes (p 11) and teaching stories, weekly reflections, teacher reflections (p 13).

Narrative formats may or may not necessarily include a photograph. The important aspect is for the documentation to make children’s learning visible. And to consider how they either tell a story or capture the child’s dispositions and significance of the learning occurring.

For example, a photograph that ‘tells all’ with a simple caption stating, “We saw leadership in action today!” or “Persistence paid off. Toby finally made it to the top of the climbing frame!” demonstrate a child’s progress, ability and development. These too can be powerful and meaningful forms of documentation.

EYLF Learning Outcomes

It is important to link learning outcomes in documentation to:

However, I suggest a narrative and meaningful approach will be appreciated by families when it’s free of professional jargon.

Developmental aspects are knowledge the family are likely to already know.  Such as whether the child is left or right-handed for example.

When educators invite reciprocal feedback from families as co-contributors to their children’s learning, they are more likely to receive responses if documentation is user-friendly. Addressing the family with a question after explaining a child’s musical ability, for example, could be, “Have you noticed this at home?”.

Mutual collaboration with families on planning learning outcomes for children requires reflection and multiple perspectives for the next steps for the child. This supports pedagogical documentation.

What is pedagogical documentation?

In Goodsir and Houghton (2023, p 17) we cite Carol Anne Wien (2016, p 2) who explains that pedagogical documentation ”opens us up to relations and meanings that we have not thought to look for: this explanation of what we might learn to know and interpret is its gift to us.”

Although documentation contributes to the views of the child and their learning, the process can also be complex. For example, as Wien suggests, it opens us up to new ways of understanding a child or interpreting what is really going on. This can impact our decision-making about what to write or leave out.

Kelly Goodsir discusses how documentation can be wrought with tension and truths and how it’s interconnected with our practice in this blog.

Promoting intentional teaching in documentation

Meaningful documentation not only informs the educator of next steps in planning curriculum for learning outcomes for children. It also provides opportunities for promoting intentional teaching and the unique role educators have in planning environments that support children’s learning. In this blog, I point out the importance of promoting intentional teaching within documentation for making the educator’s practice visible.

Hard copy documentation versus electronic documentation

With the shift to electronic documentation by many educators, no parent would need to consider what the parent indicated with the given scenario if a house was on fire.

Technology has assisted educators with documentation processes.  Whilst there is no right or wrong way for either of these approaches, I suggest it’s a pedagogical decision within the setting you work in for which approach you adopt and what works best for the families in the context of your setting.

Questions for reflection of meaningful documentation

Let’s wrap us with a few questions to ask yourself about your documentation and how you could create more meaning within it.

  • How meaningful is your documentation?
  • In what ways does it engage children and families as an audience and for them to have a voice?
  • How does it inform ‘next steps’ in planning for extending the child’s learning and development?
  • Are your insights into the child’s strengths, dispositions and learning visible?
  • Is intentional teaching practice visible to families?


Australian Government Department of Education [AGDE] (2022). Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (V2.0). Australian Government Department of Education for the Ministerial Council.

Goodsir, K., and Houghton. A., (2023) Documenting Children’s Learning: Disrupting the myths, NSW: Teaching Solutions (Imprint of Essential Resources)

Ministry of Education, New Zealand (2017) Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga Te Whāriki He whāriki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa Early childhood curriculum

About the author

Anne Houghton’s 38 years in early childhood education include diverse roles and experiences. She worked as a kindergarten teacher for 32 years, then held various roles at Gowrie Victoria. These included working as a Kindergarten Cluster Management Coordinator, an Early Childhood Consultant in Resources and Advice, Trainer and Assessor of Diploma and Certificate 3 in Children’s Services and Professional Development Presenter.

Anne is also a published author of There Stood Our Dog, a children’s story book, illustrated by Craig Smith and co-author of three publications titled Engaging Families in your Early Childhood Services, Learning Environments: Inspiring Spaces, and Visible Learning in Family Day Care, funded through the Community Childcare Association of Victoria. Anne has had inspiring experiences presenting at conferences in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Japan and Malaysia. She has also worked as a casual research assistant in mentoring projects with the Bastow Institute and the University of Melbourne.

Anne now works as a sessional lecturer in the School of Education at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and as a presenter for Play Australia.

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