“Documentation invites inquiry about the children’s thinking and invites predictions about effective teaching… Documentation is a research report used to enhance discourse rather than a record of a past event,” (Forman and Fyfe, pp. 245-246).
Documenting children at work is the basis for direction and guide to learning. It’s fluid. It’s an exchange of ideas. It’s a conversation that keeps going even after a culminating event. It depends on the interest and motivation of the child. The child is essentially the leader and I am her guide, her facilitator, her partner in learning.
The Reggio Emilia Approach to learning strives to mobilize a child’s passions. Requirements, on the other hand, are meant to move children towards standards and compliance (Wagner 2002). Margaret Wheatley describes this best in Learning Together with Young Children, “The best in life comes from a center, something urgent and powerful, an ideal or emotion that insists on its being. From that insistence a shape emerges and creates its structure out of passion. If you begin with a structure, you have to make up the passion, and that’s very hard to do,” (p. 174).
And how do children “work” best? Their work is their play. The word “play” has a negative connotation in America. “Free Time,” “Choice Time” and “Free Play” are common phrases used in child care, preschool and early elementary settings. Many parents and teachers see the word “play” and think it’s a chaotic time of fun for kids where no real direction or learning takes place. The traditional approach sees Free Play or Free Choice Time as a break from the curriculum (Curtis & Carter, 2011). Play Advocates know better.
When children play they are exploring, hypothesizing, imagining, tinkering, inventing and reinventing. They are learning what it’s like to be innovative… if we let them, if we encourage them, if we help guide and provoke their interests deeper, WE learn how young children’s minds function like scientists at work. Those examples do not even include social emotional development occurring through play! During play children are also sharing and exchanging ideas, problem solving, learning flexibility, resolving conflict, self regulation and executive functioning skills to name a few!
This process of recording, whether it be through note taking, audio recording, video, or photographs is HOW we document. We are capturing the process, valuing the process and continuing the conversation to make learning more meaningful. Critical thinking and innovators of the future are the result. But don’t be tempted into thinking educating young children as only preparing for the future. If you only see through those lenses, you are, as Deb Curtis and Margie Carter put it, “…in danger of overlooking who children really are– the truths they speak, the lessons they offer you, and the gift they are to your humanity,” (p.3).
Documenting involves intellectual engagement where we ask questions the children are genuinely curious about, rather than questions that test for correct answers. When children (and teachers and parents or caregivers) are intellectually engaged, they have a quest for understanding; their minds are lively, curious, puzzling things out, predicting, testing theories, and drawing conclusions, including who and what is worth learning about (Curtis & Carter, 2011). We use documentation to enhance learning, support experiences and deepen understandings. “Findings in brain development and early childhood learning theory demonstrate that children thrive and learn within the context of loving relationships. Children grow when curriculum activities are meaningful and geared to their interests and developmental and cultural needs. They reach new understandings as a result of attentive adults who scaffold their learning,” (Curtis & Carter, p.14). They develop positive self-esteem, social skills, and confidence when family life and culture are part of their everyday learning at home or in the classroom. In my case, we strive to accomplish this at home while homeschooling using the Reggio Emilia Approach.
This mindset for the “young child” shouldn’t change for the growing child, or teenager. As a child grows and becomes school age, this approach can still be implemented and the educational standards of our American culture can still be met. In other words, YES, an Emergent Reflective Curriculum that is Child-Centered is possible! Play always serves a purpose. At times we know the purpose and other times your child will show you the purpose. The Reggio Emilia Approach focuses on process and investigation rather than products and cliche’s. It emphasizes HOW children learn more than WHAT they learn.
Hopefully the Everything In Joy Blog will be an example of what this looks like at home. My hope is for this blog to encourage you, challenge you, and nurture a deeper connection and relationship with your child. May everything you do, including documentation be rooted in love and joy.