What is Documentation and Why is it Important? 

By Magn Wakeham & Chelsey Gulsvig

Documentation has the potential to serve many purposes during children’s learning experiences. When defining documentation, we must think of it as a process, “a systematic act of collecting, interpreting and reflecting on concrete traces of learning” (Gambetti). Documentation typically includes samples of the children’s work, photographs of the children engaged in the project work, and comments and transcripts of conversations. Documentation supports the teachers in their reflective planning and teaching practices when they use it as a cycle with emergent curriculum and our developmental assessment tools.  High-quality documentation of children’s work and ideas contributes to the quality of our CDLS program in many ways:

1. It Makes The Children’s Learning Visible 

By providing evidence of learning in all areas of their development through photographs, transcripts of conversations, and artifacts of their work displayed, we can visibly see the learning process. Learning is purposeful, social, representational, empowering, and emotional.

2. It Enhances Children’s Learning

Loris Malaguzzi points out, through documentation children, “become even more curious, interested, and confident as they contemplate the meaning of what they have achieved” (Malaguzzi, 1993). By preparing and displaying evidence of the children’s learning experiences, the children can re-visit their experience and work which allows their understanding to create more in-depth thinking, questioning, and dialogue. It’s a creative process, the mistakes, the rethinking and execution of new plans, and “owning” the experiences and discoveries that promote critical thinking, problem-solving skills, conceptual development, and a sense of mastery.

3. It Encourages Parent Participation and Collaboration

There are many ways we involve parents to contribute to their children’s projects after examining documentation:

  1. By listening to their thoughts and ideas
  2. By helping them to collect materials 
  3. By helping them record their ideas on paper
  4. By making suggestions
  5. By reading with their child about the topic they’re interested in.

4. It Respects the Value of a Child’s Work

Displaying the children’s work, efforts, ideas, and learning in a beautiful and respectful way supports our value in children to be capable, thoughtful, and creative. Taking children’s ideas and work seriously conveys to them that their efforts, intentions, and ideas are taken seriously. Children will also take their work seriously which encourages them to work in a responsible, joyful, and dedicated way. 

5. It Helps Teacher Planning and Assessment

Teachers use documentation to continuously plan based on evidence in documentation as work progresses through an emergent curriculum. Teachers use the documentation to dialogue between ideas, thoughts, and new possibilities with children during their work. Planning decisions can be made based on what individuals or groups of children have found interesting, stimulating, or challenging. The documentation provides ongoing reflective planning and evaluation as the teaching team uses all three components [documentation, assessment, and curriculum] as a system to extend learning and development.