How we document – Albury Out of School Hours

Educator Will Nichols , Tilly Mitchener and other Children votingV2This month, Cathy Northam, Director of Albury Out of School Hours (OOSH) writes about her team’s innovative approach to documentation, reminding us there are many ways to approach this responsibility.

My colleagues and I had a light bulb moment when we sat down to review the documentation policy for our service. We felt the diverse and transient nature of out of school hours care required a different approach to the documentation framework used in long day care.

We asked ourselves: What does documentation in OOSH look like? Is what we record relevant and how can we improve it?

Once we stopped to think about the ‘how’ and ‘why’, we were able to identify a method of documentation that works for our children and their families.

At Albury OOSH we have a strong focus on respecting children’s rights, particularly a child’s right to have an opinion and be heard, and a child’s right to privacy. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child underpins our work and we consult with both children and families on documentation requirements.

Children at Albury OOSH can choose how to document their time here and if they don’t want to participate in projects, they are free to tell us. We do this by formal discussions, conference and democratic voting. These processes allow the children’s voices to be heard.

So, how do we meet our NQF requirements and honour our children’s rights? This is a question that we continue to think hard about as we change, refine and develop new ways of encouraging children’s growth while ensuring we document our own journey and show the meaningful collaboration, documentation and reflective practice.

Our approach

Taking a holistic view of each child and what they bring to OOSH is fundamental in how we support them. Our current documentation process consists of the following practices:

  • Use of a staff-only diary that documents significant events for individual children each day. This usually relates to social and emotional development. Each Friday we discuss the entries of three or four children and work on consistent strategies for the team and individual child. We also focus on opportunities for “teachable moments” as outlined in My Time Our Place. We’ve found this helps us in communicating with families around how to support their child.
  • Once or twice a term we document a learning story (as described in the My Time Our Place Educators’ Guide). These are written in collaboration with the child and are a significant piece of documentation. We try to select and reflect something that has made educators and parents go ‘wow’. One example is the invention and self-umpiring of group games that the children run themselves. Another example is the ‘Welcome to OOSH’ Video Project. Read more about our video project below.
  • Our weekly reflective diary documents the children’s experiences from the week in text and photo form, linking to the Outcomes in My Time Our Place. An example is documenting the children in Year 5 supporting and playing with our new Kindergarten children. This may be the only thing we reflect for the week, but over a term we cover all the outcomes and most of the children.
  • Each year we have two celebrations that our children help organise – winter solstice and an end of year performance. The children plan and direct these events with our support. We document these events in a variety of ways, using art work, invitations, notices and video.

We also have art work, messages, projects and other historical works of the children displayed at our service. When they walk into Albury OOSH, children and families can see their changing lives reflected in our space.

If there is one last idea that may help other educators, it’s to reflect deeply on how and why you do things and note the children’s ideas and interests. Every service is unique. Remember to listen to the children’s opinions on what they feel is acceptable and how you can best document their time. If you can do this, then you will aid the success of your documentation plan.

Case Study: Welcome to OOSH video project

Cathy shares a learning story that captures the children’s creativity and develops their connection to Albury OOSH. 

The biggest project for the children has been the development of an orientation video to introduce new children to the service. We felt the children who start with us mid-year often receive less of an orientation experience than those who start at the beginning of the year.

Our Year 4 girls expressed a keen interest in drama and acting activities and were keen to get involved. They drafted a script and story board for how they saw the video working. They asked the other children what they thought was the most important thing to know ‘child to child’ about coming to OOSH.

The video covered everything that the girls scripted and a lot more. Overall, we recorded more than an hour of footage.

The children were very excited to see themselves in the video. They made small changes to make it more appealing to the target audience and everyone was amazed with the product.

The project supported the children’s interest in drama and video production, and linked to Outcome 4 in the Framework for School Age Care (page 32). Children were able to freely follow their interests, investigate their own ideas, take control and make their own choices. They demonstrated leadership and direction, and persevered with the task until they were satisfied with the finished product.

Documentation

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

Planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning has long been the topic of debate and discussion, certainly in the 30 years I have been involved in education and care.

The evidence of the value of documentation is clear, however a question that is often asked is, ‘How do we document, and how much is enough?’ One of the strengths of the National Quality Framework is how it emphasises the importance of documentation in promoting and extending children’s thinking, learning and development. It does not however, go into precise detail on how it should be done.

While templates may be helpful in organising information, the risk is that templates can also be limiting or sometimes cause unnecessary administrative burden. It is important to remember there are no mandated templates or programs for documenting, and for very good reason.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to documentation and educators are encouraged to explore a range of styles and methods to determine what works best for their children, families, service and community.

There are many ways to document children’s learning and the cycle of observing, planning, reflecting and evaluating. Some examples I have seen include reflective journals, photographs, videos, children’s work, observations, portfolios, narratives and learning stories to name a few.

It is important to review and reflect on why and what we are documenting. The Early Years Learning Framework (p. 17) and Framework for School Age Care (p. 16) identify the reasons we assess/evaluate children’s learning, development and participation. It is important to remember that it is not the amount of documentation or how colourfully it is presented, but rather how it is used to support children’s engagement, learning and development.

There are numerous resources available that explore the role of documentation and provide further insights and ideas on a diversity of ways to document. Enjoy your documentation journey and don’t forget to look back on your documentation to identify and celebrate the achievement and successes of your children, your families and your team.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Information sheet – Guidelines for documenting children’s learning

ACECQA – Forum panel discussion video – Incorporating cultural competence in everyday practice

ACECQA helps unlock the door on documentation

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Our National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone, looks at documenting learning, provides some pointers for educators and helps bust some of the surrounding myths.

The issue of planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning and the best ways of recording this cycle has been the subject of much debate and discussion during the more than two decades that I have been involved in children’s education and care.

We know from research and experience that documented plans, records of children’s assessments and evaluations can be effective strategies to promote and extend children’s thinking, learning and development.

One of the strengths of the approved learning frameworks[1], the National Quality Standard and related regulatory standards, is that while acknowledging the important role of documentation, they are not prescriptive about how it is done.

There are no mandated recipes or templates for documentation and for very good reason. Recognising the uniqueness of each service, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and educators are empowered to explore a range of styles and methods to determine what works best for their children, families, services and community.

This approach recognises the professionalism of the sector and allows educators to focus their energies on documentation that supports quality outcomes for children.

I recently visited a colleague delivering a kindergarten program in regional Victoria, and saw first-hand the professionalism, dedication and commitment to the children and their families. We spoke for many hours about the kindergarten program, the policies, the environment and the nature garden, the support for children and families provided by her team of dedicated and caring educators and committee members, among many other things.

We also discussed the challenges of balancing the need to document with our key focus of interacting and engaging with children and extending their learning. We agreed on a number of things relating to documentation that included:

  • Documentation is an important part of our work with children and families, not just because it is a requirement
  • Children’s voices and ideas should be captured in planning, documentation and evaluation
  • Even experienced educators need to try different methods to find what is realistic, achievable and relevant for the children, families, educators, the setting and establish some benchmarks that are regularly reviewed
  • We need to be selective in what we choose to document, because it is not possible to capture all of the rich experiences and learnings that occur every day
  • We need to share our documentation efforts and experiences, and continue to learn, grow and develop
  • We need to constantly review and remind ourselves why we are documenting and for whom
  • We need to be clear about what the standards, learning frameworks and, if relevant, the funding agreements are asking us to do, as there are a number of myths emerging.

We also agreed that being open, honest and critically reflective in our self-assessment process and work helps to identify strengths in this area as well as identifying areas that need focus. This helps in identifying and informing families, other educators and professionals and authorised officers, how your documentation meets requirements and promotes each child’s learning and development.

My colleague’s service has just been assessed and rated and I was not surprised to learn they had received an overall rating of Exceeding National Quality Standard. The team are highly reflective educators and the authorised officer would have no doubt observed this in the assessment process.

So let’s revisit why we need to document, look at how services are going with this quality area, unpack some of the myths, explore the place of templates and programs, think about what the authorised officers might be looking for in an assessment visit and consider what resources are available to assist.

Why do we need to document?

Gathering and analysing information about what children know, can do and understand is part of the ongoing cycle that includes planning, documenting and evaluating children’s learning. It helps educators (in partnership with children, families and other professionals) to:

  • Plan effectively for children’s current and future learning
  • Communicate about children’s learning and progress
  • Determine the extent to which all children are progressing in their learning outcomes and if not, what might be impeding their progress
  • Identify children who may need additional support in order to achieve particular learning outcomes, providing that support or assisting families to access specialist help
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of learning opportunities, environments, and experiences offered, and the approaches taken to enable children’s learning
  • Reflect on pedagogy that will suit this context and these children.[2]

How are services performing against Quality Area 1 – Educational Program and practice?

The sector is to be congratulated for embracing the National Quality Framework (NQF) and the dedication and commitment shown to promoting positive outcomes for children and families.

While recent NQF Snapshot data shows most assessed and rated services are either Meeting or Exceeding the NQS in Quality Area 1 about 30 per cent are Working Towards NQS in this quality area.

This is recognised as the area where services require most support and ACECQA’s recent regulatory burden research has shown that documenting learning, although extremely valuable, is seen as one of the more time consuming aspects of the NQF.

Unpacking the myths

There are a number of myths circulating about the expectations for documentation, and the best way to do this is to number plans and records or to colour code them. For example, it is a myth that you need to write a report on every child, every day.

Another is that links must be drawn to the quality areas in plans and documentation, and the best way to do this is to number plans and research or to colour code them.

There are a number of websites (including ACECQA and Early Childhood Australia) and newsletter articles (for example Rattler editions 108 and 109) that de-bunk or bust these myths that you may want to review.

Do I need a template or a program to follow?

There are no mandated templates or programs for documenting children’s learning or educational experiences.

While templates and programs may be a helpful way to organise information, there is a risk that they can be limiting and as Wendy Shepherd, Director of Mia Mia Child and Family Centre at Macquarie University suggests in a recent article in the Autumn 2014 edition of Rattler magazine, there are no shortcuts and the complex process of documentation should not be reduced to a simple ‘fill-in-box’.

The reality is that mandating a certain way of documenting, for example the number of observations you must take of each child, would limit your ability to be creative in documenting the richness in the program and children’s learning.

There are many ways to document children’s learning and the cycle of observing, planning, reflecting and evaluating. Some examples I have seen include reflective journals, photographs, videos, children’s work, observations, portfolios, narratives and learning stories to name a few.

The key thing to remember is that it is not the amount of documentation you have, or how immaculately or colourfully the information is presented, it is how the documentation is used to do all those things mentioned previously, such as planning effectively for children’s current and future learning and communicating about the children’s learning and progress.

What is the authorised officer looking for when they are assessing and rating?

The authorised officer will observe, discuss and sight supporting documentation to identify examples and evidence that your service is meeting the requirements. So it is important to be prepared by thinking about how you would talk about your documentation and what you particularly would like to show and discuss to demonstrate how you are meeting the requirements.

The Guide to the National Quality Standard provides examples, however, it is important to remember that the examples provided are not a checklist, but rather ‘paint a picture’ of what is expected at the Meeting National Quality Standard level.

Are there resources and examples of documentation available?

Many educators have generously shared their thoughts and ideas about documentation. For example, the Early Childhood Australia Professional Learning Program includes a number of newsletters that explore documentation and provide examples.

Another example can be found in the previously mentioned edition of Rattler where teachers from Mia Mia share examples of their documentation.

In addition, the Inclusion and Professional Support Program (IPSP) online library also includes resources, and the Professional Support Co-ordinator in each state and territory provide professional development and support in this area. Your peak organisation is also likely to have resources and professional development available to assist you.

As well as the learning frameworks the Early Years Learning Framework in Action and relevant Educator’s Guides are useful resources.

Enjoy your documentation journey and don’t forget to look back on your documentation to identify and celebrate the achievement and successes of your children, your families and your team. 

For more information on documentation please visit:

This article was originally published in the Early Learning Association Australia’s Preschool Matters magazine.

[1]The Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care and in Victoria, the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework

[2] Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care (p.17)

Jindi Woraback’s QIP encourages children to contribute

This week on We Hear You, Michelle Walker, Director of Jindi Woraback Children’s Centre, tells us about their Quality Improvement Plan and how they incorporate into their daily program. 

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ACECQA is a girl with a blue face, red and pink hair, pink arms and a green body and legs. She likes to eat fruit, ride her bike, read books and draw.

This is ‘ACECQA child’, the newest addition to Jindi Woraback Children’s Centre (Jindi Woraback) in Victoria.

During the process of reflection whilst developing our Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), we decided to develop a visual QIP that would involve the children, educators and families.

After our assessment and rating visit, we wanted to ensure we were continuously working on our QIP.

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Proudly we received Exceeding in all seven quality areas, which meant we needed a plan of ‘where to next?’

Our visual QIP was placed in a common area, which became a meeting place of ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming’ where children, educators and families could share their stories.

ACECQA child was developed to encourage the children to contribute to the QIP at anytime and for the children and their families to drive its development.

We see children as the directors of the service and our children determine what we do and as educators one of our roles is to facilitate this.

I thought ‘ACECQA’ sounded like a child’s name, so we began by talking with our children about ACECQA being lost and that if they shared with each other what we like doing at Jindi Woraback then maybe she will come and join us.

The children decided what ACECQA looked like and what she liked doing. We then built ACECQA child, which was introduced during group time.

Now ACECQA lives in the room with the children, moves from activity to activity, joins in our Friday Kinder Sports program and has her own portfolio for children to contribute their observations of what ACECQA likes to do while at Jindi Woraback.

She is a vessel for the children to be able to have their say as they tell us what they want.

ACECQA child has been a way to introduce ACECQA to the children and families and make their QIP fun and interactive as well as reduce paperwork.

The children drive the QIP and rather than the educators going away to make notes we involve the children.

No one is telling us to do mountains of paperwork so we try to think of ways to reduce the paperwork.

Now ACECQA is discussed everyday, so rather than just turning up when we have our assessment and rating, the educators, children and families are comfortable because they are working with it all the time, and we can all just enjoy the process.

Zac takes ACECQA out to play outside.
Zac takes ACECQA out to play outside.