Documentation as an act of love

Documentation within the context of today’s Early Childhood settings have often been detached from the meaning and context from which it was born. Whether it is learning stories, or the documentation of planning and assessment within the classroom, these are often viewed as chores and ‘tick box’ exercises rather than the lifeblood of our learning within the community. 

Documentation display at House of Wonder in Hamilton of children designing their own huts

Documentation display at House of Wonder in Hamilton of children designing their own huts

Recently I have been grappling with different language in the hope to provide a fresh perspective on what documentation actually is and why it can be the greatest tool we have for heartfelt teaching.

When I think about my childhood there are some distinct memories that stand out. One that I often remember is my 4th birthday party. I remember our garage being set up with tables and plates for each of my friends. I also remember ‘Oros’ man, a somewhat scary orange “mascot “ who turned up to scare... I mean entertain me and my friends. I also remember one particular moment very clearly – my Dad asking me “what was your favourite thing about the party?” Like many four year olds I replied (in Afrikaans my native tongue) “the cake and the lollies!” It has recently dawned on me however that this moment, which has etched itself into my long term memory bank, may very well have been a construct of photos, videos and family reflections about the event rather than the actual event itself.

Dad loved technology and we are lucky that we have tonnes of video taken on his very fancy VHS home video camera that was the size of a brick. Mum was always there to supplement with photos. These cues have often lead to discussion, including good humorous reflections of the event and some nostalgic feelings of ‘that time in our lives.’

As I reflected on the power of documenting our lives and feeling rather incompetent in the job I have done in doing the same for my children (social media may be my saviour here!), I had a new realisation on how powerful documenting a moment can be. By documenting a moment you give it the power to shape the stories we tell about our tribe and help us understand who we are within that tribe. My personal identity has been formed by looking back at some of the amazing footage my family captured of my childhood and reflecting together on what that means for me as a member of our tribe. To this day when I hear the Cat Stevens song ‘Wild World,’ I struggle to hold back the tears because it reminds me of a home movie my Dad made of us hiking through the African bush (a favourite weekend pass time as a family). Documenting a moment allows it to live beyond the confines of time and space. It allows that moment the opportunity to become an integral part of our identity, our sense of self and our story

Documentation of children designing their houses for animals at House of Wonder in Hamilton

Documentation of children designing their houses for animals at House of Wonder in Hamilton

It is this thought that has renewed my excitement for authentic documentation within our settings. Stripped bare of the ‘have to’s’ and ‘guidelines,’ documentation can once again takes its rightful place as the collective story teller of our tribe. It can serve as the vehicle for relationships and learning to dive deeper within a community. It can allow moments captured to become stories told and retold. Allowing it to live beyond the moment and inviting the community of storytellers to find themselves reflected within it.

We live in a generation who have become experts in documenting their lives. Social Media platforms have allowed us to capture a moment and publish it to the world, allowing others (strangers, friend or foes!) to know who we are, how we think and what we love by simply viewing our documentation. In the same way sharing documentation about a moment of learning you have captured, whether it’s a print or digital, provides an opportunity for that moment to become deeply meaningful.   Add to this documentation the language the children were using (child’s voice), and your honest reflection or interpretation of what was happening, and all of the sudden the tribe can now be part of finding the richness in that moment which otherwise would have been lost forever.

Documenting events in my childhood through photos and videos allowed my Mum to pull out the album and tell me the stories of what had happened. It served as a que for fireside chats. It was an entry point for discussion about the deeper meaning of the moment. It helped me reflect on who I was and who I want to be. It helped me shape my identity and significantly reinforced my sense of belonging within my tribe.

This is why I believe documentation within our early childhood centres, in whatever form it takes, is an act of love we can partake in as teachers. Through the telling and retelling of stories and collective interpretation of what those moments mean, we can shape the story of our tribe in our centres and create places embedded in love and belonging.


Author - Rick Fourie