What is a learning story?

A ‘learning story’ is a written story by educators or a child’s family based on observation and documentation of an individual child or a group of children. The learning story format is always narrative. The learning story process involves teachers watching and listening to children while they are in their care.

There is no limit to the length of the written story. The writing may be one paragraph, one page or even longer. A learning story generally is focused on a specific incident, but it can also be snapshots of a child’s life over a specific period.

Learning stories can also focus on a group activity such as visiting a fire station or going for a walk. Educators should tell a story that depicts what they hear, see and know, as well as what they are able to interpret from the child’s activities.

The educator becomes the “storyteller”, telling the story from a first-person perspective. Educators can use learning stories to interpret the child’s body language, thoughts and feelings to add value to the learning process. When the educator sees the child’s skills develop or improve, these can also be noted and included in the story.

Usually, the early childhood teacher takes at least one photo or a video to support the learning story and these are shared with the families. The goal of a learning story is to highlight children’s learning progress, what they can do and are doing (instead of what they cannot).

A collection of learning stories of one child is commonly called a portfolio. A child’s portfolio is similar to a traditional photograph album but it contains more than just images. It may include comments and reflections from the child, child’s family and early childhood education service participants.

The physical form of a child’s portfolio can be a book or folder.  Videos, voice recordings and images may also be loaded directly to an online e-portfolio.

Educator and child learning

Online portfolios

With digital technology saturating our daily lives, the popularity of electronic portfolios has increased. Digital portfolios are enabling faster documentation of children’s activities, progress and development. It allows educators to upload their written stories and observations online together with photos, videos, learning stories, descriptions, reflections, ideas, questions and analysis.

Increased communication with families is one of the many benefits of using digital portfolios. Sharing with families has been faster, and daily engagement is more instant too. Family input can be gathered easier since parents and carers are included and more involved in the child’s learning journey. Extended family living far away can catch up on a child’s growth through these digital learning stories.

A digital portfolio requires investing in software. In addition to ensuring ease of use and efficiency for users, confidentiality and safety must be top considerations as well.

It is important that the platform is quick and reliable, allowing educators to observe, plan, and share with families. Software should be flexible enough to be customised for each individual user.

Paper portfolios

Traditional or paper portfolios are the original form of the early childcare portfolio and are usually handmade by educators. A tangible portfolio has a charm in its own way. It is a physical record of all the child’s interests, child’s play, and the children’s learning adventures.

A child can develop a strong sense of ownership towards the portfolio since it contains the child’s activities, original work, drawings and writings. They can also personalise their portfolio by decorating or adding personal touches to it.

A paper portfolio is something physical that the child can hold onto. It promotes a more collaborative relationship between the educator and the child. The child can also take home their portfolio each day or during the weekend to share with parents and family members. It can be used as a prompt to discuss the experiences and learning, to re-read their learning stories and re-visit what the child has been learning in the childcare service.

They can look at their portfolios without the need to turn on a computer or a digital device. They can review learning stories about them, and reflect on the written story about their past moments, activities, learning and development.

It is something a child can be proud of and share with their friends or a group of children their age. It gives them a sense of pride and agency. Later on, when they look back at the written stories about them, they’ll have a delightful reminder and memory refresher of their time in ECE. 

Either way, both paper and online portfolios are valuable and critical to the documentation of a child’s learning. It will be helpful in planning, learning, process and communication

Child and educator doing learning activities

Importance and purpose of a learning story

Assess early learning development

A learning story is extremely useful in an early childhood programme. Writing a learning story allows teachers to identify developmental milestones and measure their implications to the progress of a particular child. Learning stories give educators an opportunity to focus on a child’s competencies and behaviour.

It is very important for the educators to have a good memory since a learning story takes time to write and they only have time to develop it at a later date after the event or during teacher’s non-contact time. Having an accurate memory will help the educators write good stories and share a precise account of what happened.

Teachers also need focus and time to get to know the individual child they are writing a learning story on otherwise the risk increases of incorrect assumptions and interpretation being attributed to the child’s behaviour, language and learning.

Understand children’s perspective

Writing a learning story is driven by a genuine interest in understanding children’s interests and lived experiences. By knowing these, teachers, families and children have the power to enhance the learning journey.

Educators can use their observations and assessments written on the learning story to have a smarter and more effective future planning for their curriculum.

Family engagement through learning story

When an educator is able to capture what happened in the childcare centre, parents can see their child’s progress, the challenges and the wins. The child’s story can help their families find ways to encourage and empower them at home. In addition, these stories will be delightful memories children and their families can look back on for years to come.  

Children learning in childcare

Learning stories in the EYLF

Several guiding principles help shape the way children in Australia play, learn and socialize. The framework was written with the idea of all children belonging, being and becoming.

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) is a national guide for early childhood educators. Its principles are developed based on research with strong evidence that the first five years of a child’s education are crucial to their success in life. This is why being able to document and write about the progress and growth of a child during their early years is very important.

Learning stories were introduced by Margaret Carr in 2001 in her book “Assessment in Early Childhood Settings: Learning Stories” and further expanded upon in “Learning Stories: Constructing Learner Identities in Early Education” by Margaret Carr and Wendy Lee.

Educators write a learning story based on their observation of a child. A learning story contains what an educator sees, hears, knows and interprets. They may include contributions from the child, the child’s family and other stakeholders.

Early childhood educators use EYLF planning cycle. It is a process of professional observation, planning and evaluation to help develop high-quality early childhood programme. This cycle is often referred to as the five steps of the planning cycle.

The five steps of the planning cycle are:

Observe – the educator looks after a child to gather information, they can take note of their observations and write them in a learning story format

Analyse – Based on the learning story they’ve written, the educator will analyse what learning and development is taking place to make meaning of what has been observed.

Plan – having a learning story can be helpful in planning the next steps that will support the learning and development of the child.

Act/Do – implementation of the plan

Reflect – analyse end evaluating the effectiveness of the plan

Finding the right childcare

Choosing the right childcare for your child plays a significant role in their learning, development, and overall wellbeing. There are many considerations, maybe you’re the kind of parent who wants to be as involved as possible in the early years learning of your child. You can look closer at how the childcare centre create stories or document learning stories of children in their care. Whatever your non-negotiables are, keep in mind that finding the right care for your child is an important step towards achieving a healthy and bright future for them.

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