How do we know they are learning?

How do we know they are learning?

It’s one thing saying children learn through play, but it’s another thing trusting it. We’re compelled to look for the evidence. The evidence is right there. All we need to do is look.


Making progress

One purpose of documenting children’s learning is to be able to capture the progress in children learning.  The word progress can be defined as ‘the forward or onward movement toward a destination’. So with that definition in mind we have to think about what is the destination we are moving towards?

Te Whāriki aspiration provides us with that destination

 ” … that all children will grow up as competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging, secure in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society.”

Te Whāriki also provides us with the desired outcomes for our children

  • Mana atua = I have power over myself. I know my own strengths. I value my whakapapa.
  • Mana reo = I share my views. I ask for what I need. I express my ideas.
  • Mana auturoa = I explore the bigger world.
  • Mana tangata  I take care of others. I take leadership.
  • Mana whenua = This place is my turangawaewae. I join in.

Margaret Carr developed a notion of progress here as the ABCD framework – where the measure of progress involves four key elements – agency, breadth, continuity and distribution.

We can also think of progress in terms of learner identity and dispositions. We know children make progress when they

  • Stick at it longer
  • Become more adventurous with it
  • Master it
  • Become an expert in it
  • Teach it to others

Learning stories provide us a powerful tool to capture this learning. A learning story generally captures a moment in time to illustrate the child’s learning. A learning story can also capture a child’s learning over a longer period of time  – this will provide a holistic picture of the child as a learner. Below are three examples of what that might  look like.

A progress story focusing on the sparkling moments

A progress story focusing on the strands of Te Whariki

Or a progress story focusing on the threads of learning

End of session korero

In Playcentre the end of session korero is pounamu. It’s a time to stop and reflect, to connect, to share stories and to learn from each other. When thinking about documenting it, it’s a good idea to think about the purpose of the documentation. Why are you documenting this? What do you do with the information you documented? How are you going to use this information to do things differently for your tamariki?

When we document children’s learning we want it to be more like storytelling and less like  paperwork. We want it to be about the children rather than complying with requirements.

There is no right or wrong way of documenting the end of session korero. Try different things. Keep what you like and tweak what is not working. A key outcome of documenting the end of session korero is to capture the emergent play and learning interests.

This end of session is designed to focus on capturing emergent interests.

Good questions will help you to generate powerful conversations at the end of session.

Capturing the emergent interests on session helps us to make decisions about the next session.

See below examples of how centres document the emergent interests of the children’s play and learning.

Lincoln Playcentre keeps a session profile book for each of their sessions.

North Beach Playcentre captures the day’s learning as a mindmap.

Southbridge Playcentre notes the day’s play and learning on a white board.

River Downs Playcentre revamped their end of session evaluation form to capture the important emergent interests for the day.

I would love to see other creative ways of capturing the stories of the day.

Following an insect interest

Bug Hotel

One of the first things we did at the beginning of our insect interest was to make a Bug Hotel. Watch out for more details in not this coming Playcentre journal but the next one!

Our wonderful co-ordinator Sarah worked with the tamariki to put together the Bug Hotel. Here are her instructions:

How to Make a Bug Hotel

Find a wooden crate or box to hold the different materials. Gather together: bundles of sticks; logs with holes drilled into the ends; dried grasses; bundles of cabbage tree leaves tied into knots; old rotted wood; bark; dried leaves in an old plant pot; or any other natural materials that you have around and think that bugs could use to hide or nest, or hibernate in over winter. Put your materials in a sheltered spot out of the rain and direct sunshine.

The tamariki check the Bug Hotel every session and when they capture bugs they deliver them to the Bug Hotel to see if they want to stay a while. We have had spiders make their webs, centipedes running in and out visiting, beetles hiding under the leaves – just to name a few of our visitors!

The Bug Hotel has stimulated some wonderful discussions amongst the tamariki and has become a really interesting part of our centre.

This is the link to the Bug Mansion that we used as inspiration (slightly bigger than ours!)

Butterfly visit

We were lucky that the Canterbury Museum had a live Monarch Butterfly exhibit during our insect study. They were happy to host our centre on a weekend so all of our whanau could come along. It was a wonderful experience for the tamariki – their faces were just filled with awe at all the butterflies crawling all over them.

Emerging into beautiful butterflies

The tamariki have all been so interested in the lifecyle of the monarch butterflies. We have made wonderful links with home learning as most children have swan plants at home. We wondered what it felt like inside a cocoon and thought that the only way to find out was to try it! We wrapped up the kids and they burst out of the cocoon as beautiful butterflies.

Planning to extend the insect interest

This a copy of the planning sheet that we used to extend the children’s interest. It was very easy to plan under these headings and we displayed this on our interest board to encourage everyone to contribute ideas and share awareness of what we were doing.

Insect boxes from Science Alive

We hired insect cases from Science Alive. These were really good value at $5 each per week. They stimulated lots of discussion and let kids have close up views of insects that are harder to see/catch and the insects at different stages of their life cycles.

Field journals

We created a field journal for the tamariki to record their fantastic insect finds and encouraged them to take a photo of the insect and draw a picture of the insect. They really liked filling in their field journal after a great catch (just like Diego!).

Jessica Hey, Rolleston Playcentre