Over the last decade, the expectations placed on services and educators appear to have grown rapidly. There are curricula and risk assessments and critical reflections and quality improvement plans. So, I guess it is only natural that we seek out ways to reduce that paperwork, to limit the time spent in the office and maximise our time engaging with children (you know – the reason we chose to work in this profession in the first place!) I am all for streamlining processes and making things simpler – the old saying “work smarter, not harder” certainly rings true, yet I worry that in our attempts to do so, we may be missing out on some important opportunities for professional learning and growth.
When I first started back in early childhood some seventeen years ago, “box programming” was the norm. Almost every early education and care service used some form of template that outlined the activities to be provided in each area of the room or outdoor space. They had headings such as “fine-motor” or “sand pit” and there were spaces to fill in and items to tick off. If they were fancy, these box programs had colour coding or some other system to make it “easier” to ensure that all areas or children had been programmed for. It was a pretty simple system to follow. And I hated it.
Why did I hate it? It was supposed to make it easy. All I had to do was fill in the boxes.
My challenge was that it was so incredibly prescriptive that it left no room for spontaneity or creativity. It left no room to share a narrative or make connections.
While I believe that for the most part, we as a sector have moved away from this structured, formatted approach to programming, I do see an increase in apps and programs that utilise the “cut and paste” feature. Say, for example, I write a story about a group of children building with the blocks. At the end of that story I can open a tab with each of the EYLF Learning Outcomes listed and just drag and drop something that feels like it connects to my story. Is there anything inherently wrong with that? Well, I’m not sure. On the one hand, the ability to save precious time is wildly appealing – we want educators with the children, not stuck in the office or staff room typing up learning outcomes. On the other hand, I fear that it may be creating educators who are not truly connecting to the EYLF and to theories and ideas that may underpin their practice, programs and observations of children’s play and discovery. I worry that in our attempts to take the short-cut, we may be missing the joy of the journey.
What if instead of asking for an EYLF Cheat Sheet we spent some time reading the framework or debating its content with our colleagues?
What if instead of instead of using a ready-made summative assessment sheet with tick boxes of “Katy can hop on one foot” or “Katy is learning to share”, we actually told a story of the child’s time in our care, highlighting their deep learning moments, their friendships and connections, their growth and moments of wonder?
What might we learn about ourselves? What might we learn about children? What might we be inspired to wonder?
While it might be tempting to take the short cut (and let’s be honest – in some instances it just makes sense and may be a better option than reinventing the wheel), we need to remember that quality will always trump quantity. If we want our documentation to be authentic, from the heart and to truly capture the amazing moments of children – we need to stop looking for the short cut, slow down and enjoy the journey, and take note of the personal/professional learning and growth that occurs when we do exactly that.