Let them tell their own story!
Well, on the weekend I had the chance to see it in action in my own family! We headed to the lake for some lunch and outdoor play. As usual I was armed with my camera, taking photographs of my children and the natural environment. As my almost 6 year old balanced on nearby logs I snapped away, documenting his skill development as he became more and more confident. I took photographs of him and his sister developing their own game with magic wands, mentally documenting the learning occurring (yep, that instinct never leaves you!!)
A short while later he asked if he could use my camera. He carefully put the strap around his neck and took some “happy snaps” of the family before wandering off to explore and take more photographs. When I put my card into the computer that afternoon I was surprised to see some of the photos he had taken, to see what had been meaningful for him that day.
“These were the rocks I was throwing into the water. I was seeing how far out I could throw them and I got one out a really long way… like a hundred metres!”
“I found this feather. I think it belongs to a Cockatoo, but I didn’t want to take it home in case the Cockatoo came back looking for it, so I left it here where it could see it.”
“There was lots of boats heading out to race and this bird…its a Pelican I think, was flying around this one. I watched it for ages and it kept doing circles”
I had recorded what he was doing, what he was saying, how he was playing.
He recorded what he was seeing, how he was feeling and what he was experiencing. What was meaningful to him.
While our role as an observer, interpreter, anecdotist (a term used by Vivian Gussin Paley) and documenter is incredibly valuable in understanding children’s play and development and building a picture of their knowledge, skills and personality, we can’t underestimate the power of handing documentation over to the child. In allowing them to document their own experiences and learning, be it through photographs or sketches or telling us a story, we gain an even greater insight into their thinking.
Vivian Gussin Paley in her book The Boy on The Beach (this was the first book for our Book Club), encourages children to dictate their play scenes to her as she records them word for word. It is during these times that we gain a greater insight as to why a small group of children insists on playing “kittens” in the home corner each day, an insight into the roles taken by each child, an insight to the goings on in their lives and minds, those things that have the ability to subtly or obviously impact on their play.
Documentation of children’s learning doesn’t need to be pretty or perfect. The photos may be blurry or the words not quite right, but the meaning… it is just there! We spend hours searching for meaning in our observations of children and by no means do I suggest that we stop doing that – it is a huge part of why we do what we do and not only gives us insight into an individual child, but into children and play in a broader sense. What I do think though is that instead of always searching for the meaning, let children tell their own story. Hand over the camera, open your ears and document what is really meaningful to the child!
~ Nicole Halton ~