Learning Stories in Childcare

Learning Stories in Childcare

Since the dawn of time we have used stories to inform, engage and educate. Teachers and early educators are now using learning stories to help with the assessment and education process.  So, what is a learning story and how does it differ from the formal assessment process or a normal story for that matter?

What is a Learning Story:

A learning story is the process of documenting a child’s progress in a storytelling format. Essentially the learning story recognises and describes the child’s learning processes through play. The narrative may include many details and describe how events unfold and how a child interacts with others during that process. It is an engaging and informative model that does not have the rigid structure and formality of many list based assessments.

One of the key differences of  a learning story compared to observational assessments is that the focus is on what the child can do rather than what they cannot do. The story focuses on exactly what the child does. This assessment tool can then be used to target future activities that will enhance the child’s core strengths and assist further development.

The Format of a Learning Story

The  learning story format is quite simple. It has three key components- the story itself, analysis of the story and future learning opportunities. Often, the story features the child as the hero or central character. Photos can often be used to illustrate the key components of the story in a visual way.

How Learning Stories can Impact Childcare

The potential for learning stories to have a positive effect upon learning outcomes in childcare is huge. Here are eight ways that learning stories can impact childcare:

  • They help to develop a child’s sense of identity. The story gives the child a framework from which to understand what they’re doing and how they are learning. This, in turn, will instill a greater sense of self and build curiosity about learning further concepts that interest them.
  • Increase parental engagement via the medium of story. The story format is a great way to illustrate the education process in action and helps to personalize the educator’s connection to the child. The process by its nature is inclusive and encourages parental interaction with the educator /carer.  Families are more likely to feel engaged in their child’s care.
  • Helps to broaden the child’s sense of perspective. Giving them an insight into what they’re learning through the eyes of others. This perspective can help them to grow to love learning.
  • Helps to improve a carer’s observational skills. Rather than provide any old anecdote about a child’s growth, the carer has to commit to noticing the individual child as they progress through the year. This observation will allow them to write meaningful and helpful learning stories.
  • Improve the child’s sense of self-worth rather than completing checklists which are deficit oriented. The learning story places the child as a central character who can impact the world in a positive way. This strategy empowers the child to see themselves as important and capable of affecting meaningful change.
  • It gives the carer permission to personalise their interaction with the child. Early education is personal and vital. The learning story format empowers the carer / teacher / educator  to convey precisely how they feel about a child’s learning
  • It makes the teaching learning and assessment process seamless as the story format encourages input from all parties and is done in a non judgemental way.
  • Creates an entire portfolio of the child’s early learning progress. While traditional observation and assessment models tend to be filed away and forgotten the learning story format encourages celebration of learning and achievement.

Learning Story Examples in Childcare

a family of 3 read a child's learning story together on a brown couch

A sample of learning stories in action and how they are pieced together are listed below:

Observation:
Tony approached his friend who was playing with blocks. “Can I play blocks with you”. He helped his friend to stack blocks side by side. “Let’s make this a garage, we can put cars inside” Tony said. Tony kept stacking the blocks and building the garage. “Our garage is great,” he said when finished.

Analysis:

This observation indicates that Tony is prepared to and capable of engaging in shared play experiences and engaging in acceptable childcare behaviour – Tony helped his companion to stack blocks side by side.  Tony has also demonstrated  that he understands  the contributions he makes to shared experiences – “Let’s make a garage ” “Our garage is great”.

Follow up /Further Opportunities:

To follow up and  further encourage Tony’s experience we will support his interest by introducing him to pattern blocks with pattern cards for him to follow.

While this may seem a simple matter  it can be extremely powerful but how do you  put it  into practice yourself?

Try it yourself – How to Write a Learning Story

It is helpful to have photos of the child during the experience.  The photo offers visual stimuli  and you can simply write your commentary below each photo. Be careful to avoid the trap of writing captions beneath each photo. This is a story that needs to be told…

Commence your story by talking about the events that led up to the event itself. It is best to use the first person  tense, as this makes it more personal – for example I observed. The use of “I” makes the entire process more personal and engaging.

An example of your introduction may read a little bit like this:

Recently Amanda has been identifying  and recognising the different colours of the environment. I wanted to build on her understanding of colour by introducing her to colour mixing. So, I set up a paint easel outside together with 3 pots of yellow, blue and red paint.

After the introduction it is a matter of detailing what happened -describe what happened and include conversations and reactions. Amanda’s response could be detailed like this:

Amanda  watched me set up and commented “I like painting, can I paint please?”. She  walked over to the easel and paint-pots . I asked her what she wanted to paint. Amanda said “it’s a surprise”. She started painting by using blue paint to draw a circle on the piece of paper. On top of the blue circle Amanda confidently painted a red circle. Then she mixed the blue and red colours together. “I made purple, “she exclaimed then giggled to herself.

Beneath the circle, Amanda painted a yellow line then she painted blue over it “green, that’s the colour I want” she said. Next, Amanda used yellow paint to make a semi-circle around the original purple circle. Amanda walked over to me and said “I’m almost finished, want to see.” She was quite pleased and excited. Together, we walked over to look at her painting. She pointed to it. “ I painted this flower all by myself, ” she said. I congratulated her by saying “You did such a great job! I can see that you really concentrated to paint the perfect flower and you’ve done it,” I said.

Amanda smiled proudly and asked  “Can I hang it up so dad can see?. “Yes, do  you want to take it home” I asked. “No, not yet, I want to keep it here for now,” Amanda replied. I took Amanda’s painting and hung it on the drying rack. Before Amanda’s mum (Kevin) arrived, we found a spot next to the entrance  for her to hang the painting. When Kevin arrived, he walked over to Amanda “Hi Petal, I saw your lovely flower painting hanging by the door. It looks fantastic” he said. Amanda hugged her dad. “Thanks dad!”

Now that you’ve recorded the story you can provide some reflection and perhaps indicate future possibilities for further learning. The first sentence in this section should Identify the learning outcome that the child has experienced. This can be introduced by such sentence starters as

  • Through this experience….
  • It is apparent….
  • As a result….

Once you have the right starter sentence and the learning outcome, it is just a matter of putting it all together

Through this experience I observed Amanda to be a confident involved learner.

This initial sentence can be added to with some further observations about outcomes and we might end up with something like this –

I watched as you declared your fascination in your environment “I like painting, Can I paint please”, followed your own interests and experimented with eagerness, energy and concentration On top of the blue circle Amanda confidently painted a red circle and developed your play experience using your own imagination and ideas .”..it’s a flower”.

Finally the analysis can be rounded off with some of your own observations. Just a sentence or two will suffice.

Amanda  you were so keen to paint your flower. You mixed two colors together and discovered new colours. I could see how proud and happy your painting made you. You worked really  hard to make it.

When we put all the bits of the learning story together we end with this:

Recently Amanda has been identifying  and recognising the different colours of the environment. I wanted to build  on her understanding of colour by introducing her to  colour mixing. So, I set up a paint easel outside together  with 3 pots of yellow, blue and red paint.

Amanda  watched me set up and commented “I like painting, can I paint please?”. She  walked over to the easel and paint-pots . I asked her what she wanted to paint. Amanda said “it’s a surprise”. She started painting by using blue paint to draw a circle on the piece of paper. On top of the blue circle Amanda confidently painted a red circle. Then she mixed the blue and red colours together. “I made purple,” she exclaimed then giggled to herself.

Beneath the circle, Amanda painted a yellow line then she painted blue over it “green, that’s the colour I want” she said. Next, Amanda used yellow paint to make a semi-circle around the original purple circle. Amanda walked over to me and said “I’m almost finished, want to see.” She was quite pleased and excited. Together, we walked over to look at her painting. She pointed to it. “ I painted this flower all by myself, ” she said. I congratulated her by saying “You did such a great job! I can see that you really concentrated to paint the perfect flower and you’ve done it,” I said.

Amanda smiled proudly and asked  “Can I hang it up  so dad can see?. “Yes, do  you want to take it home” I asked. “No, not yet, I want to keep it here for now,” Amanda replied. I took Amanda’s painting and hung it on the drying rack. Before Amanda’s mum (Kevin) arrived, we found a spot next to the entrance  for her to hang the painting. When Kevin arrived, he walked over to Amanda “hi Petal, I saw your lovely flower painting hanging by the door. It looks fantastic” he said. Amanda hugged her dad. “Thanks dad!”

When you read through a learning story it should read like an experience not simply a narration.