Child Portfolios in Early Childhood Settings – Are they Necessary?

One of the questions I am most often asked by other educators working in the early childhood profession with the EYLF  outcomes  is “Do you do child portfolios?” The short answer is NO. But then I find I need to explain that answer in more detail because I suddenly have people looking at me like am a nutter or at the very least a little unstable with no clue about documenting children’s learning.

Save time and ensure the work you do on child portfolios is an effective method of early years documentation. Ask these questions before 'doing' folios! Essential reading for educators, childcare providers and teachers.

I am constantly told…”But the EYLF outcomes (Early Years Learning Framework for Australia) say we have to!”. Do they really? Have you ever questioned that or just taken others interpretations as gospel without thinking outside the box?

When I decided to re enter the early childhood profession as a Family Day Care Educator I began to question my decision the more I read and heard about the new EYLF document and the extra time and workload it was apparently causing educators. Perhaps everything had changed too much in the years I had crossed over to the community services sector. Perhaps it was all too different to what I had previously studied all those years ago, perhaps I wouldn’t be able to do it as well as I used to. Perhaps it was now all about the paperwork and not the children as I was reading and hearing. I got scared. And then I realised it was up to me to research, read and understand the process for myself. So I did…and I still am.

I read the EYLF document front to back a few times and stepped through the flowery wording to underline the essential themes and expectations. I put sentences into my own words and drew on previous experience to apply outcomes to activities and experiences I used to plan.

And you know what I realised? The principles and heart of the EYLF and NQS weren’t that different to what I first studied and practiced over 25 years ago. I began to feel a little enthusiasm and excitement returning… I could do this! The key for me was interpreting what was required and what was suggested.

Through my Facebook page and reading many educator forums I noticed a lot of people seemed to be struggling with the ‘extra paperwork’ now required which had me a little confused as I couldn’t see anything additional to what I used to do many years ago, just in different formats with different names and less structured.

I began to get a little worried again (I’m good at that apparently) and did more reading…had I interpreted things wrong? Did I really need to do portfolios as well as learning journals as well as learning stories as well as observations as well as a mind map, floor book and weekly program? And link every activity to an
EYLF outcome or theorist? Oh my goodness when was I going to be with the children? And what the heck was a floor book?

And then I came across this document outlining the planning cycle and I began to draw breath again. This is what I needed to see because it confirmed I could still use my own system of planning as long as I was following the principles of the EYLF and good early childhood practice. I could use what I was comfortable with, what helped me to manage my time most effectively and what I could see as worthwhile and useful.

And for me that means no portfolios to mess around with, no long winded learning stories and no confusing symbols, codes and colours on programs (those things do my head in just quietly).

It also meant providing the parents using my service with lots of information that was easily understood, highly visual and that would encourage them to spend a little time with their child at the end of each day looking at photos, artwork and involving their child in a little chat about what they had been doing. The photos, meaningful text and art/craft all taken home on the day provided prompts for sharing and communication …in the moment. Not 6 weeks down the track or even the end of the year. The child’s voice would be heard while they remembered their story and to me that is important, that is meaningful, that is meeting requirements.

Another trick I have is to make sure my documentation can cover a few different planning cycle requirements from just the one piece of work.

For example, my “Our Day” daily reflection form includes photos of the children engaged in activities, a brief list of some of the most enjoyed activities from the day as well as why we did those and what learning those activities encouraged. I also include the children’s own voice where I can if it is relevant e.g ” Sam said chicken for the first time today when we went to feed them the morning tea scraps” There us also a space for a picture of each child’s favourite activity from the day. At the bottom I have a section that allows me to add a few ideas for further extensions based on the play and learning I observed that day. Simple ideas not needing a lot of explanation but enough for me to refer back to when planning.

Child portfolios in early childhood settings...are they necessary to meet learning outcomes? 15 Questions to ask first!

So how does putting all this onto what is basically my parent communication form cover more than just parent interaction? Let’s break it down…

  • Parent communication
  • Child’s voice/brief observations of importance
  • Daily reflection of planned and spontaneous activities
  • Ideas for forward planning
  • Photographic evidence of activities and interactions
  • Fostering a sense of belonging
  • Sustainability as I email these to parents rather than print. I print one each day for my record folder for easy reference when planning.
  • Dated so I am able to link to this document easily in my fortnightly program
  • Even if I don’t do any formal observations in the planning fortnight i still have these documents to refer to and plan individual focus activities from.
  • There is no specific link to outcomes because I believe this should always be evident to anyone reading or viewing the pictures. Parents aren’t concerned with what outcome that activity linked to so I provide the information they want to know. My coordinator or an assessor should know the EYLF and NQS well enough to be able to see how I am meeting all areas through reading my documentation. I don’t have time to spell it out for everyone.
  • Saved in each child’s computer folder as a record of their year at Jode’s.
So can you see that just because you have to meet lots of documenting requirements it doesn’t mean you can’t be smart about how you choose to do it and how much time you spend on different areas. This is just one example and obviously I do family day care so there are less children to fit into this particular form but I used to do something very similar when I worked in centres too. It’s just a matter of playing around a little until you find what suits you.
Portfolios and learning stories do not suit my programming style or the amount of time I have to spend on out of care hours work. They aren’t necessary so I don’t use them. Yes it is as simple as that. What I do do is make sure I am meeting requirements in other ways like I have listed above.
You can read more about my programming and planning methods  here if you are interested. Briefly though this is what I do to meet what I perceive are the requirements of the EYLF and NQS
  • A fortnightly program with boxed interest and learning areas that I have developed from my understanding of the EYLF outcomes. They all cross over and aren’t rigid in their entirety. I also have spaces for spontaneous activities as they occur during the period and parent/coordinator feedback. There is a box for focus children activities and it is here I link to my observations/interpretations and daily reflections using a date (no dots, no colours, no blooming confusing symbols).

Child portfolios in early childhood settings...are they necessary to meet EYLF outcomes? 15 Questions to ask first!

Child portfolios in early childhood settings...are they necessary to meet EYLF outcomes? 15 Questions to ask first!
  • A space at the end of my fortnightly program for me to jot down a few points about what worked well, what didn’t, what we didn’t get done, how some of the spontaneous activities evolved. Underneath that is a section where I can add a few extension ideas for next week’s plan or perhaps link a date to an our day form to help with forward planning.

If you would like to see my weekly programming templates in action (complete with activities) you can download a sample by clicking below.

EYLF Outcomes Activity Plan

 

  • My daily reflections/parent communication form titled “Our Day”
  • A separate form called “My Day” that is specific to each child and includes information about their day, highlights, any difficulties, photos and general wellbeing information such as sleep, bottle etc. This is emailed to parents or put into a dropbox folder at the end of each day along with the “Our Day” group form. Parents wishing to receive the group form sign to say they give permission for their child’s photo to appear.

 

Child portfolios in early childhood settings...are they necessary to meet EYLF outcomes? 15 Questions to ask first!

 

Child portfolios in early childhood settings...are they necessary to meet EYLF outcomes? 15 Questions to ask first!

  • I mainly use photo collages with short observations that tell a story briefly. I also have developed a formal observation form for more detailed records but to be honest I prefer to use photos and not get caught up in writing about every single detail. I let the pictures tell the story and highlight just the important facts with text.

 

Child portfolios in early childhood settings...are they necessary to meet EYLF outcomes? 15 Questions to ask first!

 

  • My final bit of paperwork is  my “Forward Planning” that basically just ties everything together so I can see it in the one place at a glance. It has the observation date, a brief interpretation of the learning occurring and suggestions/ideas for extending on this learning focus. After entering one of those activity ideas into the “focus children” box on my program and completing the activity with the child I come back to the forward planning form and write the date of the activity and a few sentences about how it worked and what happened. And that is linking done. I do something similar if it is a group focus activity.

 

Child portfolios in early childhood settings...are they necessary to meet EYLF outcomes? 15 Questions to ask first!

  • All forms are kept in a child’s folder on my computer. I have separate folders that I save their photo collage observations, my day and our day forms, photos of their artwork (and a few lines if it needs explanation), and lots and lots of photos of their learning journey with me. At the end of the year I place this folder onto a USB stick for the parents to take home and flick through at their leisure. Some choose to print things out to make a little book, some burn to disk and send to relatives and some just look at it on the computer with their children. Their progress over the year is easily seen without a whole lot of useless information that is important to us as educators but no so important to a parent. I know, I am one of those too.
Child portfolios in early childhood settings...are they necessary to meet EYLF outcomes? 15 Questions to ask first!
So no, I don’t use portfolios but yes I think I am covering what I need to without giving myself a stress attack and being able to fully engage with the children which to me is more important than any pretty scrapbook or learning journal.
Please don’t get me wrong, if using a learning journal or portfolio is working for you than stick with it. If keeping portfolios however is eating into your down time then I would say put them down and back away. You don’t need to do them, they are just one way of documenting a child’s learning journey with you as either a home based or centre based educator.
If you are trying to work out whether to use them or if you really need to then perhaps ask yourself some of the following questions to ensure you are making an informed choice. Obviously if your scheme or centre director is telling you you have to do portfolios then I guess there is not much you can do but you can ask them why and if they would consider another option or two…especially if it is really stressing you out!

Questions to ask when using Child Portfolios with EYLF Outcomes

1. What do you consider a child portfolio?

Is it an art scrapbook, does it show clear evidence of a learning journey or is it just a collection of ‘time at the centre’ photos and text snippets, a glorified memory book? Is there documentation that might not make sense to parents or that would be better kept in a child’s record file?
You need to work out the answers to these questions before you begin to use a portfolio as your preferred system. Be very clear about what it is you are spending your precious time on!

2. Do you know why you do portfolios? 

Did someone just tell you too or do you think it is a regulation or expected practice? Ask yourself if you really need to? Does the EYLF and NQS really state you have to to meet your obligations (I’ll help…the answer is no, you can choose to document in any way you want to as long as you are meeting the requirements of the basic planning cycle.

3. Are your methods of keeping portfolios sustainable in terms of time management and skill?

Parents might love them the first time you present them but it will set up an expectation, be realistic and decide whether they are something you can confidently continue doing in the time you have available.

4. Are they really just a pretty form of parent communication in summary form? 

Does it demonstrate the parent and child’s ‘voices’ as part of that child’s learning? Is there more to the contents than just memories, pretty pictures and artwork? Do you inform parents of the portfolio purpose and how they are used?

5. Does your portfolio document and identify learning throughout ...”a child’s progress or distance travelled?” If not then you are going to have to double up and keep those records elsewhere using a different format.

6. What does the information in the portfolio tell you, tell the parents? 

Will what you put in there today be useful to you tomorrow or next month for your planning? Overall is it a meaningful tool that supports individual and also group learning especially for the time you are putting into it? What does it actually tell you about the child?

7. Do you think in terms of quality over quantity?

Do you get overwhelmed with the quantity of documentation you feel you must do? Do you feel you need to make portfolios bigger and better to meet requirements and satisfy parents and management? Could you manage the same quality with less work?

8. Do you show that not only have you understood and documented the child’s learning but also extended it?

How do you show that?

A portfolio is just a simple communication tool if you are only showing what the child/service/centre has been doing over time, it is a useful tool when it also shows extensions to a child or group’s learning and links to your programming in some way. Have you considered how you actually use the portfolios to make links within your program or is this not a consideration?

9. How does the portfolio help support you to plan for further learning? 

If you aren’t using the content but spending an awful lot of time working on them then why do it? Why not direct your energy into what you need to do, find another way that perhaps suits you better and covers the areas you need to rather than just being an extra “thing to do”. Do you regularly check to see the connections between the child’s interest/s and their progress as learners is evident within your portfolio document?
If it is just a parent communication tool for the end of the week/month/year then there are many ways to achieve this without the time involved in keeping pretty portfolios (see ideas further below).

10. Do you find you are holding onto children’s artworks or other special moments because you need them for the portfolio? 

Do you consider the child’s ‘voice’ in this action? Are you supporting them to share their day with their parents and fully participate in the moment rather than filing it away in the scrapbook/folder/portfolio? This is one thing that really bothers me about portfolios and they way they are often used. I have seen many a child get upset because they are not allowed to take their precious artwork home because it needs to go into the book!

11. Do you think there are other more meaningful ways you could share the term or year of a child’s care with the parents rather than giving them a book/folder at the end of the year?

Is the whole folio relevant and of interest to the parent or is it more aimed at making the service or educator feel good? As a parent would you really want to read lots of text and learning stories, reflections and observations or see visual and tangible evidence of a child’s learning and progression in ‘real time’ as it occurs?

12. What other ways are there to document learning and share with parents if I don’t use a portfolio?

Perhaps you could consider some of the following ideas…

  • Digital portfolios put on a USB at the end of the year
  • Powerpoint slides emailed to parents
  • Communication books sent home each day
  • Photo observation collages displayed around the environment or emailed to parents to share
  • Wall displays of photos, special moments and activities that a parent can share with the child at drop off and pick up time.
  • Photobooks and photo collections (including pics of artwork on disc)
  • Computer and phone based apps and programs for sharing information (although personally I think you could save your money and just do your own system)
  • Digital photo frames at sign in area
  • Powerpoint slides live on the computer for parents to view
  • Video or audio clips shared with parents

13. Are there other recording/documenting methods and techniques besides portfolios that would work better for you as an educator? 

Some of these might include a combination of a few of the following ideas….

  • Observations—recorded through video, annotated photographs or audio clip
  • Observations—formal, written, learning stories
  • Basic Checklists
  • Discussions with families, documented in children’s files
  • Discussions with colleagues and then documenting for professional use only
  • Conversations with children documented regularly in communication sheets or forms to keep in the digital folders
  • Specific testing (where issues of concern are raised, sometimes undertaken by a specialist.)
  • Reflection book , diary or space on the program
  • Photos of  work samples
 Child portfolios in early childhood settings...are they necessary to meet EYLF outcomes? 15 Questions to ask first!

Don’t try and do all of these all of the time…there is absolutely no need, use your time more effectively and really think about how you can record learning within the planning cycle without having to repeat yourself. Your time is precious so use it wisely.I  know some of you will say “Yes I do all the above but that’s what I put in a folio…that’s great but again….reflect upon whether the information added to your portfolios is also being used to inform and link directly to your program and individual focus activities. How are you incorporating information from the portfolios? Is there a clear review loop?. If not then you need to be doing that somewhere else….and that is more work and time out of hours for you.

14. Could you keep digital portfolios instead? 

I do a version of this but just call them my children’s ‘All About Me” folders and find them so easy to maintain and add to daily without the need to fill pages or scrapbook!

In my digital folders I include photo observation collages, group and individual daily communication forms, group event collages, recorded children’s conversations, photos of artwork with accompanying learning and other photos with annotations of the learning occurring or outcome being demonstrated or working towards. Because I’m doing it digitally I am also able to add video and audio clips if I want and as I provide a copy of each folder to the parents at the end of the year I think it provides a great keepsake.  Parents often add feedback or comments via email or in person and this is documented as parent interaction. It’s easy to drop copies of the same forms into different folders I have set up on the computer for different purposes and for ease of showing documented evidence in my own records. In terms of my observations I only record purposeful moments or interactions, not every little thing a child does.

I am loving this digital method as it allows me to share with parents and children each day and yet it is also building a valuable record of learning and progression. I can easily look at the folders to help inform my program, notice new skills and support analysis and review.

15. Finally, ask yourself if compiling and adding to portfolios is taking away from your love of working with children.

If the answer is yes then you need to find another system. I am hearing too many stories of people giving up on a profession they love because of myths and perceived ‘regulations and requirements’.Ask for support from your leaders in exploring other methods or at the very least make sure you are well informed and know why you are doing portfolios and ensure that they are meeting a number of documenting expectations rather than being a lot of work but in reality not very effective.

This blog post may or may not prove helpful to you but at the very minimum I hope it makes you at least reflect on your current practice whether you are considering using portfolios or already using them.

I don’t have anything against keeping portfolios, if it works well for you and doesn’t cause you to spend a lot of time out of hours doing work on them then I say well done and keep up the great work….but please make sure they are effective and helping you to enhance all areas of your programming and documentation.

I could add so much more but I’m sure you are already on the way to a strong cup of coffee or a snore…..if there is anything you want to clarify or question please ask in the comments below, you can put  ‘anonymous’ if you don’t know how to comment. I welcome healthy debate and would also love to hear how you put together your portfolios if you use them.

If there is one thing you take away from this article let it be this….all you have to do is document children’s learning in the best way that you can and demonstrate that children are learning and are on a continuum of learning “the distance travelled”.

I discuss the use of portfolios, observations, reflections and developing a programming style and rhythm that works for you in my online training sessions.

You can read more about my programming training sessions here – on demand training and professional development options to suit busy educators no matter what hours you work!

As always keep in mind that this is my blog and as such I express my opinions and offer what has worked for me over my years in the early childhood profession. They might not work for you and you also need to consider your own scheme guidelines and management decisions. What I hope to do is help you to feel empowered and informed because we all deserve that.

I’d love to know if you found this helpful or thought it was more boring than a staff meeting out of hours on a Friday night!

Child portfolios in early childhood settings...are they necessary to meet EYLF outcomes? 15 Questions to ask first!

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24 thoughts on “Child Portfolios in Early Childhood Settings – Are they Necessary?

  1. I loved this, its clear and written in plain English! The one sentence that stands out for me is:

    “will what you put in there today be useful to you tomorrow or next month for your planning? “

    its a great explanation of “meaningful” documentation. Sue 🙂

    1. Dear Jodie,
      I really enjoyed reading your article. You have wonderful ideas and clearly have a thorough understanding of the EYLF. I think it is really up to interpretation – what ever we call this documentation – your daily reflection has the information I would look for in a learning story, and the data you collect about your children and save in a computer file is the same as what our educators are asked to put in their portfolios. Folios can be digital or in a book. Its always fantastic to find ways of streamlining the process. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Loved it! Exactly what I have been urging educators to consider for the last 3 years. I am a diary and picture person. I use pics to prompt my analysis of data collected on my diary sheet which basically incorporates all you have said. The key is finding what works for you. Louise Dorrat spoke at a conference I attended this year. She said we are not paid to make souvenirs for kids. She had us print out and laminate the cycle steps on one side and Regulation 73 Educational Program on the other side to help keep focussed on the needful things!

    1. Fantastic Janet, I think pics can help prompt learning, discussion and analysis in so many ways and best part is you don’t need to do it there and then as they can act like prompts when you have more time! I really like the sound of that conference…makes perfect sense to me 🙂

  3. I love that you are able to condense your documentation, but I am struggling to see how this is classified as ‘pedagogical’ documentation, also there appears to be a lot of descriptive reflection but little ‘critical’ reflection including questioning/wondering about child behaviours and where the activities have stemmed from spontaneous child interest. From reading it looks like all teacher initiated, which may not be the case its just not included. In my setting I work with Kindergarten aged children so we use a combination of eylf, nqs AND qklg ( queensland kindergarten learning guidelines) we have 24 children each day and through the course of the week 48 different children. Between room staff documentation is a strenuous process and we are always looking for ways to condense without skipping the good bits!

    1. Hi, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. As I mention in all of my posts, I am only sharing a small part of what I do, it’s hard to explain everything in one blog post. The descriptive reflection you talk about has it’s place and is more aimed at parents. If you read my previous posts you will see that I have space to do my weekly reflections in more depth on my program that I keep for my records only. I also do a lot more detailed ‘question/wondering etc on my forward planning form…again not for parents unless requested. the majority of my program stems from spontaneous children’s interests and activities from previous weeks…that doesn’t mean you can’t involve intentional teaching when offering extension and child led activities. I guess it’s all in how you prefer to work and how things come together as a whole. I do not think you need reams of ‘pedagogical documentation’ to be offering a quality child focused, play based learning program encompassing all areas. I don’t skip any of the good bits I can assure you, what I do do is look for the most efficient use of my time that also allows me to spend the time I need to with the children as they are what is most important. All I am encouraging educators to do is think outside the box and try and incorporate a few different goals into the one document. Some of my planning is more for the parents, some is more for my benefit, some is to meet requirements and some is just because I think it is important to document and inform my future planning. But there are ways to do it all without huge folios and stress attacks is all I am saying. Also the planning templates I have been sharing are based on family day care…obviously I would modify for a long day care setting but the principles are the same. my individual forward planning is where I do the things you have suggested you don’t see above and I also do more in depth obs…just not every single time, sometimes photo collages with a paragraph of text is all you need. I firmly believe in telling the important story…not something that looks great but perhaps doesn’t inform forward planning and extension as it should. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, I appreciate it 🙂

  4. Thank you for explaining everything in a very easy to understand way. I am new to family day care and have done alot of reading about programs and portfolios, it can be very confusing and i am trying to find something that suits me and i loved reading your interpretations. Thanks for taking time out of your obviously very busy days to post helpful info for people like me that do appreciate it.

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to write and leave your lovely comment Karen! i really love to hear that what I share is helpful because that is the reason I love to take time out to do it. I know it can be awfully confusing and there are always so many interpretations…hope you find something here that works for you 🙂

  5. It is something to think about, and I can see it would work very well in a small setting. I see 40 children a week, two groups of 20 (one group attends 2 days and the other 3 days). You said in “Our Day” you cover all the children, I am just struggling how I would be able to do it for a large number of children.

  6. Hi Jodie, I absolutely loved this article! It is so simple and makes a lot of sense. this is what myself and a few fellow educators are struggling to explain to our management. They feel we have to do portfolios and planning in a different way! As we work in an after school care setting we have very limited time, so we need to find a way to efficiently do our documentation and the way you condense your documentation I think would work in our setting! I know that you are very busy and this is a lot to ask, but would it be possible for you to email some of the example of your documentation that I could use as a resource to show my management. If so could you email me, at [email protected]
    I look forward to hearing from you either way!

  7. Hi Jodie, thanks for providing all the information. As a director my staff are constantly saying they have to much work. Together with my educational leader we are looking at redesigning all of our documents. This could not have been shared at a better time.
    Thanks again.

  8. Hey there! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone!
    Just wanted to say I love reading through
    your blog and look forrward to all your posts! Keep up the great work!

  9. I’ve recently started operating my own fdc, I started with a Daily Log book, as well as a page for each child each day, detailing their food, toileting, rest times,, mood and main activities. By way of learning, I have two ways of showing parents what they’re learning – I do Portfolios and have a more detailed version of the daily log on a private facebook group. My parents seem to enjoy this, and I feel that it meets the requirements of NQS and EYLF. Takes about 20 minutes of my day at the moment, and half an hour for the portfolios every week, depending on events. So much better than what the LDC I was working for demanded.

  10. a live stream would be even cooler so parents can access it throughout the year and not just at the end of the year…very cool indeed! i love all of your ideas, i am a visual person as well and as a parent and an educator find your methods a much better option for time poor parents and time poor educators!!! A= keep up the great work am a follower and subscribed now. thankyou again 🙂

  11. This was such a great read, everything you said makes soooooo much sense. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and experience. Lizzie

    1. Sorry Ewelina, I don’t have one as yet for this one – it’s on the to do list though!!

  12. Hi Jodie, it’s Kylie here (previously of Octavia and Vicky) *wave*

    I stumbled (back) to your site when googling portfolios, I’m preparing to work on our site’s porfolio policy. I loved this article, thanks for your thorough, well thought out ideas that are practical and based in reality!

    I was happily reading along for a while before I realised that I was on your page, I don’t spend much time in blog land these days and it’s changed a lot since I was last hear 🙂

    I see you’re doing SUPER, congrats on all your success, it’s very well deserved.

    1. Hi Kylie, great to see your ‘face’ pop up again!! So glad you found the article helpful..yes lots of changes have been happening here that’s for sure. We must catch up!!x

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