As a demonstration program, we model respect for our teachers as professional decision makers (Jaruszewicz & White, 2009)1. Each teacher interprets and acts out our philosophy in unique ways that are soundly grounded in developmental research. We value, include, and integrate elements from curricula in use in South Carolina public schools. Our teachers are also interested in and influenced by the Reggio Emilia approach, using emergent project work as the primary means for conducting topical investigations.

We feel a responsibility as leaders in the Lowcountry early childhood community and as part of the SOE to support, document, articulate, and share with others how children in our program acquire the concepts and skills defined in the South Carolina Early Learning Standards (pdf). We explore the use of digital media to document and visually represent the learning process at ECDC and to provide up-to-date information about our curriculum activities by sharing our project documentations (see Research and Publications page for links to publications) and by visiting the ECDC Blog


What is documentation?

Most people associate visual documentation’ with the emergent curriculum used in Reggio Emilia Italian preschools and the Project Approach (Katz & Chard, 2000)2. Teachers use media to create displays that ‘tell the story’ of children’s work over extended periods of time. Displays typically include photographs and images, artifacts, children’s transcribed comments or conversations, and written reflective teacher narratives. The Reggio documentations were originally created on large, flat panels, using cut/paste methods, but the advent and availability of digital media has considerably expanded format options to include interactive online and/or software applications. Thousands of people around the world have visited the “100 Languages” traveling documentation exhibits of Reggio children’s project work. At ECDC you will see that we experiment with different formats, and often involve the children in conversations about how they want their work to be represented or interpreted.

Why do we do it?

We have realized over time that while simple labels for displays of children’s work are useful, more detailed documentation helps us reflect more deeply on the relationships between teaching and learning. Visual documentations also provide valuable information that can be used for assessment purposes as we consider and provide evidence of how we are meeting learning and developmental standards and expectations for both groups and individual children.

What are the benefits for children? 

When teachers thoughtfully and accurately represent children’s work at multiple periods of time over the course of a project or topical inquiry, children benefit from the ability to ‘revisit’ earlier stages in their thinking process. This process promotes higher level thinking, metacognition, and reflection. Learning expands to become a visual dialogue. Seeing their work and words represented affirms and validates children’s ideas and questions, and their ongoing attempts to make sense of experiences.

What is the teachers’ role?

The teacher’s role is much like that of an action researcher: asking questions about a project at various stages, determining appropriate means for, collecting, and analyzing data, and drawing conclusions about what a project represents. While an investigation is underway, teachers identify key moments, stages, or changes in children’s thinking over time as a project emerges, engage in study and inquiry experiences (facilitated by teachers), and create concrete representations of their learning. Teachers typically collect photos or videos of children in discussion and at work, audio recordings of conversations for later review and transcription, and samples of work both finished and in-progress. Teachers also reflect with the children and other teachers about the work. Visual documentations can be constructed and shared while a project is in-progress, or as a cumulative reflection when a project ends.

Seashell Books (Two Year Old Class)

Sunflower Books (Three Year Old Class)

Train Photostory (Windows Media)

Butterfly Books (Four Year Olds and Kindergarten)

1 Jaruszewicz, C. and White, M. (2009). The teachergarten: creating an environment conducive to meaningful professional growth. Early Childhood Education Journal (37) 171-174.

2 Katz, L G. & Chard, S. C. (2000) Engaging children's minds: the Project Approach, 2nd Ed. Stamford, CT: Ablex Publishing.

3 Silverstein, S. (1981). "The Twenty-Four Foot Python." A light in the attic. New York: Harper Collins.

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