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Documentation: The Basics, Part 1

Originally published:

children's birthday chart

At a recent conference that included much discussion about the Project Approach and the uses of documentation, I put together a list of main points about what seem to me to be the basics of documentation. The list is rather long for a single blog entry, so I am presenting it in two successive blogs. This is the first set of documentation basics. Your comments, suggestions, and questions will be very welcome.

Dictionary definitions of the term documentation include: “an official record,” “visible evidence,” and “a record of activities or events understandable to others who were not necessarily involved or present at the time or in the place where they occurred.”

The term documentation, as used now for early childhood and elementary teaching practices, refers to providing observable and/or readable accounts of children’s work, primarily when they are involved in investigations such as projects.

Documentation of children’s work is typically prepared by those children who were engaged in the work or class, with the help and guidance of the teacher. Together they prepare displays of various kinds that will help them and others who were not participants to know and understand the work involved.

A major purpose of the documentation is to make it possible for others who were not involved in the work to grasp the main events, the problems that came up, and the way they were solved. Good documentation has been known to help strengthen and increase parents’ interest in their children’s efforts and real appreciation of their children’s work.

Documentation can also help parents to more fully appreciate how the teacher supports and encourages their children’s work and interests. Experience indicates that parents usually express their interest and appreciation of their children’s work more frequently and more fully when they have opportunities to see the developing documentation of the children’s work.

Ideally the documentation has a narrative quality; that is, it tells the story of the project by showing the sequences of events, how things began, what happened next, where the participants went, how they collected data, who the visiting experts were, who the children surveyed and interviewed, and so on.

In my next blog I will highlight some more “documentation basics.” Don’t hesitate to contact us to share your own experiences with documentation activities.

Lilian Katz

Lilian G. Katz, a professor emerita at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been an international leader in early childhood education. She has lectured in all 50 U.S. states and in 43 countries. Dr. Katz also has authored more than 150 publications about early childhood education, teacher education, child development, and parenting.

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Reviewed: 2023