This guide is for teachers who'd like some help capturing children’s learning. Whether you want to record children’s activities, interests, voices or parent aspirations, this guide will help you take better notes, photos and video.
In this guide, you’ll explore:
- Observations – what to look for
- Recording observations through notes
- Taking quality photos and videos
- Editing photos and videos
- What to do with the observations you’ve recorded
- What is important to capture when recording observations?
- What should a great photo or video convey?
- Looking at your last few learning stories, which photos do you think best show the learning you were describing? Why?
- Try taking photos that illustrate each area of your philosophy and review as a team.
A few tips before we get started...
- Keep your device handy. Whether you use a shared tablet or a digital camera as your capture device, it needs to be accessible at all times. This means having a dedicated place (up high!) where it lives and having a system to make sure it gets charged each day. There’s nothing worse than seeing a great learning moment and being unable to find your iPad/camera, or picking it up and it’s out of batteries.
- Older cameras and mobile devices can be inefficient and take poor quality photos and videos making your jobs that much more difficult. Investing in quality devices can save time and give you access to tools that will help you do what you do, more efficiently – saving you money in the long run.
- Get tech-savvy. Less tech-savvy teachers may see tablets as complicated. Help build capability within your team by following our Help with technology guide.
Observations – what to look for
- Not just interests and activities. Observe the children, and rather than just thinking about their interests and activities, look for their learning dispositions, learning strategies, a moment where they're engaged or intrigued and what's new or different.
- Record daily routines. For younger children, as well as capturing the key moments of each child’s learning experiences, think about also recording the care moments/rhythms of the day, such as mealtimes, nap times, toileting, sentiment etc.
- Record settling moments. It’s especially important to take time to capture and immediately share a moment for children who are new to your service as this can be a stressful time for both a child and their family. Parents love to know how their child is and what they’re doing during a transition period.
- It's important to record the voice of the child through your observations. This provides more depth and context to your observations. Children’s voices can be captured through video, as an audio comment through the Teachers app or transcribed in a notebook. Accurately recording children’s voices at the time is important because when you’re writing your learning story later and describing the child’s perspective, you may not remember it word-for-word.
- Understand parents aspirations for a child through face-to-face, online conversations, and their plan (either through an All About me sheet, individual plan, or summative assessment plan).
- Capture things that don’t necessarily stand out to you at that moment, and then look for meaning and add detail as you notice threads of learning over time – anything that the child is revisiting that may become a potential interest or passion. Even teachers can sometimes bias what gets recorded so always try to keep an open mind.
- Link to previous learning. Be aware of previous stories by other teachers and family members and make links to these when you can. This helps to build on the child’s learning journey. Link stories via a child note. Link stories in a plan.
“Look for the learning! When you see them playing consider the following… What working theories are they demonstrating? What dispositions are you seeing? What skills? Think broadly and widely. Invest time in observations! We don’t do it very well and yet if we did, we’d soon realise how incredible our children are as learners.”
– Michela Homer, Regional Professional Services Manager LNI, BestStart
"I am looking for new learning, what are they interested in, and how can I offer a provocation to extend them. I am looking for moments to compliment them on, perseverance, thinking about a new way, working with a friend."
– Kath Cooper, ECE lecturer
Recording observations through notes
Everyone has different ways of recording what they’re noticing so nothing is forgotten and ‘no moment is lost’. You could write notes straight into a story draft on a tablet. Or you could record them as bullet points in a notebook you keep in your pocket, post-its, or a whiteboard, then transfer them to a draft story or plan during non-contact time. Do what works for you. Then chat to other teachers to clarify and corroborate your observations.
"A quick photo on my phone and some rough notes on a piece of paper usually works for me. I date and time the paper, so I can find the photo it relates to easily. Writing the story soon after keeps it fresh in my mind."
– Kath Cooper, ECE lecturer
Taking quality photos
We’re lucky at Storypark that we have a number of staff who are professional photographers and videographers. So we’ve compiled our top 10 tips from photographing in early childhood settings and what we’ve heard from services. Don’t worry if you don’t remember it all, it’s better to capture the moment in whatever way you can than miss the moment because you’re trying to take the perfect photo.
Keep your lens clean
Little fingerprints are the cause of numerous hazy photos. Wipe gently with a t-shirt or soft cloth.
Get down to the child’s level
This will make the viewer feel they are part of the scene. One of the biggest mistakes grown-ups make when photographing children is shooting from their own eye level/perspective and capturing a lot of tops of heads. A good way to remember is to make sure your eye is on the same level as the child’s eyes so the camera is seeing the world as the child sees. If a child is sitting on the ground, you could even rest your phone/camera on the ground and shoot up at them.
Move in close and fill the frame
Most people include far too much background. Zoom with your feet – get as close as you possibly can, without disrupting the moment, so that everything in the frame has meaning. Be aware of backgrounds – only include background elements if they add context to the scene. If there’s a child in the background who shouldn’t appear in photos, get closer so the subject blocks them, or move around so they are out of the frame. Is there a rubbish bin in the frame? An upset child? A pole that looks like it’s growing out of someone’s head?
"Scan the background of the photo too – is the image of the space one you are happy with? It doesn’t have to be ‘tidy’, but ideally there isn’t a fight happening behind the child you are photographing."
– Kath Cooper, ECE lecturer
Turn your camera
Always take photos in landscape mode? Turn it to portrait mode. And vice versa.
Many teachers tell us that when the tablets come out, children stop what they're doing and want to engage in the process. Try to balance capturing natural moments with involving children. This can lead to some surprising results and learning experiences. Support children in taking their own photos. Ask them what they want to capture. It’s always interesting to see their view of the world and what’s important to them. To add additional depth, afterwards record their voice and reflections on what occurred and why.
Children don’t need to be happy and smiling
Documenting a child’s challenges can be just as important.
Watch the light
Try not to take photos where the subject is directly in front of a bright light source, eg. the sun or a window, otherwise they could be silhouetted. In this case try to have the light source behind or beside you. If possible take photos using natural light – near the window, side-on is ideal. Dimly-lit areas also need a slower shutter speed meaning fast-moving children can appear blurry due to movement. A better lit area = faster shutter speed = no blur in photos.
Notice the details
Details tell stories and trigger memories. Children often notice and get caught up in details that grown-ups overlook. Take time to look through their eyes, and notice the details that they notice.
Record processes, eg. a the creation of a piece of art by using the timelapse feature on your phone or tablet.
Take multiple shots
What looks great on your camera or device’s small screen may not look so good when viewed large on a computer. You can always delete the unused photos later.
"Take three photos at different times of the activity – at the beginning when the creation is just starting, halfway through when there is some work done, and at the end."
– Kath Cooper, ECE lecturer
Here are a couple of pro tips for those who know their way around a camera...
Lock the focus
Most auto-focus cameras and phones focus on whatever's in the middle of the picture so if your subject is off-centre, you need to lock the focus to create a sharp picture. Learn how.
Use the fastest shutter speed you can
Children move! If you’re using a camera, make the shutter speed as fast as the light will allow so you can minimise motion blur. Unless you’re photographing musical statues, you’ll need at least 60FPS (frames per second) to keep children sharp.
Don’t forget video
“I love the video ability. Videos are a well underused assessment tool. I’d love to see these become more embedded in what we do to inform our teaching.”
Video is a rich and accurate way of sharing what occurred – the interactions, language, emotion, gestures, and physicality. A couple of minutes of video can showcase a lot of learning and video has been shown to encourage more family engagement than any other media. Many of the above tips for photos apply just as well with video, but here are our specific tips on recording quality video:
- Be aware of the surroundings. Surrounding noise can drown out the voices of those you want to capture. Also be aware of what's happening in the background. There’s nothing worse than taking a great video then realising you can’t use it because something in the background is not appropriate to share.
- Keep videos short. Keeping your videos under 3 minutes will generally keep them below the 300MB upload limit. It’s all about balancing quality assessment and the time it takes to upload your videos. You can change the video settings on most modern mobile devices so your videos take up less storage space. A 1-minute 720pHD video takes roughly 60MB of space whereas the same video at 1080pHD video takes 130MB of space. That will make a big difference when it comes to uploading to a story.
File types and size limits you can upload
If images and videos take too long to upload
File upload troubleshooting
Edit images (Crop, Rotate, Add borders)
If images are rotated incorrectly
Upload multiple images or videos
Positioning images and videos
Uploading videos from iPhoto
Editing photos and videos
- There are advantages to using a mobile device such as an iPad or Android tablet. They have editing features built in meaning photos can be cropped, rotated or brightened directly from the camera app.
- Storypark offers some editing tools. Once uploaded to a story, Storypark lets you resize, crop, rotate, and add borders to photos.
- Third party editing tools offer even more. On most modern mobile devices you can generally trim the beginning and ending of videos if they get too long directly from the camera app or by using a third party app such as Google photos, iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. Some third party apps also let you rotate, crop and annotate your videos. Learn more about editing apps on iOS and Android.
- Delete what you don’t use. Video causes hard drives to fill up fast so delete what you don’t use. There are a number of ways to show that a file has been added to a story – you could add something to the filename, give it a coloured label, add a file description, or add it to a sub-folder.
You’ve recorded some observations. Now what?
If you’re using a notebook and a digital camera then you (or whoever is on non-contact time) will need to transfer everything to a computer before you can create a story.
Alternatively, using a WiFi network, an internet connected device such as an iPad, and a cloud storage service such as Google photos, Google Drive, Dropbox or iCloud to store and manage your media has a lot of advantages:
- Notes can be recorded directly into a draft story.
- Photos and videos can be edited and uploaded to a draft without leaving the children.
- Photos and videos can be shared between tablets via Apple Airdrop or Android Beam.
- Photos can be printed wirelessly using Apple Airprint or Google Cloud print.
- You can record a child’s voice via an audio comment.
- Your whole team can access everyone’s photos and videos, regardless of the device they were captured on.
- How do children respond to videos versus photos when revisiting their learning stories?
- How effective are your current systems at transferring photos and videos from your recording device to Storypark?
- How accurately do you record children’s words and thinking?
- Explore using video instead of photos to make more of the learning visible
- Investigate recording audio comments in the Storypark Teachers app.
- Videos: Maria Aarts on Marte Meo
- Blog post: Ask yourself why
- Blog post: Musings on teachers’ professional learning and Storypark | Joce Nutall
- Digital portfolios and the Reggio Emilia approach