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If you are a childminder reading this and are under the age of 30, please just cough politely and delete this post, because this article is probably not for you. It is written by an old person. I am 41. And showing my age by writing an article in which I dare to propose that in SOME aspects of childminding, it might be ‘nice’ to move away from technology and app-based-login-to-view-my-child digitised childcare. I want to use this article to encourage you to reconsider the simple pleasure of paper – writing daily dairies out by hand and making printed learning journey albums – and why this might even be good for your business.
The most efficient way of doing things is not always the BEST way of doing things
If you are a childminder who views learning journeys as meaningless Ofsted paperwork, then you are bound to look for the fastest, easiest way of completing the task. If this is you, then go for the app! However, if, you treat your learning journeys as a valuable piece of communication with parents, as a type of marketing tool to show your business in good light, then while an app may be convenient and easy for you, it is not necessarily best for your business. Some parents love running their whole lives on their phones, but others may prefer a more ‘old-fashioned’ approach. Keep YOUR parents in mind when you make your decision to go electronic or paper, because they are at the heart of your business.
Paper is “nice” and it’s personal – like childminders
Some things are better handwritten. Some things are better handmade like homemade baking is always better than store bought. Sometimes, a book with glued in pictures, while less tidy than an online app, is simply “nicer”. Many parents like to imagine choosing a childminder for their child in a dreamy, slowing down, biscuit crumbs and soft edges, sunny days pushing children on swings sort of way. Paper-based learning journeys smell of warmth and friendliness and fit better with this image. It is a good image because nurseries cannot recreate it, however many ‘key people’ they attempt to assign to a child or home corners they install!
Paper forces you to look and think a little more carefully
When you zap off a photo and click a button on your phone, you have succeeded in finishing the task you believe Ofsted is expecting of you. But when you put a paper-based learning journey together, you have to select which photos you are going to use and why. You have to think carefully about the text you are going to write, the ‘story’ of the observation you are sharing and it’s meaning to the child, to the child’s parents and you. Paper can force you to engage with the process of observing and linking to planning more.
Paper forces you to understand the observation – assessment- planning cycle
Make sure that if you are using an online learning journey planning system that you still understand the PROCESS you are doing. If your Ofsted inspector asks you what stage of development a child is at, you need to know. You need to make sure that your automated system hasn’t removed your understanding of the system yourself.
I want to compare this to teaching school children basic maths. It would be perfectly easy to give a young child a calculator and teach them to do simple sums on it. They could be taught to multiply, divide, add and subtract using the calculator simply by pressing the right buttons. They could learn to press the right buttons without a shred of understanding what it actually means to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Calculators are only a great tool once you know what they are for! All I am saying is that you need to be careful that you understand the ‘process’ you are doing before automating it.
Books can make it easier for parents to engage
Do parents really want to spend their time logging on to some horrible, cumbersome online system to find out how their child is developing? Can they really be bothered? For those of you who do online learning journeys, how many parents ever really look at what you put in them? Do they bother to log on and check on their child’s development? Some parents will, but others might be much more likely to engage with the work you are doing and take more of an interest in their child’s development if you were to hand them a nice album with a few photos of their child in it and some simple observations you have written (or typed out) next to it.
Printed learning journeys are friendly and relaxing
Call me old-fashioned. Call me a technophobe if you like. But whenever I’m told I need to log on and do something, a small stress response begins as my palms sweat a little. I scowl at my device. There is yet another password to remember (can I remember it) and something will probably crash just as I get to the ‘critical’ part and waste loads of my time! In an age where absolutely everything from banking and grocery shopping, to ordering school uniforms is done online, how nice for parents NOT to have to go online. How nice to be handed a friendly, cheerful-looking relaxing book by their childminder!
Paper may be appreciated by the sorts of people who choose small childminding settings over large, impersonal nurseries
In the large overcrowded nursery down the road from your small, friendly house, that the parents DIDN’T choose to send their child to, electronic learning journeys are vital for the large number of observations and complex planning they need to do. However, you don’t look after as many children as they do, and from the parents’ point of view, they may prefer the home based paper approach. Some parents will love online systems, don’t get me wrong. But others may secretly hate them, seeing them as rather impersonal. Make sure YOUR system responds to YOUR parents.
Parents will treasure the album long after they have left you
I love looking back through my old photo albums and scrap books. While I also spend my fair share of time looking at photos on my phone and social media sites, ultimately and long term I take far less pleasure in electronic photos than I do looking through the actual physical albums I have made. The pleasure of turning the pages, lingering and relaxing is an experience that cannot be recreated by any mobile phone app. It is simply not the same.
If you make printed learning journeys, after the child leaves, his parents will have a keepsake photo album of their time with you. During their lives they will take lots of photos of big events in that child’s life. But parents forget to photograph the ordinary, everyday stuff, learning to paint, or playing with play dough, or putting on their shoes. Parents forget this stuff. You see it and can record it for them.
It’s nice to make something – an actual physical record of your own days and the child’s days – a finished product you can hold in in your hands
On days when you are feeling unmotivated, it can be nice to look back through children’s learning journeys and see all the things you’ve done with them. To watch them going from crawling to walking to running, and all those nice trips you took them on and wow moments that matter. It is motivating to see what you have done.
Even your Ofsted inspector will be more likely to flip through your photo album than to take time to look online
While perched on your couch with her laptop on her lap, observing you with the children, it is nice to distract her for a few minutes with an album she can look through. She’ll be far more likely to take a look at your work, wow moments and outings if she has an album to look through than if you expect her to look online.
You could photograph a child’s hand, but it isn’t the same as a painted handprint
Taking a photograph of a child’s hand preserves the moment forever. But it’s the handprint in paint and glitter that parents keep and treasure. Not because it is the most efficient way to record the moment but because it is the “nicest”. Parents love and treasure what is sentimental, personal and real.
Think again about switching back to paper learning journeys. It doesn’t mean you’re a technophobe. Or old. It just means you are thinking about your business, about your readers and about your parents. Who knows, some of you may even agree with me?
If my article has swayed you at all to reconsider the benefits of paper-based learning journeys, then please check out my Learning Journey Plus. It is a printable system based in Word so you can customise the pages for your setting before you print them.
The Learning Journey Plus is a complete observation – planning – assessment system and comes with 200 sample observations with next steps so you can learn how to write observations and next steps in whatever learning journey system you are using.
About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Kay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.
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