Gathering observation notes and other forms of documentation and broad-
casting them as stories of children’s pursuits gives them more visibility, meaning,
and respect. The learning process is enhanced for the children as well as the adults.
College teacher and author George Forman puts it this way:
We know that making children’s ideas visible is an important
goal. It helps children convert an activity into a learning
encounter. Therefore, if documentation helps children make
their own feelings, patterns of behavior, theories, and rules more
visible and explicit, then documentation could become the pri-
mary means of educating young children (On-line dialogue on Reggio
discussion list, 1999).
Where can we see this pedagogy in action? Many would point to the schools
of Reggio Emilia in Italy and the schools they have inspired around the world,
including in the United States. We can see the seeds of this approach in the teach-
ing and writing of college instructors Elizabeth Jones, John Nimmo, and
Gretchen Reynolds. Their books, referenced throughout the chapters of this
book, are rich with descriptions of children’s play and teachers negotiating their
roles in it. Teachers can turn to their writing again and again for reminders and
inspiration of how children’s lives can be valued and our differing perspectives
on them negotiated.
Several practicing early childhood teachers have also written books, giving us
a firsthand, vivid picture of how this pedagogy has been developed in their class-
rooms. Ann Pelo is a preschool teacher-author working in a full-time child care
program. Her teaching is featured in three videos, Children at the Center, Setting
Sail, and Thinking Big. She describes her evolving pedagogy of listening, observ-
ing, and documenting in the book she co-authored with Fran Davidson, That’s
When I first began the practice of taking notes about children’s
play and making recordings of children’s conversations, I didn’t
really understand how to use all the documentation I gathered.
I did it because I’d read about it being the Right Thing to Do.
I’d carefully transcribe a recorded conversation among children,
then go on with the plans I’d already made. I mostly thought of
the notes and conversations as ways to capture on paper the
sweet and appealing thinking of young children. I’d share my
transcriptions with parents, inviting them to “listen in” on con-
versations that they would otherwise miss.
As I grew into the practice of supporting emerging proj-
ects, I learned more about how to use the documentation that I
collected. I noticed myself wishing to understand if my guesses
about the children’s interests were on target or way off base,
knowing that it mattered deeply to the success of an emerging
project. I began to turn to my carefully collected notes for guid-
ance. When I studied my notes and transcriptions alone or with
a co-teacher, I could see “underneath” the children’s words to
xiv The Art of Awareness