What happens at home doesn’t have to stay at home -Using online learning journeys

Reading Time: 5 minutes


The use of online learning journey software has become a familiar feature of the working day in lots of childcare settings across the country in the last few years. Almost gone are the days of taking photos, printing them and then finding time to meticulously cut them out and stick them into scrapbooks alongside a detailed observation, using a few hastily scribbled notes on a post it note or piece of scrap paper. Not forgetting the highlighters or the triangles that were drawn to say that you had seen the child do something independently and were therefore secure in this step of their own learning…

Online journals have embraced technology and now enable staff to upload photos and videos, write observations and link them to Development Matters statements, clicking the age group and whether they are emerging, developing, secure (or a variance on those words) and sending them directly to parents and carers and the touch of a button. And whilst they aren’t perfect – observations can take the practitioner away from the teachable moment, they still take time to write, children aren’t exposed to handwriting as much as they were previously and there is still some element of ticking a box against a statement, despite Development Matters not being intended to have that purpose. Some settings are even reverting to traditional scrapbooks or using a combination of both to capture the wow moments as well as those longer observations for the learning journey document.

The key person is an integral factor in the learning journey; I always go back to the work of Elfer, Goldschmied and Selleck when the topic of the key person arises – “the key person makes sure that within the day-to-day demands of a nursery each child feels special and individual, cherished and thought about by someone in particular while they are away from home.” (p18,2003) And in the circumstances in which we find ourselves today with the Covid 19 lockdown, the role of the key person in being that vital link between nursery and home is never more critical.

The Statutory Framework for the EYFS informs practitioners that they must, “consider the individual needs, interests, and stage of development of each child in their care, and must use this information to plan a challenging and enjoyable experience for each child in all of the areas of learning and development.” (DfE, 2017, p9)

So, how can you still effectively ensure that these links are maintained during lockdown?

In my setting, we decided early on that we should stay in touch with our parents/carers at least once a week, offering activities that were based on the known interests of each child in our group. We would then respond and comment on observations that were uploaded by the parents/carers and extend the learning, offer new ideas or take the learning in a new direction if we had any identified gaps.

I must add here that our setting uses a child-initiated approach to learning; we have no forward plans in place and use the children’s current interests to inform what happens in the next moment, later in the session or the next day if resources don’t permit. We follow Anna Ephgrave’s model of OBSERVE – ASSESS – PLAN – TEACH. Obviously this isn’t able to happen as quickly as if we were in the nursery setting – parents/carers aren’t trained early years specialists, they don’t have the knowledge of development matters, next steps or filling any gaps that are identified.

So, how do we still maintain our vision and philosophy of providing child-initiated learning when we are not working directly with the children?

We rely on parental engagement and that is the key to this working successfully; we use social media and emails to inform them that their online journals are being updated and encourage them to share their photos. In the first week, we did the rainbow picture challenge and had a lot of responses which reassured the staff that parents would engage and also allowed the parents/carers at home to show their children what the staff had been up to at home with their families too. This set the tone for the weeks to come. Using our knowledge of each of our children, we send weekly ideas, suggestions, and challenges for the parents/carers to consider implementing.

We have found that there have been three types of interaction.

Some observations uploaded by the parents/carers just share a ‘wow’ moment within the family – perhaps they had experienced a lockdown birthday, they had a new garden toy or celebrated VE Day.

Some activities did not grasp the children’s (or parent/carers) imagination and that is fine too. As is the case in nursery, a child may start out on a line of investigation and you go along with them; you never know if this adventure may be a 10-minute interest or a sustained activity for an hour, but then comes to a halt and is not revisited again.

However, some soon became a wonderful stream of learning experiences that are still ongoing, eight weeks into this new routine. Here is just part of Tommy’s* lockdown learning journey:

Tommy’s key person links the various ideas and observations on the online learning journey.  It is clear to see in just a few short observations and interactions how an idea borne out of a child’s interest is captured by the carer who is at home, and the key person who has in-depth knowledge of that child and a also a positive relationship with the carer.

Working collaboratively in this way has ensured that the staff, children and parents/carers  have been able to continue the learning whilst upholding the vision and philosophy of the setting, been able to provide activities and ideas that skilfully build on interests to extend the children’s learning and be a reassuring presence for the children and their families during lockdown.

I will leave you with this quote as I think it sums up Tommy’s story and lockdown learning journey:

“A child’s play is not simply a reproduction of what he experienced, but a creative rework of the impressions he has acquired.” Vygotsky.


*not his real name

Elfer, Goldschmied and Selleck – Key Persons in the Early Years, 2003
Anna Ephgrave – Planning in the moment with young children: A practical guide for early years practitioners and parents, 2018
EYFS Statutory Framework, DfE, 2017

Sarah Collins Bio:
I have been working in the Early Years Sector for over 20 years. I have a wide range of experience working in private nurseries and playgroups, I worked for NDNA co-ordinating their Quality Assurance Scheme and for a local authority as a Child Development Officer. I am passionate about child-initiated learning and using social media to widen my connections. In 2016 I gained Early Years Teacher Status from Huddersfield University and I currently work in a private nursery in West Yorkshire. I have two children aged 12 and 10.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.