Portfolios are one of the best tools for tracking child development and a great way to showcase how children in your care are progressing and growing. Creating them is a detailed task that spans the weeks or months — even years — that a child attends your program. No substitute can provide the consistent level of insight into each child's development, so getting your child care portfolios right is critical.
This is one of the biggest ongoing projects you and your staff will undertake, as portfolios require regular maintenance. How do you ensure that your files are consistently maintained, that each is high quality and a valuable tool for your staff and parents alike?
It all starts with collecting the right materials.
1. Set collection criteriaYour program's chosen (or required) childhood development guidelines will help you determine exactly what milestones you are hoping to observe in children's behavior. These early childhood learning standards, which vary by program and by state, provide a framework for the desired outcomes you hope to see in each child and over what time period. For example, in California, the Desired Results Developmental Profile, commonly referred to as DRDP, is a widely used framework which provides benchmarks for child development from birth to 4 years old. Brightwheel's own powerful learning platform incorporates these (and each state's) frameworks directly, so staff are able to keep a close eye on expected milestones for easy collection of documentation.
Whatever your chosen basis of measurement, work with staff to create an internal guide for gathering materials that showcase the progress of each child. Don't get too prescriptive. The criteria provided in the guide should broadly outline how staff should approach collecting evidence of a child's development. This should include:
- How often you should take stock of each child's portfolio and assess what you are looking for in their next stage of development (e.g., at least once a month).
- How much you want to include in each child portfolio — remember, you need to show how a child is progressing overall, not day-to-day change.
- How often staff should add notes about a child's behavior and progression, and how detailed those notes should be.
- Any specific requirements in regards to development or portfolios as outlined by your state.
This will ensure that every child's portfolio is detailed and that each receives the same level of care. Creating regular intervals to check in on or add to a portfolio keeps this ongoing project constantly at the forefront of your tasks.
Along with gathering samples of a child's work, determine what additional evaluative tools you will use, such as question-and-answer prompts, ratings on a scale, or screening prompts, for example. Whatever you decide, make sure that staff members understand how and when to use them. For example, if you use question-and-answer prompts, are you building those into your daily lesson plans and having each child complete them on the same day? Collaborate with your staff to come up with a plan that makes the most sense for your center.
2. Let staff control their portfolio workflow
It is important that staff know the expectations around child portfolios and are able to produce a collection that speaks to a child's development. Regulations help articulate what staff should be observing in child development, but they don't dictate exactly how to assemble this information into a portfolio — and this is key. Each staff member should be responsible for developing their own process for curating materials.
This empowers staff to take charge of the project. It's tempting to believe more control, a tighter time schedule, and detailed instructions will make for better portfolios, but that's not necessarily true. If staff can produce consistently excellent child portfolios, asking them to follow narrow, step-by-step instructions on what, how, and when to collect each item can feel frustrating — as though you don't trust them to get the job done. When your criteria are good, let staff play to their organizational strengths.
And when staff nail a workflow, have them share it. Sharing knowledge of individual processes can help everyone streamline their own approach to collection, and encourages staff to be proactive and innovate.
3. Take advantage of digital storage
There's nothing wrong with storing portfolio materials in a box of hanging files; digital storage likely won't replace them. But using a software solution can make it easy to collect notes and daily happenings. For example, if all of your daily sheets are digital, you automatically have an easily browsable record of what a child is doing every day.
One big advantage of digital storage is the ability it gives staff to capture video and photos. A video of a child completing a new and complex task is an excellent way to show their progression. This simply can't be replicated with anything that can be put in a binder.
Staff can also save pictures or videos instantly to capture milestones as they happen. Rather than recreating a timeline or manually recording dates for each piece of work, automatically file and label materials digitally in real time. In brightwheel, these artifacts can be added as observations, allowing staff and parents to see how children are progressing towards developmental milestones.
Additionally, digitizing some or all of your child portfolios can make it easier for parents to look at, share and save their child's work. Photos and videos are easy to send to relatives or to produce multiple copies of for separated parents.
Better portfolios, better businessThe historical information in child care portfolios makes them valuable tools for parents to understand their child's development and for staff to serve each child's needs as they grow. Strong portfolios are a hallmark of quality for any early childhood learning program. And the work it takes to develop and maintain them is never finished.
Take advantage of the suggestions presented here to make the collection process easier for you and your staff while retaining a high-quality end product.
Being methodical about building child portfolios is the best way to get the job done well. Setting up accurate guidelines will ensure quality. Letting staff collect work as they see fit empowers them and lets everyone play to their strengths. And assembling materials digitally results in a greater variety of — and more helpful — materials. Start building your child care portfolios following these tips today.
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