Child portfolios showcase the unique accomplishments and progress of each child in your early education setting. Tracking children’s development with a portfolio can support learning outcomes, improve parent engagement and allow you to reflect on the effectiveness of your program.
Creating and maintaining a child portfolio can be easily incorporated into daily record-keeping tasks and will help strengthen the value of your center overall.
Read on to learn more about child portfolios, their importance, and tips for preschool portfolio ideas.
What is a child portfolio?
A child portfolio is a structured way to document a child's entire learning progress and growth while at your center. It provides a unique account of each child’s development and contains important milestones such as the important skills they’ve learned, the ways they learn, and how they interact with their peers and their environment. The portfolio can be a digital collection of records or a physical portfolio, or a combination of both.
Child portfolios can contain items such as photographs of the child engaging in activities, recordings or descriptions of conversations, anecdotal observations from teachers, or art samples and drawings. Each item should be carefully included to reflect each child’s development and growth. For example, a child portfolio may contain a picture of a child grasping a pencil at the beginning of the year and another picture of their pencil grasp at the end of the year, demonstrating how they have mastered this skill over time.
This is one of the most significant ongoing projects you and your staff will undertake, as portfolios require regular maintenance. They’re a great way to track each child’s progress over time and highlight your curriculum and activities to your families.
Benefits of a child portfolio
Early childhood portfolios serve as a collaborative tool between you, the child, and families. They encourage self-reflection from children and feedback for parents, while giving you the opportunity to highlight each child’s strengths and the efficacy of your school programs.
Portfolios help track a child’s developmental progress, which translates daily observations into a big-picture narrative. This narrative connects parents with their child’s learning in a concrete way, turning abstract assessments and evaluations into a timeline they can understand.
Curating a child portfolio can also help you assess your lesson planning and activities, giving you a way to think about outcomes for each child. As you regularly add to each child portfolio, you can monitor their development and reflect on what works and doesn’t in your lessons.
What should you include in a child portfolio?
A child portfolio should include any material that best demonstrates each child’s individual development and growth. Here are some common resources to pull from to build your childcare portfolios:
- Photographs documenting events, lessons, and activities. Include any photos capturing moments where a child’s social connections or specific achievement shines through.
- Recordings or descriptions of conversations with the child. You can add a description or transcription of a conversation with the child or record a quick video or audio clip for a digital portfolio so parents can listen. If you are making both physical and digital portfolios at once, having a recording makes it easier to transcribe the conversation.
- Images of child-made artwork. You can use photos to preserve group projects or other types of work that might be difficult to include in a physical portfolio.
- Art samples or drawings. Include art or drawings created by the child, especially those that highlight any development in a certain skill, such as drawing letter-like shapes.
- Anecdotal observations and remarks. Your observations are valuable pieces of information for families to learn more about their child.
3 tips on creating personalized child portfolios
1. Establish development guidelines and collection criteria
Your program's chosen (or required) childhood development guidelines will help you determine the milestones you hope to observe in a child's behavior. Early childhood learning standards vary by program and state and provide a framework for the desired outcomes for each child over a specific period of time. For example, in California, the Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP) is a widely used framework that provides benchmarks for child development from birth to 4 years old.
Whatever the measurement basis, it is important to work with staff to create an internal guide for gathering materials that showcase each child's progress. The guidelines should broadly outline how staff will collect materials and ensure that every child's portfolio receives the same level of attention. Here are some questions your framework should provide answers to:
- How often should educators take stock of each child's portfolio and assess what they are looking for in their next stage of development (e.g., at least once a month)?
- How much do you include in each child’s portfolio? The portfolio should showcase how a child progresses overall, not daily changes.
- How often should staff add notes about a child's behavior and progression, and how detailed should those notes be?
- Any specific requirements regarding development or portfolios as outlined by your state.
- Determine what you will use as additional evaluative tools. Examples are question-and-answer prompts, ratings on a scale, or screening prompts.
2. Let staff control their portfolio workflow
It is important to set general guidelines and expectations for staff around child portfolio creation, but you don’t have to detail precisely what information gets included in each portfolio. Each staff member should be responsible for developing their own process for curating materials.
When staff nail a workflow, have them share it with others. Sharing knowledge of individual processes can help other teachers streamline their approach to material collection and encourage creativity.
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. Physical portfolios contain tangible memories - for example, as you flip through a child's portfolio, you can stumble upon their first original artwork. Physical portfolios also allow you to get creative with the visual layout of portfolio pieces.
While physical portfolios have their advantages, digital portfolios also have many benefits. On the one hand, they are more permanent and copyable. Digitizing some or all of your children's portfolios can make it easier for parents to look at and save their child's work. It also makes it easier for families to share these milestones instantly with close family and friends.
Another big advantage of digital storage is the ability it gives staff to include videos and photos in their portfolios. For example, a video of a child completing a new and complex task is an excellent way to show their progression.
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, staff can automatically file and label materials digitally in real-time. In a classroom management tool like brightwheel, these artifacts can be added as observations, allowing staff and parents to see how children progress towards developmental milestones.
How to make a preschool portfolio
Consider the below preschool portfolio ideas when creating your own:
- Categorize by learning area. Organize portfolio entries by skill area so parents can see how their child is progressing. For example include sections such as physical development, social-emotional development, cognitive skills, and language and literacy skills.
- Use photos and written observations in learning domains that may not have tangible work. For example, if you are building a digital portfolio, you may want to include a video of a child coloring with a friend in the classroom or playing with other children on the playground to illustrate their social-emotional development. You can include a picture for a physical childcare portfolio.
- Include the exact date on each of your records. Tracking developmental growth over time is one of the main advantages of a portfolio. You can organize the materials and quickly identify important dates. The simplest method to ensure this is to track digitally because the date will be included by default.
- Choose the right format. Ensure the portfolio is laid out in an aesthetically pleasing and easy to comprehend manner. The materials and documents included in each portfolio and the way it is presented reflect on your center. A well-designed portfolio can impress and engage parents and show you take your job of caring for their child seriously.
- Show progress. Consider tying your records back to learning standards and developmental milestones to determine what information to include in each portfolio. Only the most important and interesting materials should be showcased as you tell the story of each child.
- Share with families. Families want to know how their child is developing and a portfolio is a great resource for them to feel more engaged with their child’s overall learning.You can share portfolios regularly throughout the year, or hold a "portfolio presentation day" where parents can see their children's portfolios as a whole—or involve the parents regularly in curating and structuring their child's portfolios.
Better portfolios, better business
The comprehensive information in child portfolios make them valuable tools for parents to understand their child's development and for staff to serve each child's needs as they grow. Meaningful portfolios are a hallmark of any high-quality early childhood learning program.
Take advantage of the suggestions presented here to standardize and simplify the creation process, resulting in an impactful child portfolio that you, your children, and families can benefit from.