How can we rethink and transform ECEC spaces? Reflecting with photos and observations
Within the EDUCAS project, Belgium’s project partners VBJK (Centre for Innovation in the Early Years) and the two Flemish Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) centers involved, de Tandem and Hippo’s Hof, have put in practice two methods related to organizing ECEC environments within an ‘educare’ approach. In this article, we share how the use of pedagogical documentation and observations are contributing to transforming spaces in both centers.
Linking vision and practice through pedagogical documentation
The child center De Tandem (BE, FL) works with mixed age groups of children and wondered how to better connect their vision to their practice within an educare approach, and how to organize the spaces accordingly, to guarantee the well-being of children and families. Consequently, they initiated a reflection path process to organize their eating time and space differently.
At the beginning of the process, professionals expressed some concerns about the eating time and space:
‘Eating with friends and family is always cozy. But the eating time in the children group was often more chaotic than cozy. Also, the colleagues used to say that this was the most chaotic moment of the day.’
‘We all documented the eating time with pictures and observations. We shared all the photos during a team meeting, and we reflected on how it was organized. We analyzed the photos and we discussed what happened before and after each photo was taken. We wanted to understand the whole process…’
Through the EDUCAS project, the team chose to work with pedagogical documentation method to reflect on practice and vision. VBJK accompanied De Tandem’s team in this reflection path.
Pedagogical documentation is a way to document ECEC practice (through videos, pictures, observations…) to 1) enrich children’s experiences; 2) support the dialogue with families; 3) make ECEC more visible; 4) support reflection on daily practice.
It is this last meaning that we valued with the experience of EDUCAS that we are reporting. More specifically, we decided to work on photos how we take photos and what we choose to frame says implicitly something about our vision and pedagogical values. Reflecting on images with colleagues is interesting because it brings up different/similar visions/points of view, which sometimes were implicit.
The steps of the reflection process in De Tandem are as follows:
- An external observer takes pictures of different daily moments (selection based on the results of the focus groups previously organized with families and staff)
- Each professional chooses a theme and selects the photos that make that theme ‘visible’, with attention to spaces and educare
- The external observer reflects individually with each professional about the chosen and not chosen photos (why did you choose this picture? What do you see here? Why didn’t you choose this other one? …)
- Each professional creates a poster with the chosen photos related to that specific theme, and ‘gives words’ to the pictures to explain which vision is behind the particular choice of photos (see photo)
- Reflection on the posters with the whole team (exchange of different points of view)
- Definition of possible ‘actions’ related to what came out from the exchange
A testimony from professionals at the end of the process
‘Now each day we organize the eating time in the same way. Children know what to expect. We prepare the space together with them. Cleaning up happens now in a calm way. Since not long ago each group has its own trolley with food, thanks to the focus groups’ results. In this way we don’t have to wait to eat anymore. The atmosphere is now much calmer […]. We make sure that we sit next to the children and communicate with them. […] We use less plastic materials to play, but also during the meals (glasses, plates…).’
Exchange of observations
The two Belgian ECEC centers involved in EDUCAS (Hippo’s Hof and De Tandem) organized ‘exchanging observation moments’ in which the practitioners of one service would observe the ones of the other service and vice-versa.
During the observations, a grid prepared in advance was used. The grid focused on how the different spaces (entrance, children’s rooms, routines’ spaces – eating, sleeping, hygiene – outdoor spaces, places for adults) of the services are organized and used, and what kind of interactions are put in place, taking into account an educare approach.
After the observations a joint reflection moment, coordinated by VBJK was organized and structured as follows:
- The observers report what they see in a descriptive way
- The observed practitioners tell what they think about it (interpretation)
- The observers add/discuss their own interpretations and tell ‘what they would bring home’, their main takeout’s from what they saw and discussed
- The facilitators summarize and eventually add comments if needed
The practitioners of both ECEC services reported that this was a very enriching experience for them, because 1) they could see similar/different practices in another context and learn from them; 2) they could re-think their own practice and re-elaborate concepts taken for granted.
Feedback from practitioners involved
‘It was very interesting to see, I could see that their spaces changed a lot. But I could also re-think about my own class, my spaces in our preschool.’
‘The big entrance is a space to welcome families, play and learning.’
‘They have a wall full of boots for children, so that they can go out with all kinds of wethear. This is something I want to bring home.’
‘Children are very involved when they eat, and the space is organized, calm, pleasant. It made me re-think about how we organize our eating moment.’
Conclusions: What do we need to make change possible through reflection?
Several aspects support the implementation of processes that aim to reflect on photos and on observations. These can be mentioned as follows:
- Activate a reflection path process and allowing time for it
- Giving space to both individual and group reflection
- Having a motivation for change
- Involving the whole team (directly and/or indirectly)
- Having an external ‘eye’ helps ‘seeing’ daily practice
- Being that ‘external ’eye’ also helps in seeing your daily practice with different eyes
- Trust towards the external person and towards the team itself
Under the EDUCAS project the teams from de Tandem and Hippo’s Hof continue transforming their spaces and practices thanks to these reflection processes.
Authors: Nima Sharmahd and Caroline Boudry, VBJK (Centre for Innovation in the Early Years)
Photos: Caroline Boudry
 Before the reflection path, children had to sit at the table and wait until the trolley would do the ‘tour’ of all groups before coming to them. Now each group has its own trolley, so that nobody has to wait. This is an example of how, through reflection on the ‘taken for granted practice’, a very small practical change (with a vision behind) can have an effect on children’s (and adults’) wellbeing in ECEC.
 VBJK is an ISSA Member organization