When the child is made the object of a study

'When pedagogical documentation is compiled, there is a risk that children will be made into the objects rather than the subjects of studies. As a preschool teacher, one must also be introspective and not merely look at the child', states Anette Emilson.


Photo: Freddy Wike


The Swedish researcher Anette Emilson has taken videos of 30 preschool children, aged one to three, and their seven preschool teachers.

Initially, she was interested in studying the communication between them. However, when she got out into the field, she realised how much time is spent on documentation. She felt that this had an impact on the communication between adults and children.

‘The communication was of a more strategic nature. It was guided by goals and efficiency, relegating the child to be an object to be documented. This is, of course, diametrically opposed to the intention of documentation’, she points out.


Emilson noted that communication takes different forms when preschool teachers document. One distinguishing feature of the documentation situation is that it is quiet.

The teacher becomes a silent observer, standing on the sidelines, observing and documenting what the child does, using either pen and paper or a digital camera. There is little communication between child and adult.

‘The teacher assumes this position in order not to disrupt or affect the child’, Emilson believes.


Another form of communication in the work with documentation is that the preschool teacher plays a more active role, directing the child’s attention towards a particular phenomenon.

Emilson mentions an example:
Two children, Lisa and Maya, are going to paint with water colours, using easels. The preschool teacher tells them to paint so that drops form. ‘Put a lot water on the brush’, she says. She then asks the children several times: ‘Is that a drop?’

‘In these situations, the documentation was highly goal-oriented. The children were objects in relation to the phenomena that the preschools teachers wanted to study’, comments Emilson.

‘The toddlers were often assigned abstract, very sophisticated tasks. In some cases, the children got frustrated because they didn’t understand what happened’, continues the researcher.


‘Pedagogical documentation is supposed to be a path to reflection, dialogue and new practices in preschools. But is this kind of documentation appropriate for accomplishing that?’ asks the researcher.

‘The intention in both these situations appeared to be to get the children to perform particular tasks. They were to draw a bus, build a tower, make a drop. Even though the goal was to get closer to the child’s perspective, in reality, the preschool teacher’s perspective permeated all the communication’, Emilson points out.

The researcher is certainly not opposed to documentation, but she believes it is important to ask some critical questions about what we hope to accomplish with it.

‘Documentation is a fantastic tool for identifying new ways to work. In that context, however, as an early childhood educator, it is crucial not merely to direct your attention and your camera towards the child, but also to look into yourself. That will give you a whole different perspective. It allows you to see relationships rather than merely the children’s performances. This can improve children’s learning’, summarises the researcher.