Charlotte Bowes’ Play Project

Using Online Learning Journals to put play at the heart of family learning.

Charlotte Bowes
Lead Researcher
P1 Teacher

Online Learning Journals

One way that child-centred pedagogy is championed is through the use of keen observation. Observation of the child – emotions, words & actions – informs every aspect of my practice – spaces, interactions & experiences – to create an ever-evolving feedback loop of observation, planning & assessment. The children in my setting are now explicitly involved in this process, so the natural next step is to involve families in the same way. Our Nursery team have recently introduced online learning journals so, to enhance our N-P1 transition, we have adopted the same approach as a means to communicate learning between school & home, staff & families.

Observation offers ‘insight into the interests, perceptions, understandings, feelings and capacities of individual children.’

Davies, 1997

What format will your communication take?

Families will receive weekly updates on their child’s learning via the Learning Journal website.

What content will your communication have?

Each observation will list the learning that was taking place at school (including a photo or video) as a prompt for family discussions with their little one & offer suggestions on how they might like to extend the learning at home, through play.


Project Progress

The first step in the project was to introduce Learning Journals to our families. An account was created for each child, parents, carers & guardians were provided with log-in details and a letter outlining the intended use of the Learning Journals.

The letter introduced staff’s plans for the Learning Journals & asked families for their suggestions on the content they would like to receive.

Based upon this feedback, & hoping to communicate observations based upon the 3 ‘ways of learning’ that we plan for in P1 (left, adapted from Julie Fisher, 2013), the following types of update were chosen.

Observations of child-led play with individual ‘next steps’ that will extend the child’s chosen learning. The children know these observations as Magic Moments & enjoy sharing them with the class at the end of each day.

Observations of the day-to-day adult-led learning in class. This includes sharing the learning focus for both Phonics & SEAL groups, allowing families to consolidate their learning at home.

Observations of the adult-initiated open-ended challenges that are suggested for children each week & designed to target one of the 4C skills: collaboration, communication, creative thinking & critical thinking.


Next Steps

Now that the format of the observations has been agreed with families, the content needs to be finalised to ensure all the necessary information is being shared. As such, the project’s next steps are to:

  • transfer the current paper-based format for observation onto the online Learning Journals system,
  • begin sharing observations (of all 3 types) with families,
  • seek feedback from families on the use of the online Learning Journals,
  • design a means to measure the impact of the online Learning Journals.

Covid-19 Caveat

Due to the class’ self-isolation for the last two weeks of Christmas, and the national lockdown that followed, use of the Online Learning Journal platform had to change.

Whilst completing home learning, the predominant means of communication with families (as a whole class) was Microsoft Teams, for consistency across the school.

During these weeks, Online Learning Journals were used, as a non-public forum, to communicate children’s individual learning.

“A young child’s voice is interpreted by our observations of their actions, emotions and words. These observations are central to assessment and inform us what children need.

“What do the children’s actions, emotions and words tell you about what they require from you and others [their interactions], their experiences, and the different spaces they need to grow and develop in every way?”

Realising the ambition

Project Progress

Now that children have returned to school, usual play observations – adult-led, adult-initiated & child-led, as above – have resumed. An example of each is shown below:

Click the image below to view an exemplar Magic Moment observation.

Our child-led play observations can be group or individual, and, alongside a description of the play,  include:

  • Pupil voice both in the moment as verbatim quotes, and with hindsight as the children reflect upon their play at the end of the day/ week.
  • The role of the adult which is:
    – differentiated as either  watching (simply observing) or wondering (extending learning in the moment, when invited),
    – described using ‘Anna Ephgrave’s Teaching is…’ document.
  • Direct links to both the Early Level Curriculum and our class’ learning dispositions, as appropriate.
  • Next steps for the observed play which, to support, extend or challenge the learning, are categorised as adding:
    – resources (for child-led play),
    – provocations (for adult-initiated play)
    – teaching input (adult-led).
    Next steps, whether decided by the child or the adult, are made explicit (and displayed in the classroom) so that the children understand their play is important and shapes the learning environment.

Magic Moment observations are shared at least once a week for every child.

Click the image below to view an exemplar Teacher Time observation.

Our adult-led observations can also be group or individual and link to the Land of Learning skills that we introduce during teacher time. They focus on Literacy & Numeracy.

The observations alternate to show a child’s:

  • Individual target, either celebrating the child’s achievements or offering ideas to consolidate learning, through play, at home.
  • Latest learning. This includes videos of the children so they can teach their family the new skill they have learnt, at home.

One Teacher Time observation for Literacy, and one for Numeracy, are shared each week. 

Click the image below to view an exemplar 4Cs observation for I photographed

Our adult-initiated observations ask children to finish the sentence e.g. I drew…, I built…
One sentence (focus skill) is chosen per week in response to previous observations and can also be individual, group or whole-class.

Examples of the four Cs skills include:

  • Collaboration e.g. I shared… I lead… I was a good friend…
  • Communication e.g. I listened… I read… I wrote…
  • Critical Thinking e.g. I explained… I solved a problem… I helped…
  • Creative Thinking e.g. I planned… I made… I imagined…

One 4Cs skills observation is shared once a week for every child.

“Unless we know, tune into and understand our children,
unless we act effectively on what we know, we cannot help them very much.

Tina Bruce

Pupil Voice

It is really important that our children feel that their thoughts are valued and acted upon, so they have been consulted at every step along the way.

Below is a wee overview of what our children had to say when asked if they had looked at their Online learning Journals with their family at home.

“Mummy went on her phone and see the pictures and she said well done and good job and I’m a super star.”

“Mummy said that was wonderful! And we talked about the game.”

“Mummy doesn’t know how to see the pictures… I never asked her to.”

From the children’s discussions it was clear that some families were still struggling with access to the Online Learning Journals.

Inspired by Holly’s Sharing the Ambition Professional Enquiry Project we introduced our own ‘Ask Me About’ stickers. As a result all families are now logged on and engagement has been shown to have increased in correlation with the stickers.


Family Feedback

At the same time, we periodically seek feedback from the parents, carers and guardians, too.

Below is a wee overview of what our families had to say when asked for their thoughts on our use of Online Learning Journals:

“It’s very good and also you gave us videos and ideas about our kids. I think it’s useful and helpful. Thanks keep going 👍☑️”

“It’s lovely to see what my child is doing at school. It’s nice to see a mixture of play and academic things.”

“We love the updates and the photos! It’s very hard to find out from my child what they were doing at school, usually the answer is “I was playing” or today they were “rolling fruit”. Thanks to your post I found out what they meant by rolling fruit. Love the videos too, it’s great to see how you teach the kids so we can copy it at home.”

“It provides visibility of both the play and teacher time. I love going through the learning journal any time I get notification that something new has been added. The teacher time observation allows us to continue the learning at home.”


Next Steps

Following feedback from children, families & staff there are several next steps for the project:

  • At the moment the majority of families simply ‘like’ our observations. From listening to the children it appears that, whilst families are checking their Online Learning Journals and offering praise, there isn’t as much discussion around the content of the observations as we might hope. Moving forward, each observation will include suggested discussion questions and simple ideas for continuing the learning, through play, at home (where appropriate).
  • Although the children’s next steps are being recorded and shared with families for each observation, it would be beneficial to document the follow up learning e.g. when a resource/provocation/teaching input is introduced.
  • We would love to share our families’ play at home with our P1s at school, to motivate and inspire their learning. Moving forward, we will be exploring different means to engage families in sharing their own Online Learning Journal observations from home. 

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