“We, as adults, feel the need to describe things to give words and categories to types of behaviors and dimensions of knowledge. We must be able to do this without separating the strands the infants have woven together” – Paola Cagliari
Exploring Documentation Options
There are many ways to record and document infant and toddler learning. Caregivers should utilize several methods as part of their regular documentation routines. The tools and strategies caregivers use to document force choices to be made: caregivers must take time to intentionally choose the best documentation tool for the intended communication. Infant and toddlers have the right to explain their creativity and their way of seeing the world. Caregivers must respect the different processes infants and toddlers use to build their knowledge and choose documentation with this in mind: it is crucial to find strategies to understand the processes of knowledge exploration and sustain, not suffocate, these processes (Cagliari, 2004).
The following methods are the most common for collecting and recording data:
Narrative or Open Methods
- Anecdotal notes
- Running records
- Daily log
- Home-School Journal
- Frequency counts
- Time or event samples
- Work samples
- Taking photos, videotaping, or audio recordings
Anecdotal records (sometimes referred to as specimen records) describe what infants and toddlers do and say. They are brief, focused notes about one event or incident from an infant or toddler's day. The key to creating an anecdotal record is to concentrate on one specific event or activity. When creating an anecdotal record, capturing the beginning, middle, and end of a particular event is often referred to as the ABCs.
A= Antecedent: what happened before the event
B= Behavior: the specific behavior being captured
C= Consequence: what happened after the behavior
Anecdotal records offer a window of opportunity into an infant or toddler’s actions, interactions, and reactions to people and events. When caregivers later analyze this collection of narratives, the anecdotal records can showcase an infant or toddler’s progress over time. (University of Washington, EarlyEdU Alliance, 2020).
The primary goal for running records is to “obtain a detailed, objective account of behavior without inference, interpretations, or evaluations” (Bentzen, 2009, p.112). Running records contain many elements of an anecdotal record but go further than one specific narrative. The details recorded in a running record contain elements resembling an ethnography. An ethnography is the in-depth study of everyday practices of people's lives: it produces a detailed description of the studied group at a particular time and location. These descriptions document the behavior or cultural event in question and the context in which it occurs (Scheib et al., 2021). These elements can also be present in a running record. The attitudes, perspectives, and motivations describe the entire situation. Documenting the whole situation in a running record requires much more information than an anecdotal record (Swim & Douville-Watson, 2011). Good documentation includes the ability to close your eyes and “see” the images in your mind as they are described in the running record (Bentzen, 2009). This level of detail also applies to anecdotal records. To complete a running record, caregivers often schedule a day, time, and setting to observe a specific infant or toddler or group of infants and toddlers. Although not necessary, caregivers decide on the observation's purpose, reason, or focus (e.g., cognitive skills, social interactions, play patterns).
In both an anecdotal record and a running record, a caregiver may create 2 separate categories in their documentation. One category contains the objective factual observation, while a separate section records the caregiver's inferences. Inferences are conclusions that an observer draws from the interpretation of objective observations. (Wittmer & Petersen, 2010)
Most infant and toddler programs create daily logs for each infant and toddler. These logs usually contain information like feeding amounts and times, naps, and diaper changes. They can also include quick notes about milestone behaviors noticed, an activity the infant or toddler engaged in, or an overall synopsis of the infant or toddler’s day. Daily logs are not the place to comment on concerns or problem behaviors. Behaviors of concern are recorded on other forms of documentation, and if needed, a conversation occurs with the family at a scheduled time.
Individual Journals and Home-School Journals
The use of individual journals is great practice for creating consistent and consecutive records of events and development for an individual infant or toddler. Personal journals can be made from any materials: inexpensive composition notebooks are frequently implemented.
Caregivers should spend a few minutes at the end of every day jotting notes about the infant or toddler. These notes can replicate the daily log records or include more in-depth description. Caregivers do not need to record in every individual journal every day. A practice of spending a few minutes at the end of the day documenting in a few individual journals will make it possible for even the busiest of caregivers to create valuable documentation for assessment and curriculum development. Journals (and other forms of documentation) can also be used during family-caregiver conferences or move with the infant or toddler to the next classroom. Home-school journals contain the same elements as an individual journal, but also function as a communication tool to send information back and forth between school and home. Families are encouraged to write and respond to the caregiver's observations or notes (Swim & Douville-Watson, 2011). Home-school journals create involvement and connection for family members who might not otherwise have the opportunity to engage with the childcare center.
Checklists and Other Tools
Tools such as checklists and frequency counts quickly record information about the occurrence of specific behaviors or skills. A significant feature of these tools is that the behaviors or skills are already identified and defined. Caregivers record the observed behavior or skill by using check or tally marks or noting the date on which the skill or behavior was seen. (McAfee et al., 2016) These documentation tools are classified as closed types because they do not provide any details of the observation and should never be used exclusively for curriculum development or assessment purposes.
Documentation panels contain photos, transcripts of conversations, caregivers’ notes, and artifacts from one infant or toddler or a group of infants and toddlers (Klien, 2008). Documentation panels move beyond bulletin boards or art displays because they function as intentional communication (Tarini, 1997). They attempt to communicate the complexity of an infant or toddler's experience, as well as the learning taking place during those experiences (Helm & Beneke, 2003).
When documentation panels are displayed at infant and toddler eye level, they allow infants and toddlers the opportunity to revisit their learning in a format that is easy to visually observe and provides visual prompts for caregivers to have conversations revisiting the experience. Viewing documentation invites curiosity and confidence as infants and toddlers revisit their work and contemplate their accomplishments (Malaguzzi,1998). A documentation panel can display a variety of interactions visually: child/child, child/adult, and child/material (Klien, 2008). Artfully displaying the contents of a documentation panel serves as a visual archive of an infant or toddler’s learning for directors, parents, and community members to view easily (Helm, Beneke, & Steinheimer, 1998). Documentation panels draw parents into the classrooms and serve as a springboard for conversations (Saltz, 1997). For centers and family childcare organizations utilizing project-based curriculum, documentation panels provide the space to convey the infant and toddler’s experiences and learning throughout the project (Kline, 2008). Caregivers may put a set of photographs side by side to show a sequence of actions or learning experiences. This technique sheds light on a wide range of learning (for example, an infant and toddler’s understanding of routines or an infant and toddler’s fine motor development). 
What to include on documentation panels:
- Photos of infants and toddlers demonstrating the skill you are explaining
- Narratives about the photos
- Sample of materials used
- Procedures and processes for curriculum or project exploration
- Connections to assessment measures (i.e., DRDP measures)
- Children’s quotes
When creating a board, think about the audience: the intended audience dictates the type of words and images used.
 Peterson, G., & Elam, E. (2021). Observation and Documentation - The Key to Intentional Teaching. In Observation and Assessment in Early Childhood Education is licensed under CC BY.
 The California Infant/Toddler Curriculum Framework by the California Department of Education is used with permission