Last reviewed 27 September 2019

Learning journeys are a child’s record of their key developmental steps. Learning journeys or journals are a tool for documenting what you have observed about children’s developmental progress in your provision, over time, from their starting points. This includes making formative assessments in the Early Years Foundation Stage prime and specific areas of learning, as well as the characteristics of effective learning says Rebecca Fisk.

Most learning journeys keep a mixture of photographic evidence and written records of observations to evidence the developmental stage of learning for each unique child, showing their specific interests. Whatever you call your ‘capturing’ or documenting of children’s learning, it is essential that it is meaningful, relates mainly to the learning which is initiated by the child, and is used to establish provision needed to encourage further opportunities for their holistic development.

What a learning journey is not!

Sometimes learning journeys become onerous, a showpiece and focus on quantity of content rather than quality observations. They can be filled with ‘outcomes’ or ‘activity’ photographs lacking pedagogical knowledge or annotation. Practitioners need to demonstrate they have really understood the thinking, language and learning taking place for the child.

Sometimes, notes written spontaneously have been re-copied, meaning that practitioners have done the same piece of work twice. Learning journeys come in many formats – electronic, templates, self-designed. The format you use must work for your setting and there is no preferred stated way of recording expected by Ofsted or within the EYFS.

Be mindful not to set yourself up with a system where constant updating and daily messages are expected by parents, as this may prove unmanageable over time and runs the risk of reducing quality observations in favour of quantity.

What the EYFS says about recording observations

There is no requirement to keep copious notes and vast quantities of written or photographic evidence. The Early Years Foundation Stage Statutory Guidance clearly states that “Paperwork should be limited to that which is absolutely necessary to promote children’s successful learning and development.” (EYFS 2017 p 13)

The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile handbook outlines assessment processes at the end of the Reception year with clear guidance on what is expected when assessing children. “Observational assessment is central to understanding what children really know and can do. Some observations will be planned but some may be a spontaneous capture of an important moment. It is likely that observations of everyday activities will provide evidence of attainment in more than one area of learning. Observational assessment doesn’t need prolonged breaks from interaction with children, or excessive written recording. It is likely to be interwoven with high quality interactions or conversations in words or sign language with children about their activities and current interests.” (EYFSP handbook 2019 p 11)

Ofsted on recording observations

Gill Jones, Ofsted Early Education Deputy Director talks about the curriculum being at the heart of the revised Ofsted Inspection Framework 2019. She states that recorded observations must be beneficial for the children and not ‘for Ofsted’, demonstrating the child’s uniqueness and needs, including what they need in order to reach their next developmental steps. Ofsted inspectors will have discussions with practitioners about a child’s learning, seeking clarity about what you do and why you do it in order that children make progress in your provision.

The Early Years Inspection Handbook for Ofsted registered provision states that inspectors will be “talking to practitioners about their assessment of what children know and can do and how they are building on it.” In group provision a sample of children will also be tracked, and providers will be asked about their intent for that child’s learning, based on prior knowledge and experiences. Inspectors “do not expect to see documentation other than that set out in the EYFS.” (May 2019 p16)

Thinking about your recording of observations

As well as the child’s progress, a quality learning journey will enable you to think about the resources and experiences you will plan for children in order to encourage their unique development, how to close gaps between them and their peers, and what to focus on in developing your home learning conversations with parents/carers.

What you chose to teach will be emphasised by inspectors, why you have chosen this and how you will deliver this teaching. Learning journeys are part of this wider jigsaw puzzle of your pedagogy and practice. Have you captured children’s learning across a wide range of learning contexts? Children’s spontaneous and independent learning can be demonstrated through the formative and on-going assessment that practitioners undertake for children in their care.

Key points

  • Capture children’s learning effectively by embedding the characteristics of effective learning, usually shown through child-initiated activity, in your recorded observations.

  • Include an ‘overview’ of the learning through child and adult interactions, perhaps with some dialogue, when summarising. Sometimes, standing back and just watching can be the most informative way of knowing about the child’s learning. The Ofsted definition of teaching in the early years can support your thinking around what the adult has done to support and extend that learning, such as demonstrating, modelling or encouraging. (Early Years Inspection handbook May 2019: p34)

  • You do not need to capture everything. It is useful to ask yourself, is this new learning, is the child secure in this learning, what does this tell me about the child and their unique knowledge, skills and needs?

  • Consider when and how you will share your knowledge about the child’s learning with their parents/carers and ensure that their knowledge of their child’s development is also incorporated in the learning journey. Remember that a two- year -old review of progress is a requirement.

  • Make time to share the learning journey with each child and seek comments and feedback from them on their own thinking, learning, likes and dislikes. Remember this is the child’s journey – how involved are they?


Department for Education (March 2017) Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS): Setting the Standards for Learning Development and Care for children from birth to five from April 2017

Ofsted (May 2019) Early years inspection handbook for Ofsted registered provision Handbook for inspecting early years provision registered by Ofsted in England under sections 49 and 50 of the Childcare Act 2006

Standards and Testing Agency (Nov 2018) Early Years Foundation Stage Profile 2019 handbook