Process Rather than Product

In our post ‘Getting ready for School‘ we talk about how some parents were complaining about children not being “taught” enough in childcare settings. We know that this is just not the case, and in another thought provoking article, Dr Marie Martin explores the thinking and learning behind the actions and how we focus on the process rather than the product.

When we receive a gift, we are often reminded that “it is the thought that counts”. For the children in SOEL, it is the thinking that counts. Hand prints turned into angels is a fun afternoon activity to decorate a tree. A gift of a plaster cast, clay snail, pot or tile or a portrait involves much more.


  • Our children think about the materials: what are they, what are they like, how do they work, why do they act like this, what is unique about them and how can they change them?
  • They think about previous experiences: what do they remember from other times of using these materials and how can they use that previous information in the current setting?
  • They think about their interactions with the materials: what happens when they poke, press, pound or shape these materials and what do they have to do to create something from these materials?
Process rather than Product
  • They think about what they might create: who it is for, what will it be used for and what is their responsibility in the creation?
  • They think about what they know about themselves: how their muscles work and the effort required in manipulating the materials.
  • They think about what they know about the world: art elements, the combination of substances, forces, measurement, designs and construction
  • They wonder, make predictions, plan, explore, experiment, make decisions, solve problems and reflect.
  • Through all of these processes they deepen their understandings.

And families see a product of this thinking coupled with the children’s skills and dispositions: their control over their bodies and objects, their abilities to use their senses and notice what is relevant to this situation, their commitment, courage, creativity, independence, mindfulness and persistence. Is the thinking visible in the product? Look closely!

Beyond the fridge door

There’s something reassuring about a school bag that has colouring in and worksheets of letters, number or words. As parents, we can look at that page and know exactly what it is about. We gain confidence that our children are learning something, that the teachers are teaching something. And we can put it on the fridge as evidence for our friends and family to see. Or can we?

Let’s stop and remember our own experience. What learning was on that piece of paper? What did it mean to us when that paper was put on the fridge door? Or if it wasn’t? What really mattered: the paper or the warm glow of parental praise and pride?

At Schools of Early Learning we know that learning happens in people’s brains. To learn something we need to see it, do it, practise it and apply it. We need to know it, understand it, have the skills to do it, hold positive values about it and take responsible, thoughtful and appropriate action with it. Learning doesn’t fit on a piece of paper, or on a fridge door. It’s bigger than that.

Learning that excites us is learning we want to share. Our children speak excitedly about their current investigations, using language such as ‘transformation’, ‘connection’, ‘garden to plate’ and ‘sustainability’. These investigations continue over many months, growing, changing and challenging. There are always new ideas to explore, new thoughts to puzzle, new possibilities to create.

What are your children excited about? Can you hear their learning? Are you proud of their growing knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and actions? Can you see that this is more than getting ready for school?

Learning that matters to us can be hard to share. How can we explain the feeling of having a wonderful idea, of mastering a skill, of persisting at a task, of receiving a thank you because of our actions? Our children have ‘a look’: of amazement, surprise, concentration, pride. Sometimes ‘the look’ is connected with a drawing, piece of writing, a construction, a model or an installation. More often we capture it in the photographs we send to families, the daily photo journals, the weekly reflections and the visible displays in the centre.

What are your children amazed, surprised or proud of? Have you seen the evidence of their learning in the centre documentation? Children learn quickly what is important to us by what we pay attention to and what we ignore. What are you paying attention to in regard to your child’s learning? Do you give value to the centre documentation by asking your children about them? What is on your fridge door?

Focusing on why

Thinking about the WHY in a situation can lead to other less obvious but ultimately important insights about children, their play and their learning. Adults celebrate when children lift their heads, roll over, crawl, walk and talk. These milestones are visible and exciting achievements. Harder to see is the risk taking, failure, persistence, concentration and resilience involved in these accomplishments.

Even more invisible is the understanding that I can see different things when I lift my head. I achieve a roll when I exert the right combination of force and control. I can move quickly when I alternative my knees and arms. I can use a stool to leverage my body to a standing position. Certain sounds I make achieve more response from my carers than others.

WHAT children do is the content of school curricula. It’s easy to list, checklist and test. It’s why schools are good at the WHAT. HOW children achieve is articulated in the skills and processes of each subject. It’s harder to explain, observable more by comparison that in a moment and longer term. WHY is even harder to identify and impossible to measure with an “On Entry Assessment” and NAPLAN testing.

At SOEL we are excited by WHAT the children do. However, we are much more interested in HOW they do things and WHY. Our focus is on “children breaking new ground” and it is the thinking behind the WHAT of routines, activities and experiences or the HOW of play-based learning that lead to new discoveries, new ways of working and new ideas.

At SOEL we know that every moment is a WHY moment for children. In everything they are doing they are making meaning. Our focus is on supporting the thinking child, the child who will become an adult who will ask WHY?