Learning Stories

By Annamaria Guild & Antonella Cirillo

“Stories are not to be treated lightly as they both carry and inspire significant obligations and responsibilities: stories must be cared for as they are at the heart of how we make meaning of our experience of the world.”

Huber et al. 2016: 214, in Carr and Lee, 2019:1

Stories are central to all cultures. Narratives are all about how, we, human beings share art, science, philosophy, discoveries, memories, and dreams. People use their memory and imagination, create narratives that are about the past, the present and the future, about what is and could be.

Learning stories have been developed as the narrative assessment practice, based on observation, and are an integral part of Te Whariki, the Early Years Curriculum in New Zealand, where children are seen as: “competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society. They come into the world ready and eager to learn within their family, the community” (Ministry of Education, 2017: 5).

A Learning Story is a recording of a child’s or a group of children’s experiences, a snapshot of a longer activity or a specific activity, an opportunity of learning and interactions. Stories can be recorded by the teachers or the parents. But how do these narrative assessments become Learning Stories? This is where this assessment differs from all the others: the adult adds his/her own interpretation of the child’s learning dispositions (such as curiosity, resilience, courage, taking responsibility), competencies, focusing on what the child can do, not what the child needs to learn to do.

Observation is also at the heart of Montessori practice:

“As we observe children, we see the vitality of their spirit, the maximum effort put forth in all they do, the intuition, attention and focus they bring to all life’s events, and the sheer joy they experience in living.”

Montessori, 2016: 89

Learning stories are directed to the child and to the family, they are a dialogue among all people involved in the process of life, teaching and learning,  valuing the ‘vitality of the spirit’ of the child. Learning stories are personal, that is why the teacher writes directly to the child: ‘I was observing… and noticed you doing…’  This dialogue brings together different viewpoints, ideas, relationships and culture(s). Every story reflects mutual respect and love, celebrates the holistic development, the funds of knowledge and dispositions, the strength and contribution of the child to the growing knowledge and life of the community to which s/he belongs.

At the Montessori Musings webinar on Monday 7 December (19.00 GMT), we will explore how we can use the Learning Stories approach to nurture and facilitate the children’s holistic development and their self-actualisation and to effectively evaluate and enhance our every-day practice. We look forward to seeing you then. Register now.


Anning, A., Cullen, J. and Fleer, M. (2009) Early Childhood Education: Society and Culture (2nd ed) London: Sage

Carr, M. and Lee, W. (2012) Learning Stories, Constructing Learner Identities in Early Education London: Sage Publishing

Carr ,M. and Lee, W. (2019) Learning Stories in Practice London: Sage Publishing

Ministry of Education (2017) Te Whariki Early Childhood Curriculum Wellington, New Zealand: MoE

Montessori, M. (2016) The Child, Society and the World Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company

Moss, p. and Pence, A. (1994) Valuing Quality in Early Childhood services: New Approaches to Defining Quality London: Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd

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