The F-Word: Follow-up - Sticks & Stones Education

The F-Word: Follow-up

The F-Word: Follow-up

How many follow-ups are we required to do?

What are follow-ups and do we have to do them?

How many follow-ups are we required to do?

To me, the term "follow-up" is a dirty word. 

I just absolutely detest this word and what it has come to represent in the early childhood sector. 

I'm not quite sure where my deep-seated hatred for it came from. I think it's because I've always felt they are kinda stupid. They are superficial and a tick-a-box and when implemented a week later, or two weeks later are quite meaningless both to the children and to me as an educator. Shit happens. Things get in the way. And it turns out I’m raging ADHD and I have massive issues with following through with things so that could be a large part of why follow-ups irk me so badly. 

In the context of the new EYLF 2.0 planning cycle, Follow-Up doesn't exist. It is quite literally NOT part of the planning cycle. And the way they are used and implemented makes them quite contradictory to the planning cycle, and simply muddy the waters. 

Historically, I can't tell you who came up with the notion of "follow-up" or when it first started plaguing the early childhood sector. It probalby came from a template designed by an academic. And it somehow just kept its place in the day to day of early childhood planning.

I suppose because it’s clear … this then that. 

Fun Fact #1: Follow-up is mentioned once in the National Quality Standards (NQS) ... one time found on page 23 in the Guide to the Standard ...

In Quality Area 1: “Children learn best when the experiences they have are meaningful to them and are focused on the here and now. Because children constantly learn new skills and gain new insights into their world, educators and co-ordinators need to continuously assess and evaluate teaching and learning to update their knowledge of individual children and to plan new and follow-up experiences that are relevant to the child’s current context.” (ACECQA, 2012 p 23).

Somehow the word follow-up has become a huge part of the planning cycles of many early learning services. Somehow it made it into many people's planning cycles. 

Fun Fact #2: Follow-up appears exactly zero times in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). 

If follow-ups were a core component of the programming and planning process, then the term “follow-up” would have been embedded in the terminology of the NQF right? Like a lot? And it would feature explicitely in the ACECQA and the EYLF planning cycle diagrams. But they simply dont. 

“Children learn best when the experiences they have are meaningful to them and are focused on the here and now.” ... so where does the mentality of “follow-ups” a week later, or two, or sometimes three fit into the phrase “here and now”?

It’s our role to support children’s learning and development, but that support doesn't necessarily need to be in the form of a planned activity or experience, follow-up or otherwise. This is what many educators do, or are told they have to do! 

I'm not suggesting that planning individual experiences or activities for a specific purpose is bad ... but they aren't everything, and they aren't the only avenue of supportive teaching! They certainly aren't the only vehicle for learning, being, or knowing! I have developed a very holsitic way of planning for children’s learning. 

One of my biggest issues with this observe then plan a follow-up style of planning cycle is the excessive workload and pressure it places on educators.

I did a bit of googling and found a group of services that have published their planning procedure online. It states that their educators are to complete 1 observation and 1 follow-up per month for children who attend 1-2 days; for children who attend 3-5 days, 2 observations and 2 follow-ups. Their website goes on to say that when educators are completing observations, they need to link them to all relevant learning outcomes, the centre philosophy, relevant theories, teaching strategies, NQS, EYLF etc … 

For example, if I were to follow the above expectations as a preschool teacher, I would drown. I have 40 children to plan for. I have two groups of 20 children. They attend what is essentially 2.5 days per week, with a change over mid year. For the first two terms of the year, the Monday, Tuesday group have the Wednesday. Then for the second last terms, the Thursday Friday group take the Wednesday. The mental workload that would come from trying to complete 60 observations and 60 follow ups over one month …That's ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY (120) documents. A month. 

I am also solely responsible for the documenting and planning that occurs in my classroom for my two classes. Now how authentic would those 120 be? In order to juggle those expectations, I would have to “lie” and just shove whatever experiences or activities would “fit” into the space on the observations/follow-ups. Also, where the hell would I fit 120 experiences? Even 120 divided by 4 … that’s 30 a week. 30 observations and follow-ups, observed, documented, evaluated, interpreted, implemented, reflected etc ... 

I have two hours of planning time a week. This 120 minutes includes completing observations, curriculum planning, reflections and everything else. Continuing on with maths ... that 120 minutes divided by 30 observations and follow-ups is 4 minutes per item per month. Even if you clump an observation with a follow-up ... that's ridiculous and superficial and no wonder we feel like we are drowning in paperwork, because many of us are. And for what?

Those 4 minutes per item per month does NOT include reflecting upon anything ... Where am I meant to fit that in? If I want to do projects? Where would that go?

Look, before you die-hard follow-up-lovers start coming at me, I know that a plan for a child could be around supporting their hand washing or their toilet training or their social skills and that those goals don’t always require a physical activity or experience … I just know that I would be so overwhelmed with having to come up with 30 planned anythings per week. I’d probably start lying about it just to tick the box that my higher-ups were expecting. 

DONT FORGET that these educators are also supposed to authentically link their work to learning outcomes, theory, the NQS and the EYLF and the philosophy, oh and yes teaching strategies. Ridiculous. Pointless. 

My issue with planning activities a week after a child is in a moment, to support and extend that child’s learning, that follow-up may no longer be relevant. Children are constantly changing and evolving in their skills and knowings as well as their interests, then how do we support them by doing something (and sometimes long) after that moment has passed? 

A baby starts standing at tables and pushing chairs around the room as walkers, and so we plan to support this learning by putting out a walker and some prams the following week. But by the time the following week rolls around, the child is off on a short family holiday and don’t return until the week after. Well, by then our little friend has mastered the cruising with support stage and is toddling with skill and our plan is no longer relevant. 

Instead of planning the activity or experience with resourcing, would could plan a learning environment that supports multiple children of that age to learn the skills they will need, when they need them. So for example, we might: 

  • have large spaces of open area for young walkers to experiment with independent walking,
  • Trolleys and solid prams to support those children learning to toddle, 
  • Support the children in using the furniture in the space to push and provide support
  • Walk with our developing walkers, first with two hands as support, and then transitioning to one hand 

And what if we consider ourselves a resource? Use ourselves and our teaching skills to support the children in our teaching and learning spaces? I am not referring to what many think “intentional teaching” to mean i.e. instruct. I’m referring to a more subtle approach. I’m referring to how intentional teaching was meant to be understood - as teaching strategies. If we can remove the over reliance upon experiences or activities as the next step or the follow-up focus in our planning. What if we shifted the focus onto creating nurturing learning spaces with exceptional teaching strategies that support children more holistically? 

That my friends makes for a much calmer and engaged classroom.

Don’t get caught up in the follow-up fallacy ...

The next time someone in a position of authority asks you “where’s the follow-up?” or the “what’s next” (I don’t like this one either!), simply draw their attention to the fact that follow-up is not part of the language of the Early Years Learning Framework and only apears once in the National Quality Standards. Explain that you prefer to use the new vernacular which includes teaching strategies such as support, enrich, scaffold, extend …

What do you do instead of a “follow-up” or “extension of learning”?

What do we do instead of a “follow-up” or “extension of learning”? Well in one simple single word using four letters, we: PLAN. We plan for teaching and learning. We plan for possibilities.

Over the past decade, follow-ups as planning have been big discussions on social media groups as well as the bigger Australian early childhood education forums. For a while there, we would see post after post after post asking for a follow-up or an extension of learning idea for a child who had pretended to ride a horse on the A-frame and the answers would be, oh plan a horse themed small world play … educators were noticing the topic or the theme of interest, but neglected to think more deeply about the actual learning or development. Was it a genuine interest in horses, or was it simply physical play wearing the disguise of pretend horse riding?

A child pretending to ride on a horse doesn’t necessarily warrant an observation, reflection or future planning. I’m sure there are far more interesting things that this child does that could be the basis of observing and planning. Or perhaps it is just a piece of a larger puzzle that would benefit the child and the curriculum?

On Facebook groups there are so many requests for extension ideas for activities … Brian was interested in painting today. What extension activities can I do for this interest?

In reality, when you deeply observe Brian and his actions, you notice he was enthralled with painting with brushes at the easel. He was focused exploring the paint: how the colours mixed upon the paper. How they blended into each other and how they created, like magic new colours. It wasn’t an instant colour change - there were streaks of this colour and streaks of that colour and then somewhere in the middle a mixing and a muddling into a new colour.
A colour that Brian had never before seen before much less made himself.

A conversation between Brian and his educator nearby is what led to this rich discovery about Brian painting at the easel. The educator noticing the look upon Brian’s face as he looked at the colour. The educator then telling Brian she noticed the colour and how rich and interesting it was. A conversation about possible names of that colour and how it came to be…

Brian was learning how to turn and swirl the brush, to move the bristles against the surface of the paper. He was learning that the changes of pressure from his hand changed the way the paint worked upon the paper. He learned that he could control his hand. He was learning that there was cause and effect in the world of painting, and that his actions had artistic consequences.

There were also some social elements to painting for Brian. He learned that he had to share the paints with Tammy who was on the other side of the easel, using the same pots of paint.

Brian was painting, but Brian was doing so much more than this.

On the very surface Brian was painting. Really though, Brian was learning so very much about colour, texture, pressure, transformation, creativity, social skills, fine motor skills and the power of his hands to create and explore his world. Brian was learning so very many things about life, community, expression, science.

There seems to be a great deal of confusion about what learning is; what interests are and what the role they play in children's learning.

Interests are a vehicle educators can use to support children's learning.

Interests aren’t necessarily learning.

An observation is merely a moment in time. It is a small snapshot of a child engaged in playing, growing, learning, being, becoming. It is not the ultimate definition of a child. It is not the be-all and end-all of that child. It is a moment in time. A child engaged in play, in a moment is not necessarily a child engaged in a true interest. It may be a child engaged in a passing interest, a superficial interest but not a deep genuine interest.

Educators are being told they need to extend the interest, to plan for the interest. So they extend the interest. It doesn't seem to matter that the interest was a once off moment in time, such as riding the pretend horse. It doesn't matter that the surface interest really has nothing to do with the learning or possibly the true interest. The powers that be say extend the interests, plan for the interest, and so that's what we do.

I also wonder if educator's go for the interest because it's easier to research and support. I wonder though, do educator's go down the path of interest because it’s more tangible to share with their leaders and supervisors.

We have to plan something right? We have to do something to show that we are being responsible and maintaining the cycle, that we are “following-up”.

Let’s return to Brian.

Brian is learning. If we go and implement all these extension activities based upon what we think Brian was interested in .. We go from easel painting to sponge painting to car painting. We completely rob Brian of the time and opportunity and resources to continue on his self-directed learning path of painting; of colour mixing; of colour discovery; with brushes at the easel. The assumptions that we as educators make, using the National Quality Standard and the ACECQA planning cycle are actually robbing Brian; robbing all the Brians of their real self-driven learning.

How do we support Brian?

How do we plan for Brian?

Well, I would hope that easel painting would be a core element of our learning environments. I would hope that there would be a wide selection of paints out for the children to use and artistically explore. If not, add it to your curriculum plan and leave it there.

I would love to see planning for thin brushes and thick brushes in pots or in sustainably re-purposed glass jars. I’d love to see painting at a table, or on mini-easels as well as the large standing easel. On big paper and small paper with collage bits and pieces available - all freely. We could change the tone of the paints by adding white or adding black.

We could make paints up with the children - in jars, and then make up names for them, writing those down. We could mix the paints in jars and give them made up names that have meaning for Brian and his peers. We could write those names onto masking tape and stick them to the jars.

We could create a colour wheel using the paints in the store room. You could buy artists acrylics and water colours and mix authentic colours and compare the quality of the paints we use in children’s services to the quality of paint that artists use. We could explore the notion that children deserve artists’ paints to use in their art making. We could compare the different types of paint and how they perform on surfaces and how they dry and then determine, as artists which ones do we prefer?

We could explore the great artists - both historic and contemporary. We could do all of this - AFTER - we give Brian the time to learn to be a painter in his own right. Brian is just three years old.

Give Brian time.
Give Brian resources.
Give Brian our time.
Give Brian us.

Our Role as Educators is to Plan for Learning

Our role as educators, is to plan for Brian, and offer him our teaching skills. It’s our role to support Brian, indeed all the Brians… Draw Brian's attention to what he has done … Give Brian the creative language that he may otherwise not have.

In fact if we don't have the language of art on the tips of our tongues - then that should be our “follow-up” or our “extension of learning” …We should plan for ourselves to learn more about the arts and use that professional learning to support the children’s learning.

We should go and teach ourselves the language of art … tones, shades, colours beyond red, blue, yellow, green … learn about magenta and chartreuse and teal.

We shouldn’t rob Brian of his learning.

We should let Brian be.

We should let Brian learn.

We should support Brian with our teaching skills.

We shouldn’t distract Brian or redirect him away from his learning through easel painting with some random novelty painting sourced from Pinterest or strangers in Facebook groups.

We should support Brian to be the artist Brian was meant to be.

That should be the plan.

That should be the follow-up; plan to be more knowledgeable educators.

 We now have a blog article of observations called The Ultimate Guide to Writing Obsercations in ECE on our Educator's Notebook: The Early Years Blog. 

These two articles first appeared on the © Teacher's Ink. Blog in 2013 and 2016. These articles have been rewritten for Sticks & Stones Education with permission. 


  • i havent even finished reading this and im already IN LOVE WITH YOU lol. i cant shout it from the rooftop enough how stupid follow ups are!!!!

    gemma stevenson on

  • When follow up (and documentation) become a checklist for compliance and photo op for the parent communication app… at the heart of this is the superficial observation of children’s play and lack of understanding about what might be happening for them. While the EC sector remains so low in status, with the acceptance of the vast majority of staff being minimally qualified/educated (and then so much pressure being placed on the shoulders of ethical ECTs) to keep ‘costs’ down it will remain so. I love the way you have written about Brian though!

    Rosemary Dunn on

  • Well written. It explains the frustrations of the system. I can totally relate to this as a retired early childhood teacher

    Lynne on

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