Tadpoles: Building school-to-home connections and (digital) literacies

Because I’m a working mom, my youngest daughter attends a pre-school child development center every day of the week. Working parents know that the feelings underlying this reality and my writing of this sentence are multifaceted and complex. These are precious years. I marvel at the incredible power and potential of my two young daughters and wish, as every parent does, that there were just more time to share in the small moments. In an ideal world, we would have infinite time to pursue our individual ambitions while also having infinite time to linger in the delights (and even the challenges) of parenting. The truth, of course, is that the choices my husband and I have made about our careers have meant making choices about the ways we manage our responsibilities to one another and most importantly, to our children. Part of our solution, then, has been to depend on the professionalism and kindnesses of the early childhood educators at our daughter’s pre-school. They’re smart, loving, caring adults who have provided for our daughter’s needs. Without them, I couldn’t do the work that I do as a teacher educator and researcher of digital literacies.

And so — imagine my delight as my two most important priorities have come together via an iPad app. A few months ago, my daughter’s teachers started to use Tadpoles to document their work, their observations of students’ learning, and to communicate with families. Every day, I now receive a detailed report of my daughter’s activities. Her teachers document what she had for lunch, for snack and how much she ate. They document her bathroom breaks, whether she napped (she never does — except for two days last week), what she did at large group time, small group time, during her work time, and outside time. They document special projects, and share anecdotes from the class that demonstrate the ways the children are engaging with one another, and the ideas that ground their lesson designs. Importantly, reports of learning activities are always connected to developmental milestones in literacies, numeracy, social and emotional development, and physical activity. Plus, there are always photos. I just love the photos.

Today, for instance, I have already received four photos, delivered straight to my inbox. The impact of this is profound. My husband and I have both remarked on how these little photo-glimpses into our daughter’s day make us feel more connected to her experiences, and deeply appreciative of the amazing things her teachers do with her and for her every day. Plus, as my daughter and I drive home from school, the photos serve as prompts for our conversations about her day. In this way, the app is supporting her emergent literacies. Often, with just a little prompting based on a photo that I saw, she will retell, in tremendous detail, what she did, with whom, and what they did next.

For the first time today, I also saw evidence of my daughter prompting her teachers to capture two moments in her day in photographs. This photo was captioned: “Ellyn had to take a photo after getting an Elsa braid.”

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The other is a photo of my daughter standing proudly beside her friend. Both girls wore huge smiles. The caption read: “Ellyn: Take a picture of me and my friend! Friend: Yeah! Because we’re best friends!”

So, my daughter and her friend have both recognized that there is value in the documenting of moments in photographic images. The first photo allowed her to capture imaginary play as she took on the personnage of Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. The second emphasized the importance of the girls’ relationship to one another.

Tadpoles is an absolute gem. Through it, my daughters’ teachers have made their practice transparent, and have communicated those practices to us in ways that influence our conversations in the car and at home. In turn, these conversations contribute to the development of my daughter’s listening, speaking and recall skills. And now, today, I see that the app has enabled my daughter to think about the affordances of technologies for documenting her lived experiences.

Because I’m a working mom, my youngest daughter attends a pre-school child development center every day of the week. These are precious years. Because of this technology, I have access to delightful small moments in every school day that I would otherwise never know about. Plus, these moments are documented in my inbox, ready to share to my daughter’s gmail account so that when she’s bigger and able to read, she will be able to relive those moments she had at preschool. To me, this is an example of a technology that has enhanced our human capacity to connect with one another in ways that ultimately enable children, families and schools to thrive.