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Photography and Early Education



It used to be that many young children had Brownie cameras, but that was a time when film and developing were relatively expensive and they were treasured and used infrequently. With the advent of digital photography and inexpensive cameras, photography can become a learning tool from an early age. When film and development costs (not to mention reprint costs) had to be taken into consideration, it made sense to limit a child's involvement in photography. With wobbly cameras and blurry photos, the child might have a moment of feeling grown up or artistic, but it often didn't last.

The advent of digital photography and better cameras has changed all that, and giving children a chance to capture memories of the places they've been and the things they've seen has educational possibilities, can foster family memories, and can help them develop an individual style.

Lower Costs

Photos used to come in batches of 12, 24, or 36, and color was more expensive than black and white. Now you can buy a camera card that holds hundreds or thousands of images, for less than $10, and when it's full, you can save the image to CD or onto your hard drive and fill it up again. With the lowered cost, a child "wasting" film is no longer an issue, and this can reduce tension around a child's use of technology, making it more fun and rewarding for everyone.

Point and Shoot

The point-and-shoot camera helps, too. It provides a much higher chance that a youngster will be take a shot that others can appreciate and that s/he can recognize when it is seen again. This means that there's a much better chance that the camera can be used to preserve memories, and with this everything changes.

How so? If a child's choice to capture an image has a high probability of being uninterpretable in the future, then either cameras may seem irrelevant or the child may be frustrated. With a process that is possible for the child to control, the child's choice immediately has more meaning, both for the child him- or herself and for others. The photos are not just an activity now, but provide memories, conversation, and a sense of accomplishment later, and perhaps over and over.

Establishing a Point of View

With hundreds of picture possible, rather than 12 at a time, it's easier for the child to establish an artistic vision, a point of view, and a style that adults can discern and help to cultivate. When 7 out of the limited 12 photographs are out of focus or don't quite include all of the subject, or both, it's much harder to develop a body of work. With scores or hundreds of photographs, even if there are dozens of misfires, there's still plenty of material for observations and conversation.

What's there to say about children's photographs?

Potentially a lot. For one thing, you can look for patterns. Perhaps your child likes to take pictures of snails or holes in the ground. Perhaps many of his or her pictures feature things that are yellow. Perhaps s/he's recorded trucks, license plates, street signs, sewer covers, sparkly rocks, knees, ants, or shadows. Anything you can see can be the start of a discussion and a prompt for further explorations of whatever it is.

Thanks for the Memories

Providing a child with a way to take photographs on a family vacation has a couple of useful possibilities. First, you'll have reminders of things that you probably never would have thought to make a photographic record of - or couldn't, because you were at the center of the action. Clearly, it's not going to be you taking the photograph when you fall in the pool . . .

When a child's photos become part of the family record, this can create a sense of importance for the child and a closer bond for everyone.

Besides this, if the vacation has "educational" parts, children are more likely to remember them if they can engage with them in multiple ways - not just from behind a camera - but being able to selectively save memories. These photographic reminders can help keep the facts and learning from fading. For example, if you have to walk back and back to be able to take a photo of the lighthouse or the very old tree that shows the full extent of its height, you get an added sense of how very, very tall it is.

Much of this also applies to field trips.

The photographs can also become part of displays, collages, albums, emails to others, and be used in other ways to preserve the memories and integrate them into family life and learning.

So give some thought to how you can engage children with photography. There are all kinds of possibilities . . .
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