A few years ago, I wrote an article in our Play Outdoors: Exploring Outdoor Experiences in the Early Years magazine about the importance of children having cameras available to use in their outdoor environments. As educators prepare to welcome children into their environment, I highlight why children benefit from becoming photographers of their world.
Why Offer Children Cameras – What they Learn from Becoming Photographers
Introducing children to cameras at an early age means more than them snapping pictures of their thumbs and feet. Photography is a method of inquiry children use to explore their world through the lens of a camera. When children engage in the captivating world of photography, they embark on a journey of exploration, creativity, and discovery. Through the lens of a camera, they are not merely capturing images; they are cultivating a plethora of valuable skills and insights that extend far beyond the frame. As children venture outdoors with their camera they learn to observe with an attentive eye, appreciating the intricate details that often elude hurried glances. The process of taking photos not only fosters their observation skills but also nurtures an innate curiosity, driving them to explore their environment and uncover hidden treasures that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
Children use their photos to become visual storytellers. The images assist them to convey emotions, memories, and narratives that resonate with their experiences. As children acquire more experience with cameras, they experiment with unconventional topics, angles, composition, and they begin to gain an understanding about lighting and aesthetics. Using cameras not only empowers them to express their individuality but also sharpens their critical thinking, as they make conscious decisions about what to include or exclude from the frame. Taking photos nurtures their ability to slow down and teaches children the virtue of determining the perfect moment to take the photo. The more children document their outdoor environments, the deeper their emotional connections become and their ability to express their sense of place. As identified in Figure 1, there are many benefits to children using cameras on a regular basis and becoming “photographers”.
Figure 1. Benefits of children becoming photographers.
Each child’s experience with photography differs in interest and depth of learning. As educators weave cameras into their programming, they open doors to innovative pedagogical approaches that nurture curiosity, creativity, and a lifelong passion for learning.
Below, is an additional list of the types of learning that children gain from using cameras in their
- Observation Skills: Children learn to observe their outdoor surroundings more closely, resulting in noticing small details that they might otherwise overlook, such as how raindrops look depending on the plant and the beauty that surrounds them.
- Creativity: Taking photos encourage children to find unique angles and perspectives, fostering their creative thinking.
- Patience: Waiting for the right moment to take the photo increases children’s patience and gradually learning the value of persistence.
- Exploration: Cameras motivate children to explore different parts of their environment and the items within the environment, including how natural lighting affects their photos.
- Aesthetic Awareness: Children become attuned to natural attributes of their environments, including colours, patterns, and textures in their surroundings.
- Emotional Expression: Through photos, children express their creativity, emotions and feelings about a place or experience.
- Storytelling: Children learn to tell stories about and through their photos, capturing moments and memories in a visual narrative. They develop a visual vocabulary to use when communicating their thoughts and ideas.
- Critical Thinking: Children’s use of a camera to determine what and how to capture an item increases their analytical thinking.
- Environmental Awareness: Children learn about environmental conditions, such as how weather changes their natural landscapes and how seasons change aspects of the landscape.
- Empowering Autonomy and Decision-Making: Offering children cameras empowers them to make decisions independently. They choose what to photograph, when to press the shutter, and how to capture a moment. This autonomy nurtures their decision-making abilities, boosts confidence, and fosters a sense of responsibility for their creative endeavors.
How Adults can Promote the Use of Cameras with Children
Promoting the use of cameras with children is affiliated with unlocking their world of boundless curiosity, creativity, and self-discovery. Adults can promote the use of cameras in many ways, including the following:
- Provide Access: Make cameras readily available to children outdoors to use to explore their environments through a camera lens.
- Inspire Creativity: Encourage children to take photos of subjects that interest them, fostering their creative expression.
- Share Your Passion: Role model to the children where and how you take photos outdoors.
- Document Learning: Encourage children to document their experiences and to share their ideas and discoveries with others.
- Encourage Storytelling: Discuss with children how they could create visual stories with their photos, fostering narrative skills.
- Review and Reflect: Encourage adults and children to examine their photos together and discuss what they captured and why.
- Create Children’s Exhibits: Encourage children to display their photos in various spaces outdoors. Create opportunities for children and adults to discuss what they see, think, and wonder about.
- Support Projects: Encourage children to create a photography project that extends over several days or weeks.
On occasion, educators may provide children with “photo topics” to document such as:
- Providing children with a list of things to document in their neighbourhood such as: leaves on the ground, leaves that are yellow, various sizes of leaves, leaves on the tree, leaves that have fallen around the trunk of the tree, and leaves that have blown far away from the tree.
- Providing children with an array of colour swatches to choose from and then have them find items with those colours outdoors to document. Compare the different photos that children took illustrating the same colours.
- Providing different groups of children with items to find and photograph while out on a walk.
- Providing children with a list of characteristics of items that they need to find to document such as something that is hard, such as a rock, or soft such as a dandelion, or something that has a rain drop on it or something that lives under a rock.
- Providing children with picture frames that they place in a space and then take photos of what is within that frame.
- Providing children with ideas such as closing their eyes and snapping photos by pointing the camera up high, behind, down low etc.
Seeing the environment through the eyes of children’s photography offers adults new insights about how they see and experience their space. Children’s photos make their learning visible in new ways through visual and verbal representation and help adults learn more about how they see their world. The pictures and descriptors help adults to understand how children construct knowledge. Listening to children provides insight into how provocations, materials, places or experiences could lead to further exploration, wonderment, and discoveries.
In conclusion, providing children with cameras to explore and document outdoor environments offers a multitude of benefits. From nurturing creativity and autonomy to enhancing observational skills and fostering a stronger connection with nature, this practice contributes to holistic child development. Encouraging children to engage with the natural world through the lens of a camera equips them with valuable skills and memories that will last a lifetime.