Photography For and With Children

In a past life, I was a live music photographer.  I took photos for Rolling Stone, for Seattle Sound magazine, and for KEXP.  Its a job that paid in the perks of being close to music, and it is not a job that I knew how to do when I started it.  At my first gig, I had a point and shoot camera, and my old 35mm film SLR from college.


I didn’t exactly make any money doing this, but I did it because I was 25, and there was no reason not to try to be a rock photographer.  I was in little recording studios and at the edge of the stage with some of my favorite artists, trying to translate sound into images for my viewers.  Photography began to creep into more aspects of my life than just shooting live music, and although I upgraded to a Digital SLR to do my job, my film camera collection began to grow, and I began to take photos all of the time, documenting little life moments.  I made myself a little side gig taking photographs for kids' birthday parties:


I began to take more photos in my classroom.


In 2008, pre-smart phone, when I moved to Brussels, I took photos constantly, in and outside of the house, and noticed how often I just shot little moments.  Being trapped in a phone booth with a plaid umbrella during a downpour, the way the light hit the wall in the living room: these are more than “smile and say cheese” pictures - these are memories.

My personal photography habit made its way into my classroom in Brussels, and other teachers would comment on what they saw on our shared server.  “So artsy!” they would say - and I felt pretty self conscious.  I imagine that some might think that I was spending all of my time taking photos, and not much time teaching.  I would argue that to me, teaching is about prompts and interactions and observations, stepping in when at the right times, but letting children be: this is what allows me to have the time to take a few extra photos.  I also want those photos to be good photos: to tell the story.  All of those photos tell stories to parents, and obviously to my colleagues; they are also a simple way to reflect on learning experiences with children.  Being ready to take photos, and knowing how to frame the photo and use camera features, can enrich stories of thinking and learning.


This November, I’m pleased to share that I’ll be leading another online inquiry workshop: this time, we’ll be thinking about the language of photography, for teachers and for children.


A common theme of the writing workshops that I led this summer and fall was the storytelling that we are able to do with children: to support telling their stories for an audience, and engaging that audience in a deeper understanding of why we do what we do in project- and inquiry-based early childhood settings.


If a picture is worth 1000 words, we can say a lot with the images that we share.  This seems especially magnified in today’s digital sharing society.  I don’t need to know you personally to know what you value in your day to day life, as I see your posts on Instagram and other social media sites.  I think about the images that I post: I take many more pictures than I share, because I think one single image can probably tell the story I want to share.  

We talk so much about the hundred languages of children: what about the hundred languages of teachers?  Do you engage and express with other languages?  This workshop lets us look at photography as a language for us, and for children.  You likely already take photographs in the classroom, so what ideas can make those photographs fuller and engaging for an audience?


The Language of Photography inquiry workshop engages both teachers and children with the language of photography.  The first two weeks are focused on you behind the camera, with thinking and learning in front of the lens.  Week one is focused on basic photography skills with simple digital cameras, smartphones, and tablets.  In week two, you'll take a closer look at the stories that you are gathering, thinking about how we might share photos with our audience to engage them in learning stories.  I'll be interviewing inspiring teacher-photographers and sharing our dialogue around capturing learning moments.


The second half of the workshop is focused on children with cameras.  How do we start to engage children with photography, and what kinds of prompts and ideas can support that exploration?  In week three, we think about some logistics: sourcing cameras, and simple prompts for implementing them in the classroom.  In week four, we support children's thinking and learning in the classroom by using photography as a reflective prompt; we also think about how children's images can be part of documentation that is shared with an audience.


"Photographer" is yet another hat that we wear as Early Childhood Educators, and this workshop is meant to support that aspect of your teacher self.