3.2 : Interview A

Tell me a little about you: your teaching career in a nutshell, where you teach, and what kind of theory/curriculum your setting follows.

I have worked as an early childhood educator in Stockholm, Sweden, for over 20 years, in recent years as a director too. Currently I am taking time to write a book based on the blog I have written about my experiences and reflections of working with early years education.
I have a Reggio Emilia approach to being an educator - the last fours years I have dedicated more to understanding listening... using philosophy with children as a tool to do this.

What kind of camera(s) do your children use? Why do you use those cameras?

We have used a variety of different types of cameras... from small digital cameras, to iPads, to mobile phones and even my big system (nikon) camera has been used by the children.

How did you begin using cameras with children in the classroom?

Cameras are always being used by us as educators to document the children's learning. The children were naturally interested in using cameras and often asked to use our cameras/phones to take photos and films.
This encouraged us to try and use photography as a language the children could use to communicate their ideas and thoughts... and also as a way for us to see what interested them.

How do you organize children using the camera(s)? Is there are structure, or is it more flexible?

We have been both flexible and structured in how we use cameras with the children. The structured time was a project we called "Through the Eyes of a Child" where we first allowed the children to be click happy with the camera, so that the sensory need of playing with the camera was met without the expectation of an image. We then asked the children "what is important to you". This is something the children discussed during a philosophy session and then we spent a few weeks trying to capture images of these areas that they considered important to them. Afterwards the children edited the photos, examining which of them best represented their ideas of what was important.

The flexible part is how I described above, that the children could ask to use cameras whenever they wanted.

Please share a story of children's photography in your setting that is interesting to you.

What I noticed the first time that I did the "Through the Eyes of the Child" photography project was that the children were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of photographs that they took. The second time we did the project we restricted the number of photos that they could take... so that more thought went into the process. This was with the same children. This made it much more manageable for the children to look at their photographs and choose the image that was important to them... partly because they had thought more about taking the image beforehand, and because the number of images was not as overwhelming and that they got "tired" of looking at all the images of out of focus or badly aimed photos.
Not all children were interested in taking photographs... some took only one of the five they could take during a day (during the project) as they wanted to play rather than take photographs. This was, of course, respected. The child was satisfied with the image that had been taken.

I found the process of taking images interested many children MORE than looking at the images. This is why I felt it was important to talk about the process and why we take photographs. We also took the time to explore what sort of photographs we would want to put online, with a view to discussing internet safety, which we did at an age appropriate level (the children were 5 years old).

Do you share children's photography with them, with families, or with colleagues? Is it part of documentation?

Absolutely we share the photographs. They are printed and put on the wall, we have photos that are put in their portfolios, photographs that are e-mailed home when we wanted to share something directly. The children often asked about sharing photographs onto the preschool facebook page so that they could be shared with parents. They also knew that I blogged and sometimes asked to share photographs of the constructions and art with the world at large through my blog, or my blog's facebook page. We always talked about safety and that on my blog I would not post images of their faces and why I did this. Despite this the children could always recognize themselves and their friends.

What are some other ways you hope to explore photography with children?

We have also used photography to make films, we have used photography to transform the children, to transform rooms and outdoor spaces using picmonkey to make changes... from children to fairies.
Using iMovie it has been possible to make stories using photographs the children have taken - stringing them images together with words and music.

In the future I hope to learn more about photography and to see how it can be used with children and by children. As I become more confident I am sure I can allow the children to explore more.

What else would you like people to know about children as photographers?

I have also just been working at The Freedom Theatre in the refugee camp in Jenin, Palestine where photography courses are offered to the children for free during the school breaks.
Such courses were offered while I was there for 2.5 weeks.
It was obvious that allowing children to just walk around with a camera and take random photos did not capture their imaginations to the same extent as setting up something to explore for them to take photographs of. It needs to be playful and meaningful. I was holding course for  teachers and at the same time as the photography course for 6-12 year olds we "played with ice and light" for the Jenin educators to experience learning through play. I invited the children in to see the ice as I felt that the children might find it interesting. Not only did they find it interesting, putting the cameras down momentarily to feel the ice, the asked lots of questions... the educators met these questions and the children took more photographs as if exploring their questions and the answers they got... and then more questions came. I therefore felt that it is not enough to just let the children take photographs, it is an interaction
Children..camera... subject... teacher... they need to interact with each other so that it is meaningful, so that the focus is maintained and so that the children think more about the images they are taking.

For me photography is an expression of thought... in the same way as art... sometimes the art is in the process, sometimes in the product and very often in both. It is not just taking photographs, even though children seem to like the power of having control of an "adult" tool. (Why I prefer real cameras over those "designed for children"). It is about giving children trust, about them accepting this trust and using a camera not as a toy but as a tool... this does not mean that a tool is work, it can also be used in a playful way.


Learn more about Suzanne on her blog, Interaction Imagination!