4.2 : Teachers as Observers

When you are adding the language of photography to the possible languages that children have to express and explore the world, it is easy to start thinking about the "rules" before thinking about the potential of the medium.

As we think about how we might share photography with children, I ask you to think about the wonderful things, not the risks and hazards, first. In this task, you'll learn some ways to introduce the camera to the classroom, and how to step back and let go.

Bring the camera to the group to talk and explore.

Look at the camera together when you gather, at a meeting, circle time, or around the table. Give them access to the camera: let them push buttons. There is no right or wrong when you are exploring! Use open ended statements and questions, and be ready to record children's thoughts. Find out what children know about cameras, about photography. You can bring the worksheet in Task Number 7 this week with you to help guide that inquiry conversation.

Choose how to navigate turn-taking.

This is closely related to your personal philosophy of sharing materials. I like to give everyone a turn on "camera day one", which means you may need to let children know they have limited time and then they'll be passing the camera along. Moving forward, you can try a few different options:

  • Photographer of the Day. Use a rotating schedule to allow children access to the camera.
  • Camera Sign-Ups. Create a way for children to sign-up to use the camera by writing their name/making their mark on a sign-up sheet.
  • Open Camera Use. The camera lives in a specific place, and children can access it as they wish.

I listed those options from most structured to least structured. My personal philosophy is that children should have the right to materials, and we can embed what sharing looks like in the real world when we build those opportunities into the curriculum. For example, in the open camera use scenario, there is an added social layer of child-initiated sharing. It is a real, tangible way for a child to ask, "Can I use that when you're finished?" and see the results: sometimes "finished" will be in two minutes, sometimes it will be in ten, and sometimes it will be tomorrow.

Think about the materials in your setting that children use to express themselves: pens, paints, clay, musical instruments, dramatic play items, loose parts: what does access to those materials look like, and how might you mirror that access to the camera?  How do you approach sharing and access with other items that children are drawn to?

This short snippet of my observational notes about access to the camera was a turning point in my understanding about my expectations for classroom photography. I spent a years with a "photographer of the day", then I used sign-ups; I now believe in open camera use.

 Personal Observations and Reflections, March 2016

Personal Observations and Reflections, March 2016

Support children as they explore the camera, and the world of photography.

The camera will be turned off, it will be switched to video mode, it will zoom in, it will take all of the photos in black and white: these things will inevitably happen. Remember: this is all part of exploring the camera. If they don't press the button down hard enough, give them a gentle reminder if you would like, but just let them explore. If they are not really taking the photo, that is okay. If they are too close to something for it to focus, they can problem solve on their own if they wish, but it is all part of exploring the world through this new medium. Just as children can explore those other languages I mentioned (paint, clay, music, etc.), they can openly explore the medium of photography.

Find time to share photos back with children.

The world is full of digital photos that no one looks at: make it a point to share photos back with children. The most convenient way is a slideshow on a computer or tablet. This might happen at a group time, or you can set up the slideshow in the classroom for children to see as they wish. Having open-access to a slideshow is also a way to share children's photography explorations with parents and caregivers when they visit the classroom.

Recording children's comments and dialogue during these slideshows are a way to gather information about children's photography explorations. When watching as a group, you can add open-ended questions and statements to the conversation to extend children's thinking. These observations can help you plan next steps for photography, but perhaps also for other areas of the curriculum, depending on what is happening for the children.

 Observational Notes : January 2016

Observational Notes : January 2016

The camera is for children to use.

Like I mentioned above, start with the possibilities, not the rules. Teaching formal rules of photography is different than exploring with a camera: think about your personal photography over the past few weeks. Step back and let children explore. Rather than thinking of the camera as something "special", get it into their rotation of daily exploration. Make observational notes about what you see the children doing with the camera and reflect on those observations to gain understanding. You might not want to lay under a table and take photos, but a child might - and what an interesting conversation you can have when looking at those photos together!

And, fair warning: be ready for photos of you from the perspective of a preschooler. Not a flattering angle, but a kind and loving gesture from your young photographers.