Images properly used in ECEC, not only can they say more than a thousand words, but they can also help teach children thousands of words and many skills. Photographs (i.e. from books) enable children to discover things they may not be able to experience in real life. With the help of pictures, children can see flowers that may not grow in their own garden or animals that only exist in far away countries. Normally, photos are used in ECEC to record special events or to identify the children's cloakrooms. Photography is rarely used as an everyday teaching tool. However, due to the high availability of digital cameras, such as those available in tablets and smartphones, photography can easily be used in ECEC to complement or facilitate learning.
When children have the opportunity to use the camera themselves and take their own pictures of things that interest them, their motivation to learn words related to the content of their pictures and expand their vocabulary increases. Children also learn important skills such as patience, confidence and turn-taking. Giving children the opportunity to take pictures offers an insight into how children see the world and what they focus on.
When children actively and directly explore the world, they learn more things than when they passively experience the world. Johanna Einarsdottir (2005) conducted a study comparing two groups of children using cameras. One group was accompanied by adults taking photos. The other group took photos of their school themselves. The results showed that when adults were with the children the photos mainly showed the playground or other people from their surroundings. The study suggests that children's photos were influenced by the adults who were with them. The children who went off alone took photos with unique content. The pictures often showed other children taking part in entertaining activities or making stupid faces. Most of the pictures also showed content that Johanna Einarsdottir describes as private places, such as bathrooms, corridors and people. These images captured the children's view of the world, a view that was not filtered through an adult's perspective.
In order to optimise the learning experience with photos and cameras, it is important that children get actively involved in the image capture process.
When children can make decisions about what pictures to take and actively use the camera, learning opportunities increase and these opportunities become more important to children. This is especially evident when it comes to expanding children's vocabulary and strengthening their language development. There are many ways to help children take the initiative to take photographs.
Photo projects in ECEC
A few suggestions can help ECEC professionals and children to use photography effectively.
ECEC professionals should first be open to children using cameras on their own. This can be particularly difficult with expensive digital cameras because adults might be afraid that children will break them. It is therefore better to buy cheap cameras or cheap tablets and teach children how to be careful with the equipment.
Camera specifically designed for children
An ECEC professional should be open to children taking pictures in an unconventional way. Children tend to see the world in a unique way and the camera allows them to capture these different perspectives. Children don't always want to photograph a complete object or person; they find sections of an ear or of a table much more interesting.
It would be ideal for children to have sufficient access to cameras or tablets. At least three tablets in a group would be great, with which children can take photos and print them immediately. Being able to take photos and print them within minutes is very helpful as it allows children to immediately integrate pictures into their activities. Children can use images immediately to tell a story, create an art project, or simply document what has just happened. This can be a rewarding learning experience.
1. What skills do children develop when using a camera at ECEC?
2. Do children take photos of similar objects/scenes with adults?
3. What are the benefits of photo projects for the children?