5 Lessons Behind the Lens: What photography can teach our children l Guest Author

The camera is a powerful tool. The pictures we take with one simple “snap” allow us to travel back in time, capture emotion, and share our stories.

As a life long learner, I do my best to see the learning opportunities in life’s everyday routines. Whether it’s teaching about measurement while baking cookies with my children, playing “I Spy” for words that start with B as we drive along the highway, or turning a regular walk to the park into a “nature hike,” teaching your children about how a camera works and learning from the stories behind the printed photos are no exceptions.

Photography teaches skills that our children can use in the classroom as well as in life.

1. Photography teaches history.

Yes, we find photographs in history textbooks, but I’m referring more to your family’s history.

  • Share photos of people in your family and map them out into a family tree. Identify relatives’ names and talk about how relatives are related.
  • Share photos that tell stories about your family’s past. I know my children will never get to meet my grandfather, for example, but I can tell them wonderful stories about the kind-hearted, dedicated, and hard-working man that he was through pictures. Not only are we strengthening the bond with our children when we talk about our past, but we help support their confidence in knowing about their family’s heritage.
  • Share photos of you when you were your child’s age and make comparisons (Who/what looks the same or different?).

Photo Sharing

2. Photography is the perfect vehicle for storytelling.

Activity 1: Look through pictures that capture a day or event:

One of the ways young children develop their reading comprehension skills is to listen to stories- lots and lots of stories. So anytime you are looking through pictures from a family vacation or the documented day of your daughter or son’s birth, be the author to the illustrations. Identify the emotions the pictures show and talk about your favorite moments.Siblings

Activity 2: “Tell Me a Tale”

If you have boxes of printed pictures without a home (ahem, that would be me), pick out a few that would serve as a springboard to tell stories about (think action shots or ones that show extreme emotion). This is a way for children to use their imagination and knowledge to create a story (real or made up)…and you are making use of those photos that have just been sitting around!

I found this one. I could tell a story about a day our family spent on the farm…farm

Model storytelling to your children. It may feel completely awkward and uncomfortable at first, but I promise the more you practice, the more natural it will become.

You can help your child insert four key parts of the story:

  • Beginning: Once there was….Once upon a time…Name the setting and the characters
  • Middle: Then, Next, After that, etc.
  • End: At the end of the day/vacation, In the end, Finally
  • Closing: “What a ____day/person/vacation/year!”

3. Photography helps us learn about the world.

Only in photographs can we experience unseen places, people, cultures, and animals to learn more about the world around us. We can travel to see Antarctica’s vast glaciers or into lakes to see tadpoles hatch. We also have the power to capture what we see and to make our own history through photography.frog

Teacher Note: Often times photographs give the reader a clue that the book they are reading is non-fiction. There are certainly non-fiction books with illustrations, but it is rare to find a fiction book with photographs.

4. Photography encourages life lessons:

Responsibility: Owning a camera requires responsibility and treating it with care.

Following directions and operating a camera: There is a sequence to follow when you want to take a picture. First you have to hold the camera just so. You look through the viewfinder. Then you focus on your subject and may take several shots. Next you may review your photos and make changes. Lastly, you’ll need to find a spot to save or print your pictures for the future.

Learning a new skill or sharing a passion: Be honest with your children about your journey. You may explain how you are learning about photography and how to you use your camera. I am constantly playing with my settings and taking multiple shots to get it “right.” Talk out loud through your thought process (“I think I need a little more light so this photo isn’t so blurry. Can you help me find a spot?”) or take pride when you are able to involve them with your passion (“I love watching you ride your bike. I’m so glad I was able to get a picture of you today!”).Camera Share

5. Photography teaches vocabulary

The more we teach our children about any and every topic, the more we build on their knowledge bank. It becomes more meaningful when we share our passions with our children. The enthusiasm becomes contagious. If you are a lover a photography, share it with your kids. You can work in vocabulary lessons too:

Perspective: You can take pictures and identify pictures from all different angles– from above, under, inside of, in front of, etc. This touches on directional words too.

Reading a Manual: You can identify the parts of the camera- lens, viewfinder, focus button, etc. Reading a camera manual is also not like reading a book or reading a spelling list. It’s structured much differently. This may be a task for older children, but you are doing your child a huge service if you can help them learn the basics on how to navigate this kind of text.

Technical and Historical Words: Make the initiative to explore the actual history of the camera itself. I love the Eyewitness series in general, even just for its visuals. You certainly don’t need to read them cover-to-cover; pick out the parts of interest. Gail Gibbons is also a wonderful children’s non-fiction author. She wrote, Click! A Book About Cameras and Taking Pictures in 1997. The story-like format of the book makes reading about the history of the camera easy to understand. It’s a great resource– pre-digital age.Manual and GG

Sara is a teacher, mom, and founder of It Takes a Whole Village. She helps parents and caregivers plan meaningful activities that are fun and educational by showing them how to weave learning into the everyday. You can learn more about her community by visiting her blog, connecting on Facebook, or downloading her free Kindness Kit!5 Lessons Behind the Lens What photography can teach our children