Life Through A Lens
I am always taking photos in settings of things that the children are doing or things that I find interesting - I try to consider whether the photo would be useful to illustrate something I am writing or will write in the future. The children have occasionally posed for me or have asked me to take photos of them doing something specific, but just recently, they have really started to notice that I have been taking photos. They have started to get interested and wanted to know why I am taking the photos and wanting to see them. A few weeks ago, some of the children asked me if they could take photos with my camera and once the others saw, more wanted to join in!!
A few years ago, I attended a course on the Mosaic Approach, so I was really keen for the children to get involved with taking photos and very careful to ensure that they were able to take photos of things that were of interest to them. Some of the children wanted to take photos of me and I posed accordingly for such shoots, but I encouraged them to take my camera, carefully, and to think about what they would really like to take pictures of, to explore their surroundings and get creative.
This led to a perfect teachable moment as we discussed together how to hold the camera, using both hands, that we would not run whilst holding the camera in case we dropped it and broke it. We considered the fact that our fingers could, sometimes, cover the lens and whilst interesting, would perhaps, spoil the photos. I demonstrated how to press the button to take the photo - this was quite difficult for some of the children as they did not realise how much pressure to apply, so we discussed listening for the sound the camera makes when a photo was being taken. I then demonstrated how to check the photo once it had been taken. This was something the children really enjoyed doing, they all wanted to see it.
A few days later another member of staff continued to support the children with this interest - the child and practitioner discussed how to take a photo, what to do, where to look and what to press. The child took the photo and then showed the member of staff and they discussed how to see the photo that had been taken and talked about it together. A lovely example of Sustained Shared Thinking - two individuals working together in an intellectual way, in this instance, to clarify a concept and evaluate an activity.
As I mentioned, I attended a course on the Mosaic Approach, this was developed as a framework for listening to children by Alison Clark and Peter Moss in 2001. They were inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach. .https://www.reggiochildren.it/identita/reggio-emilia-approach/?lang=en The Mosaic Approach was designed to be a ‘multi- method; participatory; reflexive; adaptable; focused on children’s lived experiences and embedded into practice’ (2001:5) For part of this approach, children were given cameras to document what was important to them and this provided Clark and Moss with examples of the children’s perspectives and experiences of what it was like to be in the setting.
Cameras provide children with the opportunity to express themselves through the choices of photos that they take. To truly understand what meaning these things may have for children, it is important to discuss the photos with them so that their relevance and significance is understood. This enables the children to engage and provides valuable insight into their worlds. We need to recognise that children of a similar age have variable perspectives and diverse views - seeing their photos can show us what these are. Engaging with children's views is particularly important when we consider that the majority of settings are designed and constructed by the adults - we may feel we have created an enabling and stimulating environment for children, but again, it is us that has decided that it is enabling and stimulating! Have we asked or noted their views? I feel a lot of practitioners do observe the children and adapt the environment according to the interest shown but it is still, largely, being controlled by the adults. By having a dialogue with the children, we as practitioners can focus on how the children experience the spaces - for example, a child was taking a photograph of me and I noticed she kept just getting pictures of my feet! I realised that was her perspective of me from the position of her height and mine, so I crouched down to her level to enable her to take my photo properly. This understanding can help us to determine the significance of where the coat hooks are, the height of displays, areas where the children interact with each other and spaces in the garden that perhaps, we haven’t noticed and so are enjoyed by the children. The key premise of the Mosaic Approach is that children are seen as the experts in their own lives. Feet still play a large part in the photos the children are currently taking!!
The voices of young children are getting recognition both nationally and internationally and much of this has stemmed from the children’s rights movement and in particular, Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC 1989) https://www.unicef.org.uk/what-we-do/un-convention-child-rights/ This article states the right of children to be heard and to have their opinions taken into account in accordance with their age and maturity. Article 13 of the UNCRC refers to using appropriate media for the children to communicate. By giving the children the opportunity to explore their environment with a camera it created a participatory ethos in the setting - they knew they could take photos of whatever sparked their interest at that moment or something that was important to them or meant something to them in that moment. They could act independently and were able to make choices.
Children are naturally curious and are more likely to engage in activities or experiences in a deep and meaningful way if they are interested. Young children are drawn to new experiences that spark their interests especially if these allow opportunities for spontaneous and participatory inquiry, some exploration of their surroundings and an interpretation of their ideas - taking photos offered all of these. The Leuven Scale show that the more interested and motivated the children are, the more engaged they are, the more enthusiasm they show for learning. https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/LeuvenScale_tcm4-735285.pdf
Just taking the photos does not quite go far enough however, it needs to be followed up by printing the photographs and enabling the children to share their feelings about them, why they took that particular object or person and sharing those feelings with others - these could be used for a display or to make a book, the children can decide how they wish to represent their photos - this can empower them to express their voices and share it with others. This links to the Reggio Emilia Approach as the environment is seen as the third teacher and is intentionally visually appealing and stimulating with close attention paid to areas and spaces for example. In Reggio preschools, displays of the children's work reflect ongoing projects and research providing documentation of the learning process.
Giving children the opportunity to take their own photos, freely chosen is not only a great way to see and experience what is of interest and importance to them but it allows us to enter their worlds. Some of the photos they took, I was not actually quite sure what they were, the children would perhaps take only a section of an object or things would look quite different down at their level then at mine. This led to dialogue, what is this? I wonder why you took this photo or tell me about this one. Areas of the outdoors that I have not given any consideration to, seemed to be of great interest and the children loved to take photos through the windows of an area they could not access! Sharing these together is a wonderful way of seeing and listening to what matters to them in the setting.
Clark, A and Moss, P (2001) Listening to Young children: The Mosaic Approach. London. National Children's Bureau
Koch, A.B. (2018) Children’s Perspectives on Happiness and Subjective Wellbeing in Preschool. Children and Society, 32 (1): 73-83