My kids had lots of fun with their first experiences taking photos on family vacations. Family vacations are great for photos. But with digital photography, there isn’t any reason kids can’t be allowed to take photos whenever they wish from preschool age onward.
Choosing a Camera
Typically, at age 3, a child is ready to learn how to use and take care of a point-and-shoot camera. Montessori philosophy recommends teaching children to use and care for real tools. A preschooler generally isn’t ready for a digital SLR camera, but even a digital point-and-shoot camera with zoom lens is manageable by most preschoolers with instruction.
There are children’s cameras that even a 2-year-old can use, but most children will do well starting at age 3 with a compact-sized adult camera. I definitely recommend a digital camera because it allows your child to take as many photos as he or she wishes.
Preparing a Montessori-Inspired Photography Tray
On the tray in the photo, I placed a digital point-and-shoot camera with zoom lens and wrist strap, a small easel (which can be purchased for $4 or less at a hobby store) holding examples of high-quality photos, and a small photo album with photo-safe pages for your child. The photo album in the picture is actually my daughter’s first photo album. You can let your child pick out a photo album or present it as a gift. For a classroom, you could have one album for the class with a few photos from each student (decided by the number of students and number of album pages).
The photos on the easel could be of a variety of photography categories, such as animals, landscapes, people, flowers, parties, sporting events, and architecture – both close ups and photos taken with a wide-angle lens. You could also stand up a photography book (either a child’s book or a book of fine photography) on the shelf next to the tray. I’d put the photography tray on a low shelf with art materials because photography is generally thought of as an art.
Presenting the Activity
1. Show your child how to take the tray to a rug or table.
2. Show your child the photos on the easel. Tell him or her to hold each photo very carefully by the edges so it doesn’t get smudged or bent. (You could say something like: “See how I hold each photo very carefully by the edges so I don’t bend the photo or get fingerprints on it.”)
During the preschool years, most children don’t need to be told how to take good photos. It’s more important that they’re allowed to be creative and enjoy the process of taking photos. Because of the preschooler’s absorbent mind, looking at high-quality photos can help teach the elements of photo composition.
3. You can say that a camera is a special piece of equipment people use to take photographs. You can also say that the camera on the tray is your child’s to use whenever he or she wishes if it’s treated very carefully. Tell your child it’s important to always keep the camera on his or her wrist (or around the neck if you have a neck strap) when the camera is being used. Show how to use a camera case when the camera will be taken outdoors and/or away from home.
4. Demonstrate how to hold the camera, how to get the subject in the finder, how to use the camera’s zoom, and how to press the shutter-release button. Point out that you hold the camera very still when you take a photo so the picture turns out clear, not blurry.
5. After your child takes some photos, upload them to your computer and help your child decide which photos he or she wants to delete and which should be printed out for the photo album.
6. Allow your child to place the photos in his or her photo album, using the techniques for handling photographs.
7. Show your child how to put the materials back on the tray and the tray back on the shelf. Your child should do this each time he or she is finished using the photography tray.
More Photography Ideas for Multi-Level Learning
Getting Your Kids to Click with Photography from PBS Parents
Photography Projects for Kids from Adventures for Kids
Photography for Kids from Big Learning
Teach Your Child How to Take Good Pictures from Teach Kids How
Photo Crafts and Activities from TLC
Photography for Kids: Tips from the Pros from National Geographic Kids
A Photography Unit for Elementary-Aged Kids and Older
Depending on their age and ability, older children can learn about the workings of a camera and the same photographic techniques an adult can. It’s helpful to go through the photo manual with your older child and discuss photographic techniques and exposure settings. Give your child a chance to practice with various techniques and types of photography.
Here are some helpful posts about creating photography units for elementary-aged and older children:
13 Lessons to Teach Your Child about Digital Photography from Digital Photography School
BetterPhoto for Young Adults from BetterPhoto.com.
Photography from Lesson Plan Central
Photography and Film Lessons from Vocational Information Center
Most important of all, follow your child’s interests to help your child develop a love of photography – something that can give a lifetime of enjoyment!
UPDATE: I have a new post called Go on a Smile Hunt with Your Child with smile-related photography ideas and ways to make a difference through Spontaneous Smiley.
Photo Credit: Photo on easel by Danny Perez Photography from Flickr Creative Commons.