Printer Friendly

Snap it up! Using digital photography in early childhood.

Teachers of young children can use digital photography to build, almost instantly, a sense of community and belonging, promote feelings of security, build children's self-esteem, aid in classroom management, communicate with parents, document children's growth, promote language and literacy, and enhance other areas of the curriculum.

There are some prerequisites to implementing the use of digital photography. Besides obtaining a camera and getting comfortable with its technical aspects, it is necessary to obtain photo releases from parents before taking pictures of the children. Photo releases typically include a statement about how pictures will be used and where they will be displayed. Teachers should be sensitive about photographing children with special needs, children who are enrolled in Head Start, or children whose religious or cultural backgrounds prohibit facial images. It is particularly important to have permission if the photos may be made public in a newsletter, on a Web site, or for other purposes outside the classroom.

Because there are many ways to use photos of children's faces throughout the curriculum, it is advisable to obtain headshots of all the children and staff in the classroom. Many of the ideas below incorporate use of such shots.

Using Photos To Give Children Opportunities To Build Self-Esteem

Taking pictures of children engaged in intellectual pursuits may foster children's self-esteem rather than their narcissism (Katz, 1993). Children are eager to see their achievements, first on the camera's monitor and later on a print posted in the room or in a slide show on the computer. It is not uncommon for children to ask to have their pictures taken; the trick is to get natural shots rather than posed pictures of children wearing Cheshire cat grins.

Using Photos To Promote Feelings of Security

Pictures of parents picking up children can be displayed on a bulletin board to help young children feel secure and to serve as a reminder that moms and dads will be returning. An interactive family bulletin board allows children to match their pictures to those of their parents; this is another way of demonstrating attachment when parents and children are separated.

Using Photos To Promote Community and a Sense of Belonging

Early childhood classrooms are communities. "We know that where community exists it confers upon its members identity, a sense of belonging, and a measure of security" (Gordon & Browne, 2004, p. 608). A sense of community evolves when pictures of class members are displayed. The walls where these photos are posted allow the children to absorb the message: "I belong, I am a part of this room, and I am one of the people who fits in here." Other ideas for building a sense of community through bulletin boards include: pictures of each child mounted on stars accompanied by the caption "Everyone Is a Star in Our Class!" or each child's picture mounted on snowflakes that the children created accompanied by the caption "Every Snowflake Is Unique!"

While early learning environments may, in fact, be inclusive of children representing various abilities, cultures, ages, sizes, and races, purchased curriculum materials may not reflect this diversity. Therefore, the teacher can convey the message that we are diverse and we all belong by posting pictures of the children in the environment doing a variety of things, and making these pictures become a part of the classroom.

Using the photos to designate a child's personal space can reinforce a sense of belonging. When a child's photo is paired with the child's name on the child's cubby or personal storage space, the child can lay claim to ownership of this part of the classroom. Also, children who have not yet developed reading skills can use the pictures as cues to find their own cubbies.

Using Photos To Promote Positive Classroom Management

Digital photography also can be helpful in terms of classroom management. Classroom management involves the who, what, where, when, how, and how many of the classroom.

Who is in the class each day is determined by taking attendance. An attendance chart can be produced such that children must find their pictures and post them upon arrival; the teacher can tell at a glance who is and who is not present. Photos of children mounted on a star background (the posterboard could be titled "Stars in Our Constellation") or mounted on a strawberry background ("Strawberries in Our Patch") can reflect classroom themes. An attendance chart (see photo, p. 81) allows children to adhere their photos to the garden of flowers by using Velcro fasteners on the back of the pictures and on the leaves and flowers. As children gain skill in reading their names, the attendance chart can be modified to include children's names along with their pictures. Another alternative is to have a pocket chart with names on library pockets so that children can insert their pictures (mounted on Popsicle sticks) into the pockets when they arrive at school.

Displaying photos of children on job charts is a way to designate who will do what to contribute to the class.

Many early childhood educators label storage shelves with pictures of the toys taken from the box at the time of purchase. However, over time, those pictures can disintegrate; photos of toys and equipment can take their place to serve as reminders of where children can return toys when they finish with them. This labeling addresses what goes where. Since digital photos can be saved as a computer file, worn-away images easily can be replaced with new ones.

The typical early childhood environment is divided into a variety of learning centers. Photos, paired with words, can be posted in learning areas to serve as labels, thereby signaling to children where they may engage in a type of activity within that space. In addition to labeling the area, the photos show children how to appropriately play in that area. For example, a cardboard "tent" placed on a table might have a picture of children drawing pictures and printing letters with a sign that reads "Writing Center." Although children may not have a full understanding of time, they do have the concept of a sequence. A daily schedule can be posted that uses photos to show children the sequence of the day's activities, thereby guiding children about when to participate in various activities.

A series of pictures in a sequence can illustrate for children how to approach a task. For example, pictures might be posted over a sink to demonstrate proper hand-washing techniques. Or pictures might be posted in a center to illustrate how to produce a product that requires several steps.

Another management concern--that of how many--is limiting the number of children who can be in a center at one time. After children obtain their photos from a master board of photos, they can post their pictures next to the center that they have chosen. As they move from center to center, their pictures go with them. If there are only four "bodies" posted at a center, only four "faces" can be attached to them. If all the bodies have faces attached, this cues a child to move to another center for the time being until a vacancy occurs.

Using Photos To Promote Communication With Parents

Parents need to be informed about what happens at school. Because pictures are worth a thousand words and parental time is so limited, teachers can use pictures to communicate the day's happenings or special events to parents in a very efficient manner. Parents can view pictures on the door of the classroom or on a parents' bulletin board when dropping off or picking up children. This is an excellent way to foster communication, both between staff and parents as well as between parents and children as they view the photos together.

Another major form of communication with parents is the classroom newsletter. In addition to using print, teachers can use photos of children actively engaged in classroom experiences to enhance the newsletter. In addition, posting pictures in the newsletter can be an efficient way of identifying owners of items in the Lost and Found.

Photos of children can be taken on a regular basis throughout the school year and then put into a PowerPoint or other slide show for open houses. This visual form of communication captures the attention of the parents, not to mention that of the children!

Posting photos of children on the center/ school Web site on a regular basis allows parents and other relatives the opportunity to see the activities and experiences of youngsters in the early learning environment. Families who are separated by distance due to jobs, military obligations, or other circumstances particularly value this practice. Remember, however, that when you place a photo in cyberspace, you run the risk of someone copying the image and using it for a malicious purpose. Therefore, the teacher needs to be cautious about what types of photos are posted.

Using Photos To Document Growth and Change

Teachers can snap digital photos of individual children throughout the year to document physical, social, and cognitive growth. Taking pictures of a child next to the same measuring poster over a span of several months can document his/her physical growth. Adding other data (age at each measurement, measurement in inches or centimeters, weight in pounds or kilograms, and clothing or shoe sizes) contributes to the picture of physical growth.

Teachers can capture children's growth in the social domain by snapping photos of each child at different key times of socialization. Pictures that show how a child enters the room and is greeted by the teacher, as well as other photos of teacher/child interactions, document how each child relates to adults. Pictures of children engaged in cooperative block building or outside group games, or playing in the dramatic play area, demonstrate how children relate to their peers. Photos of children during story times or music times illustrate how children behave during teacher-led group activities. A selection of photos showing children enjoying a snack together or working on a small-group project at a table also demonstrates the child's level of social competence. Photos of children who are having some social problems also serve to document social development and change over time.

When we can capture a child as he cuts construction paper, for example, we can see how refined his cutting skills are as well as how he handles the scissors. When we see the kinds of block constructions that a child creates over time, we can see his/her growth in planning and implementing new strategies of construction. Additionally, photographing block structures preserves them for children distressed by the necessity of putting away the blocks. When we take pictures of the types of toys that the child is attracted to during choice time, we can see how his/her interests and capabilities change over time. Labeling and dating the pictures to document changes over time is a common portfolio practice.

Early childhood educators are often the first to notice when a child may not be developing at a typical rate. Using photos to highlight differences may aid in early diagnosis of children with special needs.

Using Photos To Promote Language

Photos beg children to talk about them. What better way to promote language and literacy? A teacher might post a "photo of the day" to discuss at group time. One child might be selected daily, on the class "job chart," to report to the class about what the photo depicts. In this way, the selected child learns to examine the photo and to think about what s/he would like to say about it. This practice gives children rehearsal time prior to performance time. Children who are English language learners may be very motivated to talk about photos of themselves doing something at school!

During music time, some songs or chants can be personalized by using digital photos of children. For example, holding up pictures of individual children while chanting "Who took the cookies from the cookie jar?" can motivate the children to watch for their photo. Another song that lends itself to using individual children's photos is sung to the tune of "Do You Know the Muffin Man?" by substituting the words "Do you know this friend of mine?"

Using Photos To Promote Literacy

Robinson (2003) recommends developing a series of digital books geared to the child's developmental levels. The first book might be a series of pictures of children engaged in play. The children themselves would develop a story line based on their perceptions, their creativity, and their own use of language. The second book could use the same photos but now include a repetitious phrase, such as, "At school, some of us played...." Children could fill in the blanks or the teacher could provide the words in print for them.

Pattern books modeled after popular children's literature also can be created. A book that can feature the children in your classroom might be titled The Very Hungry Preschooler, modeled, of course, after Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1987). The story variation could reflect the nine months of school, with an ending that reflects the fact that the preschooler turns into a kindergartner over the summer months. Another popular book that can be adapted for classroom use is Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Martin, 1967). The digital photo book that a teacher might create would feature a picture of each child in the classroom, one to a page. Near the end of the book, pictures of the teaching staff could be inserted. The final page might show a picture of the class members as a group. This book would foster name recognition and contribute to the sense of community of the classroom.

Other children's books that can be created in early childhood classrooms using digital photography include books that tell a story about a unit or project, a special field trip, a guest speaker or performer, or a special class party. A "Guess Who" book is another idea for a classroom book that features pictures of people in the preschool environment. The pictures would be obscured by the pages preceding it, such that only a small portion of the picture is visible. A second preview page might disclose more of the photo. The third page can reveal the entire photo. This type of book follows the pattern established in the book Look! Look! Look! by Tana Hoban (1988).

Pictures of each child can be featured in a book that travels from home to home. Parents and children contribute to the book by writing in it when it is their turn to have the book at home. Often, these books are accompanied with a stuffed animal so that families can relate what the stuffed animal did while visiting at their home.

The class can produce concept books that feature pictures of children in the classroom acting out positional concepts of "up," "down," "over," "under," etc., color concepts of "red," "blue," "yellow," etc., or numerical concepts like "one," "two," etc. Another concept book could feature images of the fronts and backs of children.

Another idea is to create books that feature children acting out nursery rhymes, like One, Two, Buckle Your Shoe or familiar stories or chants, like Five Little Monkeys.

Using Photos To Enhance Other Areas of the Curriculum

The digital camera also can be used to create curriculum materials. After introducing the book The Napping House (Wood, 1984), a teacher might take photos of the children while they are napping. Imagine the delight on the faces of children who, for the first time, see themselves sleeping! The photos can be taped to blocks so that the children can build a "napping house."

Teachers can create a memory game by using duplicates of the photos of children and/or families represented in the classroom, gluing them to sturdy papers of the same size and color, and then placing photos face-down on the table. The child tries to find a match by turning over two cards at a time.

Teachers can create puzzles by printing digital photos of children as large as possible (to fill a standard 8-1/2 x 11 inch page) on a magnetic sheet, cutting it into pieces, and placing it on a metal surface, such as a cookie sheet or the side of a file cabinet. Then, each child can have his/her own photo puzzle!

Photo cutouts of children can be added to the block center so that the photo places the child in the action with the blocks. Taking a full-body photo of a child and gluing or taping it to a block creates photo props for the block center.

Other curriculum ideas include: printing digital photos on pellon fabric so that pictures of children can be used for creating flannel board stories; giving children clipboards that contain pictures of items to find on a scavenger hunt; attaching pictures of children to gift bags when there is a holiday card exchange at school; and having a series of pictures that children can arrange to show a sequence (e.g., seed, vine, flower, small green pumpkin, plump orange pumpkin, jack-o'-lantern or pumpkin pie).

Using Photos To Communicate With Staff

When there is a particular sequence for instruction (for example, the Montessori approach requires a specific sequence when approaching learning materials), it is useful for staff to have printed instructions and pictures of the teaching sequence. This practice ensures consistency.

Another use of digital photography addresses communication by special education personnel. Special educators may use digital photography to take pictures of various therapy positions so that parents or teachers or aides who implement these therapy approaches can have a visual aid.

Using Photos for Interactive Bulletin Board Activities

Photos also are well-suited for use with an interactive bulletin board (for example, one featuring cutouts of houses with addresses printed on them). Children can match their photos to the correct addresses. Similarly, children can match their photos to the correct phone number on an interactive bulletin board that features telephones with phone numbers printed on them.

Other interactive bulletin board ideas include: matching pictures of children's shoes to the pictures of the appropriate children; having an "I Spy" bulletin board that encourages children to find objects in the room that match the pictures posted on the board; and sorting pictures by size, shape, or color into a graphing format on the board.


The digital camera has many uses in an early learning environment. While this article has addressed some categories of usage as well as some concrete ideas for implementation, there is ample room for creativity as more teachers "snap it up" in their own classrooms. Additionally, the reader also may want to consult an article by Alexander (2003) that addresses photography tips particular to the early childhood classroom. Many additional activities that use digital photography are outlined in Picture This: Digital and Instant Photography Activities for Early Childhood Learning (Entz & Galarza, 2000).


Alexander, N. P. (2003). Picture this! Using photography in the early childhood classroom. Early Childhood News, 15, 22-24.

Carle, E. (1987). The very hungry caterpillar. New York: Philomel Books.

Entz, S., & Galarza, S. L. (2000). Picture this: Digital and instant photography activities for early childhood learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Gordon, A. M., & Browne, K.W. (2004). Beginnings and beyond foundations in early childhood education (6th ed.). Clifton Park, NY: Delmar.

Hoban, T. (1988). Look! Look! Look! New York: Scholastic.

Katz, L. (1993). Are we confusing self-esteem and narcissism? Young Children, 49(1), 2-3.

Martin, B., Jr. (1967). Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Robinson, L. (2003). Technology as a scaffold for emergent literacy. Interactive storybooks for toddlers. Young Children, 58(6), 42-48.

Wood, A., with illustration s by D. Wood. (1984). The napping house. New York: Scholastic.

Linda Good is Professor, Educational Studies, Elementary and Early Childhood, Minnesota State University, Mankato.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Association for Childhood Education International
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:using photos to promote student motivation
Author:Good, Linda
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2005
Previous Article:Building literacy opportunities into children's block play: what every teacher should know.
Next Article:It's a snap! Selecting the right digital camera.

Related Articles
Inquiry as key to early childhood teacher education.
An Effective Way of Teaching Early Childhood Education On-line.
Developmentally Appropriate Practices As Predictors of Self-competence Among Preschoolers.
Research Into Practice.
The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: mentoring in early childhood education.
Exploring the role of digital photography to enhance student inquiry in a local ecosystem.
Digital diversity: a basic tool with lots of uses.
Using digital cameras for multidimensional learning in K-12 classrooms.
Research into practice: intervention models and new views of behavior and motivation.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters