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Kids are fickle creatures. One day they’re into painting and drawing, the next day they want to learn to play guitar, and pretty soon they’ve moved on to something else entirely like soccer or basket-weaving. For parents who want to get kids interested in photography, it can seem like a losing battle. They are competing with all the other hobbies and activities occupying their kids’ time and energy, and when they finally show some interest, it can be fleeting at best. Fortunately, there are some simple strategies that you can use to build a child’s interest in taking photos, and perhaps help you form a stronger bond with them in the process.
The first step in getting kids interested in photography is to get them a camera! If you’re comfortable with them using yours, then by all means, hand over your DSLR, mobile phone, or even an old point-and-shoot. Another option is to let them use their mobile phone or tablet. I found that the best solution for me and my kids was to get them each an old point-and-shoot camera from eBay. These old cameras still pack a big punch and can go a long way towards igniting a child’s interest in photography.
I used to be the computer teacher for a K-12 school, and I remember helping kindergarteners and first-graders explore creative apps. These apps allowed them to draw, create music, and express themselves in various ways while learning more about the digital devices they were using. One valuable lesson I learned soon after my first semester began was that children almost always produced better results when given a framework in which to work.
Allowing total freedom usually meant a classroom full of blank stares and nervous confusion, but giving a few parameters like ‘draw a family of elves’ or ‘create music that makes you think of summer’ was like watering the parched earth, and all sorts of creative results soon sprang forth. The same principle holds true for adults who want to help children explore photography. Giving some structure or rules goes a long way towards helping them explore.
This concept seems counter-intuitive, but it works more often than you might think. Instead of giving a camera to a child and telling him or her to ‘take pictures of something’ try offering some guidance or rules. Say things like…
Scenarios and parameters like these give children enough direction to be creative and explore photography while also producing results they can be proud of.
One of the fun, or frustrating, parts about giving kids some rules is watching how quickly they want to break them. Sometimes that’s not okay, especially when breaking the rules would put them in danger or cause harm to other people. When embarking on creative endeavors, it never hurts to experiment and push the boundaries. Some might say you have to learn the rules first to know how to break them, and I understand that. However, if your only goal is to get kids excited about taking pictures, don’t worry so much about technicalities such as understanding the ‘Rule of Thirds’ or the ‘Brenizer Method.’ Instead, just let them push some simple rules you set forth.
For example, if you start with the first tip and tell your child to take five photos of something that makes them happy, it won’t be long before they ask you if they can take ten photos of something that makes them nervous. They might want to take photos of grass instead of flowers, or want to play with the video feature instead of taking still images. It’s all about process over product, and if children learn and have fun by trying what they want to do, then there’s no reason to stop them.
When you think of the term Photo Walk you might conjure images of rain-soaked neon lights in Hong Kong, or impossibly tall skyscrapers of New York, or perhaps pedestrians perambulating past patisseries in a small French villa. Photo walks can be simpler than that, and you can do them right in your neighborhood, whether you live in the city, in the suburbs, or on a tropical island. The best part about photo walks is that they’re a fantastic activity that you can do with kids to help them get excited about photography.
The first time I took my boys on a photo walk we spent about 40 minutes going a few blocks down the sidewalk they take on their way to school. The territory was very familiar to all of us, but re-framing our little jaunt as a photo-taking exercise put everything in an entirely different perspective. The kids paused every few minutes to snap pictures of flowers, leaves, insects, yard decorations, old cars, and all sorts of other objects they see every day but never really considered as photo subjects.
It was fun to see their eyes light up during the exercise and it was a nice way for us to spend some time together out of the house all doing the same thing. I had my camera too, and my kids were eager to have me take pictures as well. They helped me see familiar things in a brand new way.
One of the more esoteric techniques to employ when finding ways to get kids interested in photography is to make sure you are a part of the experience. If you hand your child a camera and let them play while you do something else, they miss out on your help, encouragement, and excitement as they take pictures and learn about photography. You, in turn, miss out on spending some valuable time with your child that could help build and strengthen the relationship.
Being present with your children when they learn and explore is great for almost any type of activity, not just photography. Learning and exploring with them helps children feel safe and secure. It gives them a sense of belonging and allows them the freedom to create and explore without the fear of judgment or other adverse consequences—essentially meeting all the needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy. You learn together, share moments and create memories, and end up with some beautiful pictures as a result. You create pictures that tell a story of not just a plant or a bird or a lamp post, but a story of a parent putting everything else aside to share an hour learning, exploring and growing with their child.
As DPS writer Bryan Caporicci once wrote, prints are one of the most meaningful ways that you can enjoy photography and this sentiment applies double when kids are concerned. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with children knows how eager they are to share stories about their lives, impress you with their accomplishments, and show you talents they have or skills they have learned.
With that in mind, make sure that you find a way to get your child’s pictures off the camera, phone, tablet, or other such digital device and into a frame on the wall or a book on the shelf. Printing photos are easy and relatively inexpensive these days, and it is for your exciting your kids to have physical versions of their pictures to show and share. You could even take it a step further and get some larger prints framed and hung on their bedroom wall to help instill a love for the medium that could last for the rest of their lives.
Along with all these ways to help children learn and get excited about taking pictures, it’s also worth mentioning a couple of things not to do. Lest you inadvertently snuff out the photographic flame when it’s in such a fragile state of infancy.
Don’t criticize or over-analyze the photos they take. Focus on the positive aspects of their photos and be encouraging. It’s more about the process of learning than the end product, especially at such a young age.
Don’t give children a camera they don’t understand. An old mobile phone or point-and-shoot camera works well, but a DSLR could easily backfire despite your best intentions. Plenty of adults are confused and befuddled by the buttons and menus on DSLRs, and while kids might have fun experimenting with this type of camera, they could easily get overwhelmed and lose interest.
Don’t make it about you. If you’re taking pictures with your child, let them be the star of the show and not you. Your pictures might be brighter, more colorful, or better from a technical standpoint, but that’s not the point right now. Your child could easily become discouraged if you compare their work to that of a seasoned adult. So, put your ego aside and focus on the child and helping nurture her newfound interest instead of showing off your pictures.
Don’t continually push them to improve. Let your children grow and develop at their own pace—encourage them, validate their work, and let the journey be the reward. Their interest could wax and wane over time, and they may show an intense interest in photography for a week, followed by two months of not using their camera at all. That’s normal, and if you try to force the issue, you’ll likely see your best intentions wither on the vine.
Sharing your photography passion with your kids can be incredibly rewarding and exciting. Perhaps some of these ideas give you a starting point if you aren’t quite sure how to begin turning the gears. I’m curious to find out what has worked for you and your kids, and I would love to learn from your experiences as well. Share your ideas, tips, and suggestions in the comments below!