This week, I’m writing about media literacy and the preschool set, and talking about how I’ve been actively helping my little boy become a media literate person.
Today, I want to talk about a third aspect of being media literate: understanding that media are created by people–which means we can create our own media, too.
Media as people’s creations
Very young children can have a hard time understanding that what’s on screen is created by other people, and not just a window into some other location in the world.
The genre can make this concept clearer or fuzzier to little ones. For example, I’m pretty sure our son knows that the animated Cars and Thomas are make-believe; there are no talking trains or cars in real life. But live-action programs are tricker: He spent several weeks begging us to take him to visit Mister Rogers, whose show he enjoys. (During the opening sequence, he would even point out Mister Rogers’ model-sized house to me, insisting that it was a real place we could go visit.)
Media literacy experts assert that if we give children the tools to create their own media, they will better understand how mass media are created. They will know that other people have made decisions about what stories to tell, what shots to show on screen, and what words the characters will say. This kind of knowledge is truly a form of literacy.
So, I decided I’d like my son to start exploring some tools that would let him create his own media. As a starting point, I looked into digital camera/camcorders meant for children. Unfortunately, the ones I found online and in the toy aisles of our local stores were all a little pricey and/or poorly reviewed by other parents.
Instead, I dug through my closet and found a great solution: an old pocket digital camera/camcorder that I haven’t used in several years. It’s in the “flip” style (with a USB port that flips out of the side)–a slightly older model of this one by Jazz (which at less than $25 is more cost-effective than the ones meant for kids). He loves it!
With this tool at his disposal, now he’s learning how to aim the camera to frame a shot, how to start and stop recording, and even how to ask/direct people to do things for the camera. (This mostly involves asking mommy and daddy to make funny faces, but hey, it’s something!) And he knows how to play the video back and see if it turned out the way he wanted, or if he needs to try again. All very basic stuff, but very age appropriate; he’s becoming comfortable with a media-related tool, and we will be able to build upon these skills together later.
For example, later on, if he begins making up his own stories, we might draw pictures together to illustrate those stories; photograph them with his camera; upload them to my computer; and put them in a slideshow that he can narrate. It won’t be anything fancy, but it will be media creation nonetheless!
I also use the time we spend reading together to help him understand that media are created by people. Whenever we read a book, I read him the cover page, as well–stating the name of the book, the author, and the illustrator. Then I clarify which person wrote all the words, and which person drew all the pictures.
Just last night, we read the book Tuesday for the umpteenth time; it’s one of his favorites, as the flying frogs’ antics delight him. Unlike many of his books, the author and illustrator are one and the same. So as I read the cover page, I said: “This book is called Tuesday, by David Wiesner. He made this whole book by himself.”
“But mommy,” he asked, “Who made the words?”
“The same person! David Wiesner did the words AND all the pictures. He’s the author AND illustrator. He must have worked really hard, huh?”
I like that he is attuned to the fact that people create books, and that when I read only Wiesner’s name from the cover page last night, he suddenly thought to ask who the author was. We haven’t really discussed authorship of television programs and movies yet, because it’s so much more complicated; but with the understanding that most books he enjoys are created by one or two people, this lays the groundwork for understanding that moving pictures have writers and animators, as well.
Up next: For my final post in this series, I’ll offer a collection of media literacy tips culled from various sources. I’ll also share a list of books for preschoolers that are specifically about television, which can be helpful in sparking some healthy parent-child conversations.
Parents: Do your children understand that people create the media they consume? Have they had any experiences creating media themselves–their own stories, videos, etc.? If so, please share below!