Media literacy for preschoolers, pt. 3: Understanding that media are created

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.

First, I shared the kinds of conversations we have about how the media work–particularly the idea that commercials are trying to sell us things.

Next, I described our discussions about media content, emphasizing the importance of actively communicating your family’s values to your child while watching media together.

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!

15 Comments on “Media literacy for preschoolers, pt. 3: Understanding that media are created

  1. “kid-friendly” digital cameras definitely suck. We’ve had a couple of them, and their quality is horrible. Especially as the girls are already used to me letting them take pictures using our DSLR, iPhone, and “real” point-and-shoot cameras. At the moment we’re letting the girls use our old point and shoot that we don’t really use any more. We haven’t done much with the content they create on the digital cameras, but it’s there nonetheless. Catherine has also used a pack of blank hardback books to create her own “fairy book”. 🙂

    Speaking of making books, we’ve read this book by Aliki with both of our girls and they love it:

    It’s a tad out of date technology-wise, but it does offer a good overview of the publishing process.

    Also, it kills me that sometimes the girls want me to read the cataloging-in-publication data inside the front cover of a book. It can actually be quite a hoot for some of the children’s books we read. 🙂

    • Thank you for the book tip! And that’s hilarious about the cataloging info. 🙂 I’m sure it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue when read aloud. 🙂

      • The funniest part about the CIP for kids’ books is the summary. Considering the whimsical subject matter of some of these stories, writing a concise, one-line summary of the book’s content must be very challenging. I also enjoy reading the publication dates to them and pointing out how they correspond to significant events, e.g. “This book was published when Grandpa was two years old, so he might have read it as a kid!”

        Another one that should check off several of your interest boxes is comparing various revisions of the same book. For example, we have a Richard Scarry book, with an old copy (60’s era) and a new copy (90’s era). The old copy has many illustrations with stereotypical gender roles, while the new copy is a bit more diverse in these roles. Of course, sometimes the only difference is adding a pink bow to the steamroller-driver’s head. 🙂

        • We also like to get multiple versions of the same story — most often it’s been a variety of “Cinderella” tellings, some parodies / subversive like Cinder Edna, some traditional, some beautiful, some cartoon-y, etc. And our daughter loves to make her own books — she even folds and staples together the paper.

    • A fun vacation idea. Maybe by next summer, he won’t be as worried about MEETING Mister Rogers and would enjoy a visit to the exhibit. 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for posting this. I sat through a presentation a couple weeks ago about the way that technology is changing and affecting families. The Q&A session, while informative, focused mainly on curtailing the hours spent in front of screens and parental controls available for the internet.

    While I agree with these things in both theory and practice, there is a HUGE difference between passively spending an hour on youtube, or facebook and creating a video tutorial, blogging, or collaborating with media. And I’d rather my son (who, of course, is only 16 months old, so this is theoretical at the moment) spent an hour online creating something, than to only spend a half hour passively absorbing advertising while playing games.. As long as there remains the balance of active play, then I’m all for creatively using media!

    • Beth, you’re welcome!

      I want to see children become media literate–learning to think critically about what’s on screen.

      Unfortunately, advice targeting parents regarding their children’s media use seems to over-emphasize restricting screen time as a solution. Studies suggest that for whatever benefits restrictions may have, they DON’T foster media literacy. On the other hand, active viewing and discussing between parent and child DOES help–but that’s not usually suggested.

      The mindset seems to be one of protectionism, but we can only protect our kids for so long. By the time they are about 12 years old, studies indicate that restrictions on screen time just don’t work any more. It’s important to have other media-related parenting skills in our arsenals at that point–especially when you consider that the average age a child today first sees pornography is 11 years old! Eek. We should want them to be used to talking with us about media before they hit the confusing times of adolescence.

  3. I adore this series!! Media literacy is such a crucial, relevant topic for today’s parents, and one which I would love to pursue professionally (any advice to that end is welcome!). My first child was born just one month ago, and your experiences provide a glimpse into a future I would love to emulate with my son!! Keep it up, you are an inspiration!!

    • Thank you, Cathlene! I wish I had advice on how to become involved with media literacy professionally. Are there any media literacy / media education type organizations near where you live? A lot of organizations that do media literacy outreach are smallish non-profits, but it couldn’t hurt to watch their job postings.

  4. Great ideas, Rebecca…A couple more suggestions on tools like this to put media in kids hands so they can SEE their own creations… “short, art-inspired stories you make to share, read, and print” puts kids in the role of writer/illustrator with beaming pride; there’s even a collab/community aspect for ‘editing’ as they get into it more. I wrote about Storybird on Shaping Youth here>> They’re fabulous.

    In the ipad story digital platform, just came out of beta as an interactive version of storytelling creations (vs print/publish keepsakes) Also, here’s a handy wiki format of apps and offerings for kids storytelling to come to life in diff formats (I’m still perusing it on my lunch break–Lotsa cool tools!)

  5. Pingback: Media literacy for preschoolers, pt. 4: Tips and resources | Rebecca Hains

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