When it comes to communicating with parents, I am amazed at how useful a tool a digital camera can be. While it is relatively simple to use, a camera has a powerful ability to let me share what's happening in the classroom — which has helped me increase parents' awareness of what students are learning every day.

A New Approach to Newsletters

Over the years I've used a weekly newsletter to communicate with parents. I divide the newsletter into two columns with the following sections:

  • I start off with a heading identifying the class and date.
  • Next is a quick list of upcoming dates with events.
  • Following that would typically be short blurbs on the different curriculum areas and some reminders about school rules or special projects.
  • Particular classroom needs, such as things you'd like donated to the class, would make up the final entry.

Before I owned a camera, I would have students draw small illustrations on the front or back of the final newsletter. That was an okay touch and I still include student illustrations periodically.

But there were problems with this format: Most dramatic was the fact that no one was reading it. I would spend hours preparing the newsletter…only to have parents ask me questions that were answered right in their weekly newsletter! Or I would reach into a student's backpack and pullout a newsletter that's weeks old — ouch! It was frustrating and disheartening to spend all that time trying to reach out to parents only to feel that it's been for naught. But once I came into possession of a digital camera, an entire world of possibilities opened up for me and my newsletter!

I didn't radically change my mode of communicating, but the camera allowed me to offer a way to give parents a view into the mysteries of my kindergarten classroom. I believed the weekly newsletter could still be an effective tool of communication, but I started adding the odd photo or two. My students became excited about having their work featured or their picture added — they couldn't wait to bring it home to show their parents (no more lost and lonely newsletters crushed to the bottom of a book bag). Most importantly, I started to get feedback from parents. Generally, they commented on how much they enjoyed the pictures that let them "see" what their child was doing in class. At last, they started looking at what I was sending home. And if at first glance they are focusing on the photos, I hold out hope that they are also taking in some of the announcements and news as well.

How Plan Your Student Photos

Following the axiom that if a little of something is good more is even better, I have gone from including one or two photos per week to creating a newsletter that is almost an entirely photographic layout. I feature about 10 photos per side of my newsletter and include captions underneath each one. I replaced long write-ups on the curriculum we were covering with brief descriptions of the pictured students at work on specific activities or lessons.

The students absolutely love the fact that they are almost guaranteed to appear in the newsletter on a weekly basis, and parents, again, always comment about how much they enjoy being able to see into the classroom. Logistically, I do need to keep track of who is in the pictures. Over the course of the week I try to be certain to get shots of all of the students so I have a fair amount of photos to pick from. Once the photos are laid out in the newsletter, I get a class list and put checks next to the featured students. This allows me to see if I needed to swap some photos to include more students.

Tip: For safety reasons, I never feature the child's name with their photo. If Bobby is playing with blocks, rather than write, "Bobby playing with blocks," the caption would read something like, "Building a castle during choice time."

Beyond the Weekly Updates

Many of the photos I snap in the classroom get a second life as part of the individual student's portfolio, which is also shared with parents. This adds a personal dimension to conferences, where I don't just have an opportunity to talk about what a child has been doing — I can show the parent his or her child hard at work.

Another time I use photos is during Curriculum Night. This isn't an open house with students, but rather a beginning-of-the-year presentation on what we'll be covering in class. Last year I went around to the various work stations and choice time centers and took pictures of children at work and play. I then enlarged them to fill 8½ x 11 sheets of paper and placed them in their corresponding centers. Parents could then tour the room and see a picture in the computer area showing Suzie hard at work on Lexia, another in the book nook with Billy and Dana reading, and one in the meeting area showing students participating in morning meeting.

As a final culmination of the year, I staple our classroom pictures into a class book and have students generate text to accompany the pictures. I've also had students create individual mini-books that can be sent home with children.

Any of the pictures I take, whether they be for newsletter, Curriculum Night, or portfolios, I save. I plan on using them for an end of the year slide show, giving parents another opportunity to see what their children have accomplished, and how they've grown, over the course of the school year. I will also pass the pictures onto the 6th grade teacher for future graduation celebrations.

I realize a digital camera may be daunting to some folks. You might get your feet wet by visiting Kodak's website. This site has some interesting educational ideas, as well as tips on everything from how to care for your camera to how to digitally enhance your pictures.

Well, I can't be any more blunt than to say I've found using a camera to be a great way to build communication with parents. For parents who are apprehensive about talking directly to their child's teacher, these photos provide a valuable link to the classroom. And for non-native speakers of English, photographs transcend the language barrier. Students, parents, and teachers alike benefit from visual reminders of learning. Get out there and start snapping!