Nothing will take away, or change, the importance of face-to-face, hands-on experiences at group time. However, opportunities to review and share these experiences with family and friends are limited. Enter multimedia. A tape recorder documents children's favorite songs and stories; a video camera captures a play or dance; disposable cameras become a part of both artistic and recording procedures. These devices can be observant witnesses and helpful chroniclers of cherished events. And recording hands-on activities helps children better understand the connection between concrete and abstract.

Play It Again!

Tape recorders are simple to operate at group time and easy for children to replay in a listening center.

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Record children singing their favorite songs. Make copies of the tape to send home with printed words so families can learn the songs too.
  • Put a tape of favorite songs in your listening center. Use rebus charts so children can read and follow as they listen to the songs and sing along with themselves!
  • Create group stories. Place picture cards or props in a pass-along story bag. Record children as they choose something from the bag and use it to build their tale. Then place the tape and cards or props in the listening center for replay and revision. Tape yourself reading a special book. Then children can read along at quiet times or take the book and tape home to share!

Say Cheese!

Cameras used to be too expensive for most programs to use as multimedia tools. But now, with the advent of disposable cameras and one-hour discount film developing, groups can record a variety of events. And digital cameras are showing up more and more because you don't have to have the pictures developed. Instead, you can show the photos on a television or a computer monitor - and even erase the ones that no one likes. Although digital cameras are expensive, the savings in developing costs are significant and they are a great media tool to share with other programs (or to borrow from families lucky enough to own one). When you have access to a camera, try a few of these ideas:

  • Spontaneously photograph children, chronicling their daily experiences. Share the photos at group time and invite children to narrate their day from beginning to end. Put the pictures and narration together in a big book for children to review at their leisure and to share with family and friends.
  • Record the process of a group science, art, or building project. Use the photos at group time to create a time line. Encourage children to verbalize the stages of project development they participated in as they observe and discuss the pictures.
  • Photograph a special event - a class visitor, a project-culmination party, Family Night, or a field trip. Use the photos to inspire discussion or to make a group book.

One preschool class used a camera to help record the progress of a mother's pregnancy. The expectant mother visited once a month. Children asked questions, photographed her, and even measured the growth of her midriff! After the baby was born, mother and child came to visit so children could observe and record the baby's growth and development. The photos of this experience were not only educational ... they were priceless.

Lights! Camera! Action!

The beauty of video is that it's an active representation of an event. And since young children are also active, videos are one of the best ways to capture their creativity. Whether you are lucky enough to have your own video camera, to borrow one from parents, or to take one out at a local library, here are some suggestions:

  • Use video cameras for dramatic play. Children enjoy making up their own plays or scenes at group time. A few props and hats may be all they need to create a spontaneous fantasy story.
  • Review your own videos together. For instance, creative-movement activities are well depicted on video. "Statues" or "Imaginary Shoes" can illustrate for children the cooperative process they have participated in and also inspire further development of a creative idea.
  • Invite families to view a class video. If it's too difficult for everyone to come to an evening meeting, play the videos as families are dropping off and picking up their children. Many will stay just that much longer to see their youngsters engaged in daily happenings.

There are many effective ways to use multimedia. With an even hand and a discerning eye, we can introduce its creative use to represent real children participating in real events - not as a replacement for action-based learning but as a tool for reflection and growth.

TODDLERS AND MEDIA

Toddlers love to see pictures of themselves and their friends even their toys! In fact, by the time children reach the toddler years, most are quite accustomed to photography, and many will even pose or exclaim, "Do me!" when they see a camera come out. Photographs of toddlers can be a valuable teaching tool. So take pictures often and share them with children individually and in small groups. Vocabulary and language growth soar as children recognize and describe what they see. Here are a few hints:

  • To protect the pictures, back them with poster board and slip them into plastic sheeting pockets or put them in magnetic photo albums. They'll be sturdy enough to withstand constant page turning and children's wet kisses! You can also send the albums home periodically for family members to share.
  • Invite families to take photos at home to bring to school. Make sure these pictures are well protected before they're passed around.
  • Take pictures of objects that are familiar to toddlers and part of their daily lives. Place these in protective coverings for toddlers to look at.
  • Keep in mind that video can be confusing to toddlers, and the taping itself can be frustrating for everyone involved. So stick with the natural chemistry of toddlers and real-life photography!

This article originally appeared in the March, 1999 issue of Early Childhood Today.