When you think about video cameras, you don't normally think about a gadget that you can slip into your coat pocket. But thanks to the work of some very smart engineers, there's a whole new generation of affordable video cameras (or camcorders) with features like the ability to zoom in up to 300 times in size and viewfinders that are actually miniature 3-inch color monitors. Here are some ideas for using this amazing technology with the children in your program.

Getting Started

You'll need a camcorder and a TV/VCR so you can see your footage. Also nice, but not necessary, are an extra battery, blank tapes, and a tripod. Keep in mind that the older cameras are big, clunky, and not nearly as fun. (Ask parents who might have them to donate their old camcorders for classroom use.)

Capturing Classroom Moments

Here are some ideas for using video cameras to document classroom activities:

  • Be a Classroom Historian. Keep your camcorder charged up and loaded with a blank tape, ready for action. It's a great way to document important classroom events throughout the year Play back the footage on the last day of school or during any parents meeting.
  • Help Children Reflect. "We love the small cameras with the fold-out viewfinder that can serve as a monitor for looking at a video tape of the child in action immediately after the action," says George Forman, who teaches 3- to 5-yearolds at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. "I call this `instant video revisiting.' We are finding that children are more reflective about what they have done when they explain what they are doing when watching themselves on videotape. They are much more reflective with the video than when they are trying to remember what they did."
  • Reach Out to Community TV "Look, I'm on TV!" Once you have your tape, contact your local community-access channel for submission guidelines. Cablecasting is great PR for your school and lets your community know what's going on in your program.
  • Work Toward Self-Improvement. Set up the camcorder in the corner of the room and videotape yourself teaching. At the end of the day, watch the footage. You'll be amazed at how much you discover about your teaching strengths-and about your weaknesses. Watching the tape can help you pinpoint ways to take better advantage of teaching opportunities or to improve your daily routine.
  • Do a Classroom Checkup. Here's a great way to examine how children use your classroom space. Position a camcorder so that you can see the room in action. Record an entire freeplay period. Afterwards, watch the tape in "preview" mode to see how children move around the room. What areas get the most traffic? Which children go unnoticed? Which toys are used the most?
  • Relive Field Trips. "I use my video camera at least two times a week," says Linda Looper, who teaches preschool special education for the Dalton Public Schools in Dalton, Georgia. "I videotape the children during activities or when we go on field trips, and I play the footage immediately when we get back to the classroom. It helps to reinforce what we learned from the activities."