Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Butterflies, Photography and Kindergarteners

I had the opportunity to chaperone my son’s field trip to the Butterfly Rainforest today. I brought the new Kidizoom camera my other son recently received for his birthday. Most of the children were interested in it but certain children were enthralled. I would have never allowed Kindergarteners to walk off with our $350 digital camera but risking a $60 investment is more than worth what transpired today.

It was fascinating to watch the children try to figure out how to best capture the butterflies, plants, birds, fish and turtles they were viewing. There were a lot of subtle lessons in those moments; lessons that are difficult to capture in whole group instruction and that will most likely never show up on a standardized test. How should I angle the camera to capture the part of my environment I want others to see? What happens when I point the camera skyward toward the sun or other light source? How can I position my body to take a picture of a fish through the bridge? How close is too close when attempting to capture images of wildlife? I could go and on but you probably get the point. Lessons abound in every day living; we just have to take the time to notice them in our adult lives (which seem to get more chaotic as the kids get older).

As I watched these kids engage with nature, with their school curriculum and with a digital camera I thought about how accurate Ricki Goldman-Segall really is when she suggests that we do a great disservice to kids by always taking pictures of them rather than allowing them to document their own thinking through photographs and other forms of multimedia.

There are a lot of things that could happen with these pictures but, given the time constraints of typical elementary classrooms, I simply brought the pictures home and tested out a beta Web 2.0 application called Animoto which creates professional looking slideshows on the fly. It is an interesting operation run by some young, hip video professionals. Videos of 30 seconds or less (approximately 12-15 images) are free while longer videos costs $3/video or $30/year. It is really quite simple: (1) upload your images, (2) pick some music and (3) click finalize.

So, check out the great fun we had on our trip today and keep in mind that the majority of these photos were taken by Kindergarteners. You will notice that the kids figured out how to set backgrounds on the Kidizoom (something that I didn’t even know was possible until today ☺).

I hope you will think of ways to peek into your child’s thoughts through multimedia. After all, we are raising 21st century children and who will prepare them for their digital future if we don’t?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

What kids think about nature

My last post about nature deficit disorder really got me thinking about how my boys conceptualize nature. They clearly love to be outside but I realized that we never explicitly talk about the outdoors; it is just part of who we are as a family.

In the following video I asked them a simple question about nature. Then, I asked them to take pictures of things they see in nature. It was a fun process that gave me great insight into what my children think. I learned that they associated everything outside with nature. For example, they took pictures of a skateboard, baseball bat, and gate. As we were creating this movie we classified the pictures into natural objects and objects made by man. (You will see bugs in the pictures of the concrete driveway if you look closely.)

This is a short little activity that could be beefed up in many ways but I am sticking by my new motto: "Sometimes a C+ works." Even so, it provides me with a great keepsake to remember how precious my little ones were. I may need to watch this video repeatedly during their teenage years. :)

I hope this inspires some of you to try something similar at your house! If so, let me know!

Take children and technology outside!

Washington Post writer Donna St. George recently published an article entitled "To chagrin of parents and experts, kids shun nature." The article talks about how youngsters prefer the comforts of the indoors to roughing it on a hike or bike ride. The problem has become so severe that a national movement entitled leave no child inside is gaining steam across the country. This national attention is compliments of a new book entitled "Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" by Richard Louv. The article also references studies by University of Maryland professor Sandra Hofferth that suggests time outside is down and time in front of the computer is up for children across the country.

I think before too long everyone in America will suffer from one deficit disorder or another but despite our ridiculous infatuation with considering every problem as some sort of disease or disorder, the issue is intriguing.

My boys spend at least 50% of their free time playing outside. They play sports, catch lizards, ride bikes, dig in the dirt, build forts, climb trees, play in puddles, dissect lovebugs and do whatever they can to be as messy as possible. Thus, it hard for me to fully comprehend the dilemma that many Moms may face in this regard.

However, I think there are some ways that Moms can help technology-crazed kids WANT to be outside:

  • Encourage children to document their adventures in nature with a digital camera (I recently wrote about a digital camera designed with children in mind.)
  • Relate outdoor adventures to your child's curriculum. For example, turn a leaf collection assignment into a digital adventure.
  • Create (or have your children create) a digital, outdoor scavenger hunt with an enticing prize package (like pizza and ice cream for dinner)
  • Encourage children to collect specimens to examine under a digital microscope (I have used the Digital Blue QX3 and plan to research other products in preparation for Christmas shopping)
  • Encourage physical activity and health education through the use of a heart rate monitor. Simple ones are available for under $20 and children may have fun keeping track of how their heart rate changes as they do different activities in the great outdoors.
  • Use a digital camera, digital camcorder or other recording device to capture the sounds of the great outdoors. Then, create your own music using GarageBand or Audacity.
You know your children better than I but hopefully these ideas help you think about how to bring your children's love of technology into nature. In my next post I will share some interesting things I learned about my boys' concept of nature. Stay tuned!