Raising a Shutterbug: Why Your Child Needs a Camera in Their Hands

When I was a child, I was given my first camera. It was flat and bulky, like a Kodak Ektralite, and at the time, the sheer power of 24 exposures could only be surpassed by the wild abandon of having a 36-exposure roll of film at my disposal. I learned to be judicious with my use of it, and I learned the bitter disappointment of receiving my prints back in the mail after sending them off with such great expectations, only to find that the amazing photos I thought I had taken turned out to be blurry, or marred by a camera strap or stray finger across the corner. Still, hope springs eternal and I always believed my next great photograph was just a click away. I still do.

Now my daughter has her own camera — simple by the standards of today’s technology, but seemingly lightyears beyond what I used at her age. She looks at the world with all of the same wonder that I did, but the advent of digital photography allows her to capture it in a very different way. Unhindered by number of photos and mindful only of battery charge, she engages her subjects with unlimited creativity and curiosity. A glance at my daughter’s photos can sometimes offer a more insightful peek into her world than many conversations with her can do. 

What is she — or any other child — learning with a camera in her hand? Why does photography matter, if the photos aren’t going to end up in a gallery, or perhaps even a family album? And what are we nurturing in kids when we give them the space and tools to practice the art of photography?

  • The ability to express themselves, and to take charge of their story
  • A clear personal perspective and creative voice, and greater respect for the perspective of others
  • Increased spatial awareness
  • Greater empathy for their subjects
  • Stronger memories
  • Stronger problem-solving skills from challenges like lighting, angles, and less-cooperative subjects
  • The ability to remain present in the moment, and to combat anxiety by doing so
  • Greater persistence in getting the photo they’re after

Though the benefits of photography are extensive, many of us are hesitant to encourage our young photographers. We are thrown by which kind of camera to entrust to them. We are drowning in our own cache of family photos and don’t have the energy to deal with the hundreds (or thousands) our child will undoubtedly take. If you are like me, you have no formal training in photography and feel less than confident offering guidance to your child. If you believe as I do, though, that the above benefits of introducing your child to photography outweigh the nagging questions, try these simple strategies for getting them started:

  1. Dedicate a camera for your child’s use, if possible. When my daughter first showed interest in photography, I allowed her to snap some photos using my phone. But I quickly realized that — though the technology isn’t cheap — giving her a simple digital camera of her own freed me up to stop worrying about whether she’d tap the wrong button on my phone, or how many of her photos I’d have piling up in my camera roll. And during travel, having a camera of her own has put my daughter in charge of her experience. During a tour of President James Buchanan’s home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, she lacked much of the context to relate to the information provided by the tour guide, but quietly and happily engaged herself in photographing the experience. 
  2. Point them toward two or three useful resources. Opportunities abound online for teaching the basics of photography to kids, and — depending on your child’s age and their level of interest — you can find quality options that are either free or fairly budget-friendly. A quick look in your community may reveal even more options, such as free workshops or photo safari meetups.
  3. Put your shutterbug to work with a simple assignment. The sky’s the limit when inspiring your young photographer, and digital photography means they can practice all they want! If you’re giving your child a Journey Jotter Book, you’ll find that some of those activities — like  “Color Me Observant,” “Going on a Shape Hunt,” and “The Name Game,” — are accessible for many ages, and a great place to start, either around your community or during your travels. Kids can find excellent subject matter for their photos by documenting items they are packing for their travels, or using books like Daily Bread or Toy Stories as inspiration.

And what to do with all of those photos once your child gets clicking? Fear not — we’ll be tackling that in a future post! Until then, scroll down to find Journey Jotter Books on Facebook and Instagram, and share some of your child’s results from the strategies above!