Convincing today’s wired kids that nature is more exciting than technology is a hard sell. It’s better to find ways for children to integrate technology with their experiences in nature. One of the easiest options is digital nature photography.
I recently visited Tremont Elementary School, Upper Arlington, Ohio, sharing my picture book, “Curious Critters,” with K – 5 students. Two days later I accompanied about 150 of these students on a field trip to a local farm/nature center. There I assisted them in taking pictures of scurrying animals, spectacular wildflowers, and majestic trees. It was great fun, and we all learned a lot.
When I sat down to record my thoughts about working with the Tremont Elementary School students, I decided to organize my writing around five ideas expressed in many of the post-visit student surveys.
1. Cameras Encourage Experiences in Nature
Taking camera-toting children into nature—whether in their own back yards, walking through a woods, or visiting a state or national park—catalyzes visual creativity. Children want to take pictures, so they begin finding all kinds of amazing subjects to photograph.
The more fascinating things they find, the more they want to visit natural places again. One 4th grader wrote, “I have never thought of taking pictures of nature, but I will try more often.” A 5th grader wrote, “I feel that I could just stay out there forever and just take pictures.” Sometimes all we need to do is get children started. Children as young as two years old can enjoy taking pictures.
2. Focus on Nature
One of the most beneficial aspects of taking pictures is how it helps fine-tune our vision. Photography is as much about what picture-takers frame in as what they frame out. Children are able to momentarily dismiss much of what is around them, letting them focus on what is in the camera’s viewfinder.
Among the student’s favorite subjects were insects (praying mantises, butterflies, grasshoppers, and various beetles) and flowers (goldenrod, asters, and other late summer wildflowers). As students zoomed in on these subjects, they became much more fully aware both of animal behaviors and of local habitats. Students got down on their knees to examine spider webs, flowers, and all kinds of critters.
3. Hybrid Experiences
Children practicing digital nature photography continue enjoying technology. By putting their technological know-how to use outdoors, they develop what Richard Louv in The Nature Principle calls “hybrid thinking.” The two pursuits—one technological, the other natural—fuse together two different intelligences, forming a hybrid way of thinking.
Consider the deep concept offered by a 5th grader: “[Nature] feels like a gift. It is like a big piece of Earth, and it changes every day. So I could take pictures of something every day, and it would change every day. So it won’t get boring.” These are the beginning steps of developing a hybrid intellect
4. Memorializing Moments
Digital photographers return home, where they create slide shows, print artwork, or load JPGs onto smart phones for instant access. Nature is transformed from something “out there” to memories that remain. “I find it appealing to take pictures of nature,” wrote one 5th grader, “because it is like taking home a part of nature.” Another, in describing how she felt about nature photography, stated: “Definitely great. Let’s say I took a picture of a tree in the fall time. I come home, and I look at the picture. The tree is officially in my house.”
5. Click-n-SharePerhaps the greatest benefit for children is social interaction. By printing, emailing, or just showing the image on the back of the camera to others, digital nature photographers spread their enthusiasm for nature and for photography.
Reflecting on sharing images, one 5th grader wrote, “There are creatures and plants that we have never seen in our lives, and we should show the world by pictures.” From such enthusiasm conservationists develop. Another expressed that nature photography “makes me feel good because it helps other people know that nature is IMPORTANT!”
We lead busy lives, and sometimes it’s hard for parents to get out into nature. Unfortunately, the same can be true for our over-scheduled children. A wistful 4th grade photographer wrote, “I wish I could take a lot [of pictures] of nature, but sometimes I’m really busy.”
Families need to encourage young photographers to become immersed in nature. As one 5th grader put it, “Taking pictures of nature…opens a new door to life.”
Note: Student quotations have been revised for grammar and mechanics.