Viewing Childcare Environments through the Lens of Photo Essays: A Reflective Tool for Pre-Service Teachers

Faculty Instructor: Leslie Craigo
Artist: Res
ECE 409, Early Childhood Practicum II: Pedagogy for Infants and Toddlers
Borough of Manhattan Community College

Student photograph from BMCC Early Childhood Education 409 Pressing Public Issues project.

About the event

For this project, students will learn how to use photography to document infant toddler caregiving environments, and aspects of the environment that support learning. This is one of the last courses that students take in their education sequence here at BMCC. The course consists of 6 hours a week at a field site, and a two hour on campus seminar. Students focus on the curriculum at the site and how the environment (physical, interpersonal and temporal) supports development for infants and or toddlers. During the semester, student in this course write journals, describing their site, the philosophy of the site, their own philosophy, and the development of the children. Particular emphasis is placed on how the environment and the use of specific language supports the children.

Students will learn about environmental portraiture, interior photography, still lifes, point of view and photographic sequencing. They will use photography that describes what people do and how they move in a space without actually photographing people. Students will caption the photographs. This process of photography draws on aspects of mindfulness and intentionality which are dispositions that we foster in pre-service teachers.

A highlight of this project is that it will de-center writing so that there is room for many forms of expression. Additionally, students will gain reflection skills and documentation tools, two important components for educators.

The final projects will be displayed publicly demonstrating the pre-service teachers’ learning, teaching, and interactions. The displays will also highlight the importance of quality early childhood care, the importance of play, and the intersection of linguistic and visual information.

Reflections about the project

During the planning stage, it was great to have the support of the other professors and teacher artists. Listening to their projects helped me think about my project, this also promoted thinking about teaching in a collaborative innovative manner, more than just lecture and small group work, the importance of the arts, the importance of critical thinking, of engaging students in many ways. The support of peers continued throughout the project. The support of the Graduate Center fostered a sense of community during planning and implementation.

Creating a timeline and budget helped keep the project on track, even though the timeline what not always followed, it gave a framework to what needed to happen, what needed to change. It would have been better if we had started the photo books earlier – next time.

Engaging with the students in something “outside the box” required explaining the connection between photography and the coursework – their major. By discussing the following points, students came to see the value of this project:

  • Both photography and early childhood education involve intentionality, mindfulness, flexibility and creativity. 
  • Photography is also an excellent means of documentation. 
  • The use of photography instead of just writing eases the stress some students feel about writing,    
  • Photography allows us to find additional outlets for our voices, for advocacy, advocacy is an important part of professionalism in early childhood education

Working with a teaching artist expanded my own pedagogy. Res has a clear way of engaging the students, prompting exploration, promoting critical evaluation and feedback, and offering concise directions. Using cell phones as our artistic instruments increased the comfort level of the students. 

After students had completed the first part of their work with photography, five journals, they then completed another assignment – Getting to Know your Classroom and Reflection. In the reflection section, there was a prompt: Describe your experience with photo documentation:

here are some responses to that prompt:

“This was a unique experience, I have used photos to document specific incidents all my life, and it has never been quite as technical. I thank Res for the new knowledge on obtaining better photo quality and detail.”

 “Using this documentation open [sic] my eyes to stuff I never fully took notice of before so it gave me a better perspective of what an environment of a classroom should look like and what to expect.”

“Overall I had a blast taking pictures of the children and their location and how the teachers accommodate the classroom to meet the child’s needs.”​

While only one student was able to attend the gallery reception, that student really felt pride in her work and in her ability to discuss her work.  In general, students discussed struggles with a new approach to learning, but all realized that this helped them understand how children struggle to learn, and that while it was a struggle for them, the outcome was worth it. When I saw them at graduation and handed them their books, they were all excited to see their published work, their smiles said it all.