A photograph from above. A blonde child wearing a green and white checked school dress stands next to a table, upon which a Canon printer is printing out a scrapbook page of photos with the title ‘festival’.

“Grab the camera, we’re going for a talk…”

Anyone with children will tell you that trying to force an illuminating conversation with them is like walking through treacle. Kids simply don’t do deep and meaningful chats, or even feel like telling you what they’ve had for lunch most of the time! But now is a really important time to talk with your small people, to at least attempt to get a measure of their thoughts and feelings on living in a changed world that’s actually pretty scary.
So how do we get them to open up to us about the things they find important? Former teacher Georgina Durrant runs the The SEN Resources Blog, a site for parents and teachers of children with Special Educational Needs. She’s very familiar with parenting strategies that can encourage communication, as well as a myriad of other valuable developmental skills. “Kids don’t look at the day the same way we do,” she explains. “We have a day at work and then can vent all about it, but kids live in the now – especially young children – they don’t want to sit and reflect on their day.” One of her recommendations for a valuable activity with your children is a ‘photo walk’. It takes the focus from the child and places it elsewhere, while also triggering all sorts of memories and ideas, which naturally lead to interesting conversation points.  
Gentle, but with purpose
A simple walk with a camera might not seem like anything more than fun, but as Georgina explains, it opens up so many possibilities. “They’ve got the space, it’s non-confrontational, there’s no pressure.” She recommends starting with a simple exercise where you both have a challenge – “photograph something red!” – and see where it takes you. You could end up in a funny, chatty conversation about school (“My teacher has hair that colour!”) or end up with something more revealing. Both are equally valuable and however the walk goes, you’re both learning a great deal and acknowledging the differences in the way you experience something as simple as taking a photo. “The world is different from their height,” says Georgina. “If you ever get down to their level, it’s a whole new world.”

A photo taken from above of two children – one in a blue denim jacket, the other in a pink knitted top. One child holds a large Canon camera in their hands, with the strap around their neck. They both peer smiling, at the screen on the back of the camera.
Heading out with a camera can spark all sorts of conversations and be a really enjoyable way to gain insight into your child’s world.

It’s not just about the pictures
It might feel like you’re just snapping and chatting, but the camera is a catalyst for some really fundamental skills that are valuable to all children. When you realise what can come from a simple photo walk, it’s actually a very powerful tool in the parental armoury
  • Communications: Talking about what they’re seeing and explaining it using their speech and language skills.
  • Social: Being able to take turns with the camera and sharing.
  • Numeracy: Counting what you see and looking at shapes and colours.
  • Observation: Noticing and talking about the things they discover, recognising differences. 
“There’s a sense of power,” Georgina adds. “In feeling responsible for the camera. You put it around a child when they go for a walk and they feel massively empowered.” Photography can also support that empowerment in other ways. For example, if a child is feeling anxious about a journey – maybe they are returning to school or you’re planning a visit that’s out of their comfort zone – following the route together in advance with your camera can create a sense of familiarity and connection, which may in turn ease some fears.
Making memories
It’s easy to forget when you’re in the middle of creeping up on a bird or snapping a fun poster you’ve seen on a wall, that you’re creating something that can take on a life of its own. The photos you take together can be shared with friends and family by email or printed off as extra special mementoes like calendars or mugs (what grandma doesn’t want to receive a home-made gift?). You can use them to tell stories or start a scrapbook. Again, this isn’t just frivolous fun (but there’s nothing wrong with that!), there are also aspects of extended activities that can again take in memory, language, literacy, social and communications skills. “I’ve got photobooks stacked on the bookshelf and there’s no reason why children can’t do the same. They can also take them into school for show and tell.”

Left: a quote that reads “There’s a sense of power in feeling responsible for the camera. You put it around a child when they go for a walk and they feel massively empowered.” Right: A head and shoulders shot of Georgina Durrant, smiling. She has long blonde hair and is wearing a red top.

Don’t be afraid to play
The big message here is that ‘playing’ together in this way is important and photo walks are a really accessible way to spend time together, talk and develop core valuable life skills. And while she uses the term photo ‘walk’, Georgina stresses that this is absolutely not limited to those who can physically do so. She feels passionately that all children and parents should feel empowered by play and the benefits that it brings: “There’s been so much pressure during the pandemic – parents felt bad if their children were just playing, but there’s a whole range of skills they’re picking up just through play.” And at the same time, we as adults are also living in in a time of great stress and anxiety, so the simple act of picking up the camera and going for a fun walk with our kids is great for our health too.
Georgina’s book ‘100 Ways Your Child Can Learn Through Play (Fun Activities for Young children with SEN)’ is out on 21st June and available to pre-order. You can also follow her SEN Resources Blog on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for helpful advice, insights and fun ideas.

Written by Marie-Anne Leonard

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