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Introducing Your Child to the Arts: Media Literacy

— National Endowment for the Arts
Updated on Mar 14, 2011

"Media literacy is not just important, it’s absolutely critical. It’s going to make the difference between whether kids are a tool
of the mass media or whether the mass media is a tool for kids to use."

- Linda Ellerbee, broadcast journalist

The world of the 21st century differs greatly from the past, particularly in the area of technology. For today’s young children, encounters with media and technology are familiar experiences in daily life, from the grocery store visit where items are scanned to the ATM machine where Mom does her banking. Even toddlers know the intricacies of playing a favorite videotape or DVD long before they have words to express their actions. When you add to this today’s technologically advanced toys where sounds and movement are the norm, it’s impossible to separate technology from everyday life. By the time children become teens, they spend more time on the Internet than even watching television.According to a 2002 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, more than three quarters of American children aged 12 to 17 go online.

It’s important for adults to recognize that young children experience technology as end-users rather than as media producers. For them, the learning curve related to media begins with exposure in daily life. Eventually, the child develops the skill to take an active role in using media as a tool to accomplish other goals.

Digital technologies have made media arts tools—television, film, video, photography, radio, audio recording, computers, and the Internet—accessible to more people than ever before. Having the world at their fingertips is an exciting prospect for older children. At the same time, the sheer mass of images and sounds now available can be daunting, increasing the importance of adult guidance. Media arts tools should be used to enhance and encourage young children’s creativity and imagination—not to replace it.

The Media Arts

Visual Media

Mainly film, video, DVDs, photography, and television. The use of still cameras to make arresting images and new, inexpensive camcorders to make movies offers children opportunities to create visual media art. Television provides access to a wide variety of art forms, especially film and photography.

Audio Media

Mainly radio, audio tapes, and CDs. Audio recording equipment can be used to produce music, comedy, and narratives using spoken word and sound effects. The radio, as well as familiar devices like CD players, can expose children to a wide range of music and spoken word art forms.

Digital Media

Computers have become the most prevalent tool for creating and using digital art. In many cases, their use with other media forms—for example, using editing software to create a movie from camcorder footage—provides new and exciting possibilities for working in the media arts. In many instances, digital technologies, which are often cheaper to use than older equipment, are replacing other media tools.

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