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Introducing Your Child to the Arts: Media Literacy (page 2)

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

Media Literacy in Today's World

In the media-saturated world in which we live, every child needs to be media literate. That means knowing not only how to use the new technologies, but also when and why. Children often demonstrate a level of sophistication that is surprising to adults. In fact, children readily adapt to new technologies, often more quickly than their parents.

As the quantity of and access to images and sounds increase, all of us—and especially children—need to remember that all media are made by people with a specific purpose in mind.

The skill and artistry of media professionals make it increasingly difficult to separate the real world from the crafted worlds represented in a wide range of media formats. Media literacy allows audiences to appreciate the best of the art form while increasing their awareness of subtle, as well as overt, messages.

As with all of the arts, parents and teachers should guide children through the intricacies. With preschoolers and kindergarteners, it is important to relate issues to common experiences familiar to children. A relevant discussion about television commercials could focus attention on the fact that ideas represented through media are not necessarily true or beyond criticism. For instance, children should know that a television commercial is intended to send a specific message that will persuade audiences to consume the product.

Elementary students typically have analytical skills that surpass those of younger children. They can grasp the basic concepts that film and video makers, television and radio producers, and computer and other new media artists use. By studying the media arts, children can gain valuable insights into the world around them, especially if they receive quality media education in their schools and guidance at home. Media make strong impressions on children. It is for this very reason that adults should share the experience and provide a balanced perspective.

Engaging Young Children in the Media Arts

Given the demands of time, work, and family life, few parents can monitor everything a child sees, hears, and experiences through the media. It is possible, however, to promote positive use of media by fostering active media criticism, and encouraging your child to play and experiment with media arts tools. The key is to ensure that expectations and activities are appropriate for the age and capacities of the child. Here are a few suggestions for activities, some appropriate for preschoolers and others better suited to elementary students:

  • Search for media in everyday life. The use of media is now a part of childhood. Just look in any toy store, even in the baby section. In the past, children’s toys were simple objects like blocks, books, and dolls that required activity and imagination on the part of the child. Technology has changed that! Encourage your child to look at his or her toys to see which ones include media-related elements. Engage your child in conversation about toys such as barking toy dogs and compare them to the real thing.
  • View actively. With preschoolers, sing or dance along with the TV, DVD, and video. With older children, focus attention on details like how lighting makes a scene scary or how background music sets a certain mood. At another time, encourage children to make up and act out their own stories starring their favorite characters.
  • Sing a song or tell a story on tape. A comfortable first activity with media is tape recording your child’s voice as he or she tells a story, sings a song, or puts on a puppet show. Replay the tape. Most young children are totally fascinated by hearing their own voices and the voices of their friends.
  • Be a Star. Plan a birthday party entitled “Be a Star” and send invitations for a gathering of your child and his or her friends. Let the children select their favorite songs from your collection of children’s CDs as well as your “oldies” and then tape record the group singing along. At the end, give every child a chance to sing independently. This solo could be a familiar song or an original tune made up on the spot. Make copies of the tape for every child to take home. Pretend to have a media opening with fancy dress up clothing and special foods. Invite parents to the “Opening.”
  • Visit children’s museums, science exploratoriums, and technology centers. In many communities, first-rate museums offer opportunities for children to have hands-on experiences with media art tools. Some may have a radio or television “station” they can explore. Others use computers to engage children in interactive exploration and self-expression.
  • Become a shutter bug. With appropriate supervision, even preschoolers can take simple pictures with a digital camera. The beauty of this medium is that pictures that are not quite up to par can easily be discarded without cost. Parents or teachers can review pictures with children and then choose the best for printing.
  • Make a movie. With a video camera, older children can become a director, producer, or star of their own videos. Encourage your child to use the camera to tell a story, perhaps using family and friends as actors and subjects. Children and parents can collaborate to write a simple script and shoot it. Turn a room of your home into a theater, make some popcorn, and invite friends and family as guests for a screening of the finished product.
  • Use media to prepare for attending live performances. Help children learn about live performance by showing them a concert, play, or ballet on tape. Not only can children begin to understand what to look for in these performances, but they can also gain a sense of appropriate behavior. Point out details such as how the instruments in an orchestra are grouped in different sections, how the audience sits in the dark to help focus attention on the stage, and how people wait to clap until a scene, movement, or song ends.
  • Introduce your child to new kinds of art forms through media. Designate selected family video nights to explore a new genre of film, style of dance, or type of music.
  • Use the Internet. Find Internet sites that give your child an experience that may not be accessible in your community. For
    example, many museums have Web sites that offer interactive games and activities that introduce young children to museum collections. Access to the Web needs to be carefully supervised for all children.
  • Use digital media to expand knowledge. Many new media offer background material or enhancements in addition to the main show. Renting DVDs rather than videotapes allows children to hear directors describing the choices they made in making the films. Jazz clips on a university Internet site, for example, might include a music professor’s notes about the history of the piece.
  • Create your own Web site. With scanners, digital cameras, word processing software, and digital music making tools, you can demonstrate the power of media by constructing a Web site to create a family page to share with grandparents, cousins, friends, and others. This collaborative process may lead to more independent activities as children mature and gain more sophisticated skills.

Talk to children about the media they see, hear, use, and produce. Ask them to share their interpretations and let them know your opinions. Conversations about media help children develop the vocabulary to appreciate and analyze what they watch and hear.

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