My brother-in-law gave my child a camera for his third birthday….. in bright red and yellow with cartoonishly round edges. It is equipped with video and selfie modes and that silly puppy filter that no future Tiktoker can live without. I thought it was both very generous and totally inappropriate for a three-year-old. So, I let my kid play with it for a day or two and then, after a series of his tantrums brought on by pressing the wrong button, I hid it in the linen closet.
Now that my son is almost four and slightly more mature, I decided to return it to him. Three hours and 247 photos later, he was actually getting the hang of it. Although I was initially irritated that our morning nature walk was experienced entirely through that small screen, I soon realized that the screen wasn’t detracting from his appreciation of his surroundings. Our afternoon stroll to the playground, which ordinarily takes about 20 minutes, took at least 45, because little Ansel Adams had to snap a photo every two steps. He wasn’t shooting arbitrarily, though. Oh no, he stopped to look at each of his subjects, admire it, and comment, “this is so schön” (my husband speaks German to him, and I speak Hebrew, so he communicates in an unusual pidgin). He was seeing things that I had never noticed, despite walking that same route every day. When we got to a circular stone formation he became particularly excited. “This,” he said, “is MAMASH schön,” adding in the Hebrew word for “truly.” He was immersed in the beauty around him.
When Erol and I are writing for children, we resist the urge to be didactic. We try to see the world through their eyes, through that kid filter. Looking over the nearly 300 photos my son took over just two days, I was reminded that what we think we need to be showing or teaching our kids isn't always where their attention is focused. While we're busy showing and teaching, they are taking in some amazing things that we often miss.
[Full disclosure: When I found my son photographing the TV while binge-watching Peppa Pig, I did have to put the camera back in the linen closet!]