MANY OF OUR KIDS spend a lot of time smiling for the camera these days, and I’m of the opinion they could use some time behind the lens instead. While I myself don’t have kids (yet), I’ve had the unexpected and overwhelming good fortune to work with nonprofits around the world through my work with The Giving Lens, often teaching photography to children of different communities — not to mention my own nieces and nephews right at home — and I’ve seen firsthand the power of a camera in the hands of a child.

Seeing life through the eyes of a child is almost as amazing and standing back and watching them explore the world and getting to watch their creativity and curiosity unfold before your eyes. Read on to see for yourself why you need to get a camera — whether it’s yours, an old phone, or a cheap point-and-shoot — into your kids’ hands today.

All photos by author.

1

It unleashes their curiosity.

Children are naturally curious. Handing them a camera can be like opening a door and sending them out to roam. The smallest things become interesting when you're roaming, zooming, spying, peeking, and snapping photos along the way. Kids are naturals at finding fun angels, unique perspectives, or fun, odd details. What we may never notice, they just might — especially with a camera in hand and a reason to hunt.

Above: A row of kids in Peru participate in a photo program run by Picaflor House. The program is aimed at at-risk youth as an after-school program. Last year, the children had their first gallery showing in Cusco!

2

It provides a sense of individuality.

We all know each child is special, and they're hopefully reminded of this often. Anyone who has kids, or interacts with multiple kids, knows just how very different they can be at their very core. If you send twenty kids out with twenty cameras to shoot the same thing, chances are you'll get twenty different photos in return. Thus, something about giving a camera to a child really seems to emphasize their individuality and uniqueness. Whether the child gets told they're special every day, or in situations where maybe they're not told enough — a camera is a gateway to feeling like you see the world in a special way.

Above: Six young Tanzanian girls explore their backstreets as part of a program we implemented at Mkombozi Vocational Center in Moshi. While all of them had only basic cameras, and explored the same areas during our visit, each of them walked away with a few images they were really proud of. You could really see each girl's personality in her photos.

3

There are no rules.

As certain children become more interested in photography, then sure, they'll want to explore some tried and true "rules" for stronger photos, but for the sake of fun, of exploration, and of expression, the sky's literally the limit. Anyone who's gone to an art show knows that beauty and art are speculative — so it doesn't matter if the photo's too bright, dark, blurry, upside down, sideways, or backwards. If the child loves it, it's special. You could try projects: like finding a particular colour or shape, for example. A few constraints might make the adventure more exciting for kids that lose focus easily. But let the expression rise above the rules and you'll see just how creative kids can be!

Above: Who says you can't model on top of a slide? Who says there's anything you can't do? Two sassy girls have a blast being goofy on the playground, during a photo workshop in Hyderabad, India.

4

It's accessable.

Cameras don't require reading or writing, and as I've discovered, you don't even need to speak the same language! There's a universal language just in the image itself. This makes it so accessable to all kinds of kids: young kids, kids who struggle in school, and under-priviledged kids for example, but also for kids who do well in school as they might find the simplicity of photography a release from other stresses. Sure, down the road, kids that get obsessed with photography will eventually move on to the more technical side of things - but for now, it's like stretching your creativity muscle.

Above: We have worked with teenagers, young children, young adults, and everything in between — and photography remains powerful across not only ages, but socio-economic backgrounds, social status, educational backgrounds, family histories, income brackets, and so much more. The bottom line is that photography, more than ever, is for everyone. Here two very young girls at our NGO partner, COSA, in Thailand photograph me through a fence, while I photographed them right back, all during a campus-wide photo scavenger hunt!

5

It's instantly gratifying.

Point and shoot. It's really that simple. The child sees, shoots, and gets to see the result right away. While some children might benefit from delayed gratification (film photography, anyone?) many kids around the world receive such joy from seeing their little piece of art pop up right away.

Above: Not everyone gets instant satisfaction, even in our technology driven days. These girls at a school for Masai children in rural Tanzania were fascinated with how fast the camera revealed their work back to them.

6

It makes them learn to see.

Some kids are super observant from the get-go; it's part of who they are. Other kids have a hard time spotting details and nuances; they're into the big picture. It doesn't matter which way kids approach photography from, it will help them to see: see people, see colours, see textures, see bugs and little life, see tall trees and big life, see contrasts, see movement, see pretty things, see ugly things they think are pretty, find beauty in a tiny flower or a huge mountain range and everything in between. If you give a camera to a child and they're overwhelmed, do a sort of scavenger hunt (let's find a bug! let's find something round! let's find something tall!). Otherwise, you'll be amazed what they start to notice all on their own.

Above: Two teenagers in Nicaragua participate in a week long photography workshop in Granada, run jointly by The Giving Lens, and a local NGO, Empowerment International, who started, and continue to run, a photo program year-round. By heading out with projects and goals in mind, the students are able to see their hometown in a whole new light.

7

It's empowering.

For all these reasons above and many more, handing a child a camera is handing them a tool to express themselves. When we support and encourage both the act of expressing, of creating, of discovering and exploring, and the actual result of the expression (the image), we empower a child to explore further, and deeper, both into the world around them, and into themselves.

Above: Some of the older girls during our workshop in Thailand take a break in the shade to look at their photos from the day.

8

It says "You have a story worth telling."

When we praise a child's photos, we're telling them they made something worth celebrating. And if the thing they're making is an extension of how they see the world, then we're essentially saying the way they see the world matters. They matter. Their stories and their voices count.

Above: Beautiful Joselyn flashes me a huge smile while lying on her back in a boat, as we floated through a lagoon in Nicaragua. While the rest of us are trying to photograph monkeys and boats, Joselyn is photographing the sky. That's part of her story, and it's worth telling.