Why We Make Films With Children

Our collaborative filmmaking model has evolved from our combined experience of 13 years of teaching in the classroom and 10 years of creative videomaking with 3-10-year-old children. After our first experimental film (Sophie in the Trees) in 2001, and our collaboration with eight former art students to create Ark in 2002, K.B. Eno wrote a qualitative research study that analyzed conversations with the children who had participated in the making of Ark. This paper explored the question:  How can video be used to create a more meaningful alternative to current mainstream corporate children’s television programming, for children between the ages of three and ten?  What do children gain from personal video stories that they cannot gain from this type of television? K. Brenneman Eno, M.Ed. thesis (Columbia Teachers College, 2004). Several years down the road, and many projects later, we have arrived at a hybrid approach to our film work that enables us to look through several lenses:

Little Creatures Films extend emergent curriculum/inquiry-based early childhood education:

Storytelling and Story Acting: Vivian Gussin Paley's process of listening to children, transcribing their stories in longhand, reading them back, and inviting the storytellers to act their stories out with classmates, has been a great inspiration to our work.

Experiential Art Education: The philosophy being disseminated by Judy Burton and the Art and Art Education department at Columbia Teachers college has informed this work, in that it draws children's artmaking out of their own experiences. This approach goes back to John Dewey's experiential education. Other arts educators who have taught in this way and thus influenced us are Nancy Beal, Lois Lord and Nancy Smith.

Little Creatures Films are supported by research on children's use of media:

Critical Pedagogy: a child viewer takes in the televised media and filters it through his or her dynamic mind and actions; children should experience visual media such as television in an active, rather than passive way, and have outlets for responding to such stimuli  (Buckingham, 2000; Singer & Singer, 1990, p. 183; Tobin, 2000).

Media Literacy: Little Creatures is built upon Kristin B. Eno's Master's Thesis research which included her conversations with younger children, ages 5-7, talking about their experiences viewing television and film, in contrast with their experiences making and viewing videos of their own stories/play, made in collaboration with Kristin. In one of our video grant projects at PS 27 in Brooklyn, Kristin hired a media literacy specialist, Terry Solowey, to facilitate conversations with children as young as Pre-K. A synopsis of that project is in this Little Creatures' blog post. Find resources at the National Association for Media Literacy Education.

Media Production in Early Childhood: this is a relatively untapped field, with minimal research. George Forman and Ellen Hall's Videatives is a great example of educators who are using video in the early childhood classroom, namely to "see what children know." The Reggio Emilia preschools in Italy, and schools that are utilizing the Reggio approach, concern themselves greatly with documenting children's learning. Couldn't "documentation" then be considered early childhood media production? If so, then it's going on in hundreds if not thousands of early childhood settings around the world. The Reggio Alliance and the Hundred Languages of Children traveling exhibition of children's work rise to the top as high quality venues for looking into what children are actually saying and thinking.

Little Creatures Films are responding to a void within children's TV/Film offerings:

Where are the children? American children's media is saturated with adult-written animation, and simply needs an infusion of more real, live children. The things children say and do are often far more unique, bizarre and wonderful than what any adult could write or plan out. Children deserve more opportunities to see other children, and not just child actors who have memorized lines from a script.

Why is so much media that is made for kids not so pretty to look at? Certainly, children like fast moving objects and bright colors, and are captivated by magazine format shows, singing and dancing, jokes and bloopers. But children can also appreciate the beauty of natural landscapes that haven't been over-produced, and can marvel at a rainbow, a sunset, or flowers sprouting up in a garden. Great cinematography is not wasted on children; rather, the children are watching, they are looking at every little detail. Why not inspire them to wonder more, dream bigger, and imagine deeper, right in their own back yard?

Why is everything so loud and rushed (aka: Where is Mr. Rogers when we really need him)? As parents and educators know, children often exhibit the most keen engagement in learning with rapt silence. Children are deeply in tuned with the metaphysical, but that realm of being is best accessed in quiet spaces. Experiencing natural spaces and objects, working peacefully with art materials, walking in the woods or by an ocean, gardening . . . these activities elicit spiritual statements from children who might not have been brought to those deep realizations otherwise. We owe it to our children to give them the opportunity to think about these things if they so choose. Why not embed more natural, silence-invoking images within children's media itself? (Coles, 1986 and 1990).

Little Creatures Films has taken into account the growing body of research on the educational importance of children's play:

Complex Extended Imaginative Play: children need hours and hours of opportunities to develop their play into complex, nuanced scenarios, because this process not only provides needed exhiliration and release, but also helps children to grow cognitively, emotionally and socially (Froebel, 1885; Huizinga, 1950; Erikson, 1976; Singer & Singer, 1990; Sutton-Smith, 1997; Vygotsky, 1978; V. Paley, 2004). Children need long spans of uninterrupted time, counter to the current trend of over-scheduling children's non-schooled hours. We hope to remind parents of what their children are missing out on, when they are not given opportunities to develop complex adventures and interwoven narratives.

Adult Facilitation: When an adult facilitates by interacting with, participating in and conversing with children as they play, the adult is able to do three things:
- Validate that this play is important to others.
- Analyze the children’s learning.
- Seek to raise that learning to a higher level, as described by Lev Vygotsky (1978) and researched by Lindqvist (1995), Ferholt (2007), Forman (1999), Brenneman Eno (2004).

Finally, Little Creatures Films redirect young viewers' gaze from the screen, back outside:

Children and Nature: children need to play outdoors, for their physical, mental, spiritual health (Louv, 2005). See the Children and Nature network.

Playgrounds: We are particularly interested in watching children as they play in non-traditional playgrounds, those of the Adventure Playground bent. Erin Davis is making a film about one of those in Wales.

Selected References

Beal, Nancy. (2001). The Art of Teaching Art to Children. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Brenneman Eno, Kristin. (2008). Not too young to watch, not too young to make. Youth Media Reporter. Volume 2, December 2008.

Brenneman Eno, Kristin. (2004). Children’s Video Stories: Using Current Media to Empower Young Children’s Imaginative Play. Ed.M. Thesis, Department of Art and Art Education, Columbia University Teachers College.

Buckingham, David. (2000).  After the Death of Childhood.  Malden, Mass:  Blackwell Publishers, Inc.

Coles, R. (1986). The Inner Lives of Children. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press.

Coles, R. (1990). The Spiritual Life of Children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Erikson, E. (1976).  Play and Actuality.  (Excerpt from Play and Development, 1972) Play:  its role in development and evolution.  Bruner, J., Jolly, A., and Sylva, K., eds.  New York:  Basic Book.

Ewald, W. (2001).  I Wanna Take Me a Picture:  Teaching Photography and Writing to Children.  Boston:  Beacon Press.

Ferholt, Beth &  Rainio, P. (2004, April 14). Playdrama: A Transitory Activity That Combines Play, Drama and Philosophical Dialogue.  Paper presentation at the Annual meeting of the American Education Research Association.

Forman, George. (1999, Fall).  Instant Video Revisiting:  The video camera as a ‘tool of the mind’ for young children.  Early Childhood Research and Practice, 1, (2).

Froebel, Friedrich. (1885).  The Education of Man.  Translation by Josephine Jarvis.  New York:  A. Lovell.

Goodenough, Elizabeth (Ed.) (2003). Secret Spaces of Childhood. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Goodenough, Elizabeth (Ed.) (2007). A Place for Play: A Companion Volume to the Michigan Television Film, "Where Do the Children Play?"Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Huizinga, Johan. (1950). Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture.  Boston: Beacon Press.

Lindqvist, Gunilla. (1995).  The Aesthetics of Play:  A Didactic Study of Play and Culture in Preschools. Philadelphia: Coronet Books.

Louv, Richard. (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books.

Malaguzzi, L. (1998).  History, Ideas and Basic Philosophy:  An Interview with Lella Gandini.  Translated by L. Gandini.  (pp. 49-97).  In Edwards, C, Gandini, L & Forman, G. (Eds.). The Hundred Languages of Children. 2nd Edition.  Westport:  Ablex.

Paley, Vivian.  (2004).  A Child’s Work:  The Importance of Fantasy Play.  Chicago:  U. of Chicago Press.

Paley, Vivian (1998). The Girl with the Brown Crayon. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Paley, V. (1999).  The Kindness of Children.  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press.

Paley, V. (1991).  Bad Guys Don’t Have Birthdays:  Fantasy Play at Four.  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press. 

Paley, V. (1990).  The Boy who would be a Helicopter.  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press. 

Singer, Dorothy & Singer, Jerome. (Eds.) (1990).  The House of Make-Believe:  Children’s Play and the Developing Imagination .  Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Sutton-Smith, B.  (1997).  The Ambiguity of Play.   Cambridge:  Harvard University Press.

Tobin, Joseph.  (2000).  Good Guys Don’t Wear Hats: Children Talk About the Media.  New York:  Teachers College Press.

Vygotsky, Lev. (1978).  Mind and Society.  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press.