Using personalized photos in the preschool classroom

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on January 8, 2010

in Language Arts

A guest post by Shara-Lawrence Weiss

When Deborah approached me about guest blogging, I was honored. I have gotten to know a little about Deborah through twitter and facebook and have found her to be kind, gentle and caring. She clearly loves children and enjoys working with preschoolers, making crafts, writing songs and more. The world needs more Deborahs, I say!

Any time someone asks me to guest post, I always try to think of something new to write (rather than reposting an already written article). I try to give them fresh and new content so that leaves me wondering what to write about…hmm…what can I share that’s interesting and relevant?

For Deborah’s blog I’ve decided to write about the use of personal photographs, in regard to early childhood teaching. Some of you may already be familiar with the effectiveness of photographs but some of you may not be!

Using personalized photos
I have always been a big photo buff – I do not scrapbook, however. I simply like the idea of using photos to teach concepts…because it works!  I love taking photos; both color and black/white. When it comes to early childhood, color photos have certainly shown a better response.

Personal photos as a customized learning tool
In my business (Personal Child Stories) I gather photos of a child (and perhaps of their family members, friends, pets, etc) and turn the photos into a customized learning tool. Some folks call this a “book” :-) A misunderstanding of what I do oftentimes comes in the form of people saying, “Oh, what cute scrapbooks!”

No. (smile)

I have a background in journalism, early childhood, nanny work, published freelance and special needs. While enrolled in school for my elementary ed degree I decided to start my PCS business (see my ABOUT page for full details on why I began PCS). When using photos with my own son, I quickly realized how effective they are. He would pick up concepts and grasp feelings and emotions very quickly when I used photos to teach him.

Photos invite young children to communicate
Clip art is okay and pieces of artwork can certainly evoke reactions from children. However, handing them a photo album full of photographs that include themselves, family, friends, classmates and so on – will very likely have them sitting for hours, if allowed: Studying the facial expressions, examining the eyes and mouths of each person, pointing out specifics and feeling drawn in by the emotions that are attached to the personal images.

When I ran workshops I saw the same result over and over again. Even looking over the images of OTHER children – the kids were fascinated. BUT…when they were given their OWN photos to work with, the result was tenfold. Lines of communication were opened easily and effectively. Even for the kiddos with special needs.

What can personal photos be used for?

Color Recognition
Take photos of your kids or students wearing different colors. Label the back of the photo that color (i.e. “Red” or “Green”). Teach color association with the photographs. Personally, I like to add the word to the back of the photo. That way, it can be used as a surprise element. When the child says the color you flip and card and say, “Yes!” When the word is written on the front of the photo, the surprise element is no longer there. The surprise element, in my experience, turns this into a game – which kids love.


Take photos of a child doing something in order. Such as:

  • Getting up
  • Making the bed
  • Getting dressed
  • Eating breakfast
  • Going off to school

Sequence the images and put them on a flip ring using a hole punch. Carry this in your purse to teach sequencing. This can be used at school, at home, during therapy sessions, in line at the post office, at the grocery store and so on. A great “busy game.”

Take photos of the family members, starting with the child. This will be labeled “1.” Then take a photo of mom and dad together and label this “2.” Then add another family member into a photo for “3.” Then 4, 5, 6, etc (include pets if wanted). Teach numbers and counting with this collection.

Expand vocabulary
Take photos of the house, of objects, of pets, etc. Teach any and every concept you want, using the photographs.

Promote emotional intelligence
You could also take photos of children being kind, helpful, caring, sharing and so on. This would teach character building and association which in turn – raises a child’s emotional intelligence.

Costs to consider
The photos will render a much faster learning result than any generic item; I nearly guarantee it.

If you can laminate the photos, even better. My laminating machine cost about $130. You can buy them cheaper but be careful not to waste your money on a cheap model. Many schools also offer free laminating to the teachers. Oftentimes the lamination is a thin 1 MIL and will peel apart quickly. If you can use 3, 5 or 7 MIL, the photos will last for years to come (I use 5 MIL on all of my products…far more expensive but my books and flashcards last for years and years with little to no damage).

You can also go to an office supply shop, however, be warned that they often charge $3-$5 per page to laminate. The cost ads up very quickly. Many of them also charge $1 per cut so if you have them cut the sides of the photos, it will run $4 per photo PLUS the lamination fees and tax. If you have several photos done, that will be a spendy activity for sure.

Invest in a laminator
If you plan to use photos often, I’d highly suggest buying your own laminating machine and some laminating sheets to go along. Check ebay before buying them elsewhere. You may have to spend a bit to buy in bulk but you’ll get far more for your money that way. Contact paper also works but again – it won’t last long.

Photos as gifts
You could even make some photos for the students in your class to send home as gifts or as a memory keepsake. Take a class photo, print and before laminating label the back: “Friends from _______ School, 2010.” Send one home with each child at the end of the year.

Photos can be used for just about anything and to teach nearly any concept. From colors and numbers and sequencing to emotions, facial expressions and family & self recognition. Give it a try. I’m sure you’ll be quite pleased with the results!

About Shara Lawrence-Weiss
Shara Lawrence-Weiss is the owner of Personal Child Stories and Mommy Perks. She has a background in early childhood, special needs, nanny work, journalism, published freelance and marketing. She resides in Arizona with her husband and three children. She plans to complete her elementary ed degree in the future.

Thank you Shara for sharing your insight with us. It has been a pleasure getting to know you through this online forum and an even greater pleasure to share your passion for early childhood education.


This article is being shared with you by Deborah Stewart of Teach Preschool - Sharing the wonders of early learning in action!

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