May 27, 2024
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May 27, 2024
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Practical Ideas to Incorporate Photographs in Reading

I am always incorporating one medium or another into my literacy activities/lesson plans. Below are some concrete ways to make visual connections with children at all ages/stages of development.

Very young children may have trouble distinguishing between reality and fiction. As a result, more books are appearing in libraries that have photographs as illustration. Take advantage of the boxes of photos gathering dust in the attic and create some literary projects with the family.

Art Banners: Snapping photographs of objects, images and scenes are a wonderful alternative to a traditional book. Design a theme and select a few pictures in common with that theme to be glued onto a sturdy colorful poster board (about the size of a page in a book). Depending on the age of the child (see below), you can select a few cards and string them together. Don’t forget theme-related music to play along with the activity.

Some Common Topics:









Lap Babies:

Very young infants focus best about eight inches away, so hang the art photos/banners on the wall beside the change table to nurture their developing visual acuity.

Lap babies love looking at pictures and handling them. Cut the banners apart into squares, laminate them (clear, sticky shelf liner works well and is very inexpensive, or you can go to Staples or Office Depot and get them laminated), and let your baby handle them while you read a related board book.

Infants need lots of tummy time, and scattering a few of the squares (or the entire banner) on the floor in front of them gives them something interesting to look at.

Once a child is sitting with confidence, put the squares upside down all around them, and let them enjoy the surprise of turning them right side up.


Once a child is crawling, hang the art on the wall about 10 inches above the floor, putting the photos right at the child’s eye level, giving them something to investigate.

If you are signing with a baby/toddler, use them to draw attention your way as you teach a variety of signs. For the very young, teach what they see.


In those first exciting days of moving from standing to walking, try laying out a path of pictures and celebrate each “stepping stone” with a big cheer.

For more confident walkers, lay out a widely spaced path and have fun with slalom-style walks through the pictures, or scatter pictures and go on a picture hunt to find them all.


Toddlers love developing new motor skills, and throwing is a popular one! Practice tossing bean bags at the squares placed randomly across your floor. You can add to the activity by making the sound of the animal the beanbag lands on, or say the color and type of flower, etc.

Toddlers also love exploring art in all its forms. Spend a few minutes looking carefully at one of the pictures. Point out the dominant colors and shapes, then encourage your toddler to explore those same colors and shapes with paint or Play-Doh.

Now that walking is no longer a new skill, a toddler will enjoy exploring new ways to move. Try imitating the movements shown in the photos!

Try making an obstacle course. Lay out large cushions and boxes on the floor to form a simple obstacle course. Tape the pictures to a few of the boxes, hide some inside other boxes, and under pillows. Help navigate the obstacle course and find all the pictures.

Play hide and go seek, hiding the pictures around the room and then finding them. At first you’ll want to leave a corner of each picture peeking out, but it won’t take a child long to remember your favorite hiding spots.

At this age, speech is rapidly developing. The best way to encourage speech is to generate conversation about things. The art banners can provide a stimulus for all sorts of dialogue. You can also use them to elicit longer sentences, encouraging the child to abandon one-word answers and instead form full sentences to answer. Questions such as “What do you see?”—“Moo!” becomes “Cow!” then “I see cow!”

Sign language doesn’t have to end when a child can talk. Many children love the flexibility of being able to either sign or speak, especially when many speech sounds are not yet part of the vocabulary. Use the art banners to continue to teach signs, including concepts such as colors, numbers, movement vocabulary (such as walk, run, jump, dance) and more.


Continue using the art banners to promote speech development. Concentrate on expanding vocabulary and improving grammar by modeling proper grammatical structure and new descriptive words. “I see cow!” becomes “I see a cow,” and finally, “I see a brown cow eating grass. People don’t eat grass. Only cows eat grass.”

Transitioning To Books:

Encourage a child’s imagination and storytelling abilities by having them read the story to you using the art banners. The advantage of the art banners is their flexibility – the child can modify the order of the story to suit their story rather than being trapped within the structure of the board book, and can combine images from several stories.

Some photos make handy puppets. Cut closely around the edges of the images.

Ex: For a family theme, cut out the pictures of Mommy, Daddy, Baby etc., attach to sticks/tongue depressors and use as puppets.

School-Age Children:

Grade-school students delight in the whimsy of their remembered babyhood; anything ‘cutsey’ or funny is sure to elicit a giggle. Putting a spin on dry/abstract material in this fashion can ignite interest and develop a more comprehensive knowledge of the subject in question. Photos and pictures can spawn creative ideas for project-based assignments and research.

Why not have budding photographers take their own pictures and write/tell how they relate to the subject. Taking physical control of an assignment can encourage even the most reluctant learner, and with today’s digital devices practically everyone has access to a camera. Prose, poetry and oral reports are just some possible outcomes.

Annette Simmons, or Ms. “K” as she is affectionately called by her students, is an early childhood consultant, academic interventionist and Kindermusik educator. A well-seasoned veteran of the NYC Department of Education, Mrs. Simmons brings her firsthand experience to her presentations, workshops and events. She prides herself on introducing innovation in education to neighborhood schools and centers. Her most current initiative is seeing neural-based programming in the classroom. Email Annette at [email protected] or visit [email protected]

By Annette Simmons M.Ed

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