5 Ways to Celebrate Media Literacy Week with 5-and-Unders
It’s Media Literacy Week and there are events happening around the world. If you think of media literacy as mostly teaching about things like propaganda or “fake news,” you may be wondering where professionals who work with the youngest children (5 and younger) fit into this global education community.
When we view media literacy as an expansion of traditional literacy—a shift that prepares kids to thrive in a digital world by including “reading” and “writing” with pictures and sounds along with words—the answer is familiar. Just as we lay the foundations for print literacy starting at birth, early childhood educators have a vital role to play in laying the foundations for the more sophisticated media literacy skills we expect of adolescents and adults.
More than teaching with or about media technologies, media literacy in early childhood is about establishing habits of reasoning and reflection. We surround children with a culture of inquiry and reflection. Here are a few places to start:
1. Play “Spot the Media.”
Think of this as a prerequisite activity, something that will help children make the connection between seeing or hearing media and thinking, “It’s time for my brain to kick in and use all those great analysis and reflection skills I have learned.” For that association to become automatic, children need lots of opportunities for practice and awareness of what counts as media.
So, we help them identify and name media in their environment. We start with obvious screen-based media, but also include refrigerator magnets, T-shirts, puzzles, posters, stickers, signs, books, and so much more. At first, we point out examples of media. Don’t worry about definitions.* We’re just trying to develop intuition here.
Once kids get the hang of it, let them do the spotting: “Who sees an example of media in our room?” or “Let’s see how many different media examples we can spot on our walk today.” To build awareness, help children see how much media is in their world by keeping a running list of everything they spot and reviewing it together at the end of the day or week.
With older children, you could shift to playing “I Spy” with media in the room. This can be useful anywhere there is a wait (on the subway, at the barber shop, grocery store, bank, restaurant, etc.)
*Any form of communication that is mediated—with something between the sender and receiver of a message—is media.
2. If you use music for transitions, announce the artist(s).
In read-alouds, we always share the name of a book’s writer and illustrator. Why not extend the practice to other types of media?
Understanding that people make media is pre-requisite for understanding the basic foundational concept for all media analysis: all media are constructed. Media are created by people who make intentional choices about what to include and exclude.
To the youngest children, media makers are invisible and will remain so until they are developmentally ready to shift from concrete to abstract thinking. But we can prime them to anticipate that media makers exist. We can even help them along by pointing out that when they make art, they are media makers who are making choices (and we connect our conclusions to evidence): “You decided to make it a sunny day in your picture. I can tell because you included that big yellow circle in the corner to show (or for older children, to represent or symbolize) the sun.”
If you sing songs as part of transitions, pause to wonder aloud about what the lyrics mean. Ask about the mood created by a song’s tempo and rhythm. Then, help children connect their observations to music in other media they use. When we model talking about all sorts of media, we are instilling the idea that media are important enough to spend some time thinking about (analyzing).
3. Analyze food packages.
During snack time (or as part of play in a pretend kitchen), have children “decode” food packages. Teach them to look for clues so they evaluate products and understand techniques that are used to entice them. Ask questions like, “What’s the package saying to you? How do you know?,” “What are the clues it uses to tell you what’s inside?,” “What do words like ‘flavored’ mean? How do they relate to the real thing?,” and “If it has pictures of fruit, does that mean there is fruit inside?”
For more details on how to lead this type of activity, see Project Look Sharp’s Nutrition Curriculum Kit, “Critical Thinking & Health: Nutrition and TV Commercials” (downloadable for free).
4. Talk about holiday decorations as media.
Long before children can sound out words, they notice differences in fonts. Make a game of matching fonts with their holidays (e.g., Halloween, Fourth of July, Easter, Eid, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali). What’s different between the font for Halloween and the one for Thanksgiving? Why are they different?
Let kids choose fonts for their names for nameplates. As they make their nameplates, talk about what messages they think others will get from their choice. Help them notice other media that use fonts (calendars, posters, alphabet apps, etc.).
When we pause to talk about the idea that fonts convey messages, children are learning to use fonts as clues to decipher the messages that media are trying to communicate.
5. Notice restaurant colors.
If you include a restaurant in a play area, make menus or take-out boxes and talk about the pictures and branding elements. What do pictures of yummy food make us want to do? What colors signal Italian food? Why? How many other types of food are signaled by colors on a national flag? (For older children this could segue into an exploration about the symbolism of flags and why certain nations choose certain colors.) How do colors help us find the kind of food or restaurant we are looking for?
What are your ideas for emergent media literacy activities? Consider sharing them this week in the Hello discussion forum. Happy Media Literacy Week!
Faith Rogow, PhD, is the author of Media Literacy for Young Children: Teaching Beyond the Screen Time Debate (coming in 2021 from NAEYC); The Teacher’s Guide to Media Literacy: Critical Thinking in a Multimedia World (Corwin 2012); Media Literacy in Every Classroom: A Quick Reference Guide (ASCD 2017); and “Media Literacy in Early Childhood Education: Inquiry-Based Technology Integration” in Chip Donohue, ed., Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years (NAEYC & Routledge 2015) For additional ideas, see her blog, TUNE IN Next Time, or follow her on Twitter: @InsightersEd.