Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Visual Literacy Activities with Children's Picture Books

Visual literacy is something we need to make sure our kids have the skills for. The world is changing rapidly, but already we can see the need for children to know how to react to, and produce materials other than text. Images, audio, video and amalgamations thereof will become more and more common as ways for us to express ourselves. And for all those media, kids will still need their word-based literacy skills - reading, writing, listening and talking.

Sharing a children's picture book with our kids gives us a perfect opportunity to teach them about visual literacy. Visual literacy means reading and writing visual texts. Visual texts can actually include anything from diagrams to maps to movies, but visual literacy in fiction picture books will mostly be about the images that accompany the story text.

In children's fiction picture books, illustrations often tell another layer of the story, a sub-text if you like. Sometimes an illustrator will give pictorial clues, or partially hide elements, or repeat elements to make the book more interactive and fun for kids. In The Glasshouse by Paul Collins, illustrator Jo Thompson actually interpreted the ending of the story in her own very satisfying way. In Daisy plays Hide-and-Seek by Ellie Sandall, children need to find the slightly camouflaged Daisy within the book's pages.

Discussing aspects of what's happening visually within images helps children add to their own visual literacy skills. Encourage them to think about what they're looking at. When do you think this photograph was taken? What or whose perspective is this illustration from? Who might these people be? Why does the bear look so sad? Why did the artist choose all greys for this picture? How does this image make you feel? In the gorgeous vintage picture above, I'd discuss elements of the art work too, wonder about how the artist created shadows, ask what time of day it might be and why there is a moon.

When you're sharing books and magazines with your kids, watch for ways of presenting information visually. Pie charts, graphs, diagrams, cross-sections - all can be found in some of the wonderful non-fiction picture books your local or school library has. When you're reading a picture book together, make sure to point out and discuss not just images, but also the font, the endpapers, the cover, the title. Very often clever book creators have added to the book's appeal by interpreting the book's theme or subject matter within these elements.

Next week, I'll share some online resources that support teaching children about visual literacy.

Image credit: Graphics Fairy
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