Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Teaching Children To Look and To Study: A Lesson On How To Use A Slide Viewer

I will never forget watching slide shows in my Aunt Gale's living room when I was a child and a young adult. Nor will I forget visiting my grandparent's farm in Upstate, New York. My grandparents bought the farmhouse, which had been a general store in the late 1880's, after they retired. I spent hours looking through their stereoscope at the vast number of slides that were amongst the hundreds of Victorian objects acquired with the property.

Perhaps it was this early experience in looking, at studying a single image, that lead me to love photography, not as an act, but as a study. Living in Rochester, New York until I was in my thirties, I often visited the Eastman Kodak Museum. Looking at one image and studying that image lead me to two of my favorite writers: Susan Sontag and John Berger. When I wrote as an art critic, I often referred to their books and to the theoretical discussions around the gaze and the problematic act of looking.

Problematic in that making eye contact with another of the opposite sex or above your social status has historically had a range of consequences including the ultimate punishment, death. Even studying an image for more than a minute or two is called "staring," which is socially labeled as misconduct or rude. To look and to examine is something small children often do and, when considering Maria Montessori's writings regarding "the absorbent mind," must.

At the movie theater, both adults and children are free to look directly at something which they are otherwise restricted to view in both public and private places.

I remember taking my own son to see a particular foreign film when he was around ten. I was captivated by his face as he stared at the screen. The main character of the film was a blind child. My son told me later he never looked at anyone blind before because he didn't want to embarrass them and he, himself, did not want to feel uncomfortable. The dark theater allowed him to look without social punishment.

In my classroom, I keep a slide viewer and slides (4 or 5 at a time) available for children to look at and study.

The viewer is kept by itself in a lidded box (to the right of the mirror on the shelf: image below). The slides are kept in a small, handwoven envelope (in front of the leather-looking box).

When I present the lesson, I remind the children how to hold a color tablet. The color tablet is held at its white edge.

(image above from montessorischoolofdunwoody.com/primary.htm)

I then show the child how to hold a slide at its frame and tell them to never touch the slide itself as it could damage the slide. Some slides have arrows that show which side is to be placed first in the viewer so that the image is correctly positioned for viewing. Others require looking at the label on the slide to determine which side is to placed in the viewer. Arrows can be drawn on the slides, and this is perhaps the best solution. Also, I have at times included a single, child sized, white glove as one might find in a toy magician kit. Children place the glove on the hand that will touch the slide. It is very curator-like and adds a step to the work that reinforces the care needed in using the slides.

I was given some free white gloves from CVS photo department but they were too big. So, it remains absent from the tray until I find another magician's glove (thrift store genie are you listening?).

The child places a slide in the viewer and holds down a touch sensitive button. This button turns on the back light. The child sees the slide by holding the viewer close to his eyes. When finished, the child removes the first slide, places it carefully on a small tray and then inserts the next slide for viewing.

The children are captivated by this work. I am captivated by their faces as they study the single image.

Slides have become difficult to find. Years ago, you could buy slides at museums. No longer. They have been replaced by CDs. I rely on thrift store finds for mine. I am very particular in what I want so my collection grows slowly.

The slides I prefer compliment the continent folders.

Also, I try to find slides of children from different time periods. Believe me when I tell you that children are just as amazed at "how strange" children dressed in the seventies as in 1920's or earlier. These slides are history lessons captured in a single image. When you ask them about what they are looking at. They will tell you about hair and clothing styles, about types of eyeglasses and cars. They will tell you if the people in the slide look happy or sad, young or old. They are learning to look and to examine.

Later, when they are painting a copy of an art card, this ability to see details and to capture them in both their memory and on the page comes into play.

There is no shortage of splashy, fast paced images flashed across huge commercial billboards and television\computer screens. Television screens fold down from the interior ceilings of mini-vans replacing simply looking out the window and viewing the world around you.

This constant exposure to non-stop images has been linked to hyper-activity in children. The question arises "What are children really seeing and how much of it can they take in?" Acknowledging all of this, it makes sense then that in a Montessori setting a single, color image of a woman making tortillas in Guatemala would capture a young child's attention.

For an interesting extension of this post go to http://deweydecimalca.blogspot.com/2009/10/stereographs-view-masters-and-slides-oh.html#comment-form and read about another blogger and her information on making your own stereoscope.


Evenspor said...

When I was little, our local public library had a couple of stereoscopes. We loved those. :)

Do you have any suggestions for other ways a child could be encouraged to study an image in the absense of a slide viewer or stereosdope? A few select very small and detailed images with a magnifying glass, maybe? Or a beautifully illustrated book?

I love the idea of doing something like this to help train a child to "see."

Susan Y. Dyer said...

I think you have a great idea. I have many photos of my students looking through a magnifying glass and they are very focused on the details. There is also a cardboard "view-finder" that you can make. I saw it on a page about teaching children to paint. You simply cut out a small circle from the interior of a square of paper or cardboard. The child places this view-finder over an image and studies that single area.

I have seen stereoscopes in Montessori classrooms. The teachers came by them via their grandparents or an estate sale. I was terribly jealous...oh that human me...

Dewey Dot said...

Oh my gosh you inspired me! I just linked back to you on my blog with so many ideas that your post just unleashed!

I figured out that there is a way to make your own stereoscope, and download stereographs from a digital library (over 42,000 images!) - I can't wait to try!

Thank you for the inspiration!


Myra said...

I have a similar work in my room - an old-fashioned "Viewmaster". Got it from a retired Montessori teacher, along with picture discs for each continent. I've been afraid to let the children use them, but I like the gloves idea. Maybe I will bring this out again.

Robert said...

I love the slide viewer idea, and especially limiting the number of slides available at a given time. www.sciplus.com has white gloves that can be shrunk down to size. They are not made for children but my 8 yr old wears the small size and when we shrunk some by mistake they became quite a bit smaller, maybe small enough to meet your needs, and they are well made and very inexpensive. Search for "liner gloves".

Honey said...

If you pop over to your local high school that has a marching band you should be able to buy a pair of gloves. When I was in marching band we wore white gloves...a BIG pain! But, there are normally a few extras ordered with the uniforms & you'll have your gloves. They're shrinkable, so ask for a small pair & wash on hot & dry REALLY hot. I'd recommend a regular wash & dry because they do stretch back out. Oh, and don't forget your white winter gloves for the kiddies from your dollar store. They'd allow the children to have the same experience.

Susan Y. Dyer said...

I was sent two pairs of child sized white gloves by the comment post signed Robert - actually Jennifer. She kindly sent me two perfect pairs. Yeah for blog readers.

Working on a new post tonight. I had the flu and just couldn't write.