Lifting voices of young children through photography

February 21, 2020
Tran Templeton
Images like this one of Tran Templeton, assistant professor in the College of Education, taken by a child, are a form of early literacy.

Assistant professor Tran Nguyen Templeton is working to help children express themselves and tell their own stories even though they are not yet old enough to write.

Templeton, who teaches in the the College of Education, researches how 2- to 5-year-olds express their understanding of the world and how they fit into it through photography. 

“If you think about literacy being writing and reading, we don’t often think of very young children as being literate,” Templeton says. “Literacy takes many forms. Photography is one way of being literate. Kids come into the world, they see images and make sense of those images.”

Templeton works with classrooms of children in the Denton area, letting each child take a Kodak digital camera home and take up to 75 photos. Templeton prints the photos and goes through them with the child, letting the young photographer explain which photos are most important and why. She asks the children to choose five photos to share with their friends, noting the differences in what they tell each other versus what they tell her about the photos. 

“It’s not about what they’re telling me and what they’re telling their peers being coherent or the same. It’s about how they are communicating their different selves in different spaces,” Templeton says, noting the effect is similar to the curating that teens and adults do on social media platforms. 

She’s been working on the project in multiple phases since 2013, first with children in New York City and currently with classrooms in North Texas. Templeton previously worked with children with special needs in educational settings and says the research will eventually have applications for that population. 

“For me, it’s about having kids be heard,” she says.