Understanding the World

Take your child on a smartphone safari

As my four-year-old granddaughter Daisy learns the fundamental skills needed for her early years – from numeracy to phonics to healthy eating – she’s becoming increasingly curious about how adults go about their business.

Her curiosity extends to all of the specialised tools and equipment that we grown-ups use for our hobbies: the giant bamboo pins that hold my knitting together; Mummy’s sewing kit; the special pens that Daddy uses when he’s drawing; or Grandpa’s trusty pair of secateurs. 

Daisy is always keen to ‘have a go’ and find out how to make things work and, as grandparents, we try and help encourage and support her investigations (while ensuring she always stays safe!).

Ready for her close-up

Sometimes Daisy’s curiosity can lead us in an unexpected direction and take us on a course to a different destination. This was the case when Daisy asked Mummy about how she used her smartphone to take photographs. 

After a short demonstration, Daisy took some ‘interesting’ and interpretive portraits of her family, before Mummy and Daddy suggested a walk outside to find more interesting and less demanding subjects. So they set off, on foot, in the direction of Daisy’s childminder – a familiar route but one that turned out to be full of interesting potential images. 

Many of us are so used to our local area that we normally navigate it on autopilot. Not only that, but we adults are so familiar with the way the world works, that we don’t stop to realise how interesting it is for a little person who is just beginning to learn about numbers, letters and patterns!

In fact, it’s a bit of a surprise to realise just how many numbers and letters are encoded into our environment. There are numbers on traffic signs, front doors, and lampposts, and letters on road names, registration parts and advertising livery. 

For a child of Daisy’s age, understanding the world means both learning to use technology for a particular purpose and also questioning aspects of the familiar world around them.

Numbers, letters, and patterns

Daisy quickly discovered letters and numbers on all sorts of street furniture, as well as patterns and textures on drain covers, walls and railings. Daisy even discovered the letter E on the floor, and realised that, depending on where she stood, it could also be read as an M, a 3 or a W! 

A collage of images of nature and street furniture taken by a child - a letter on a drain cover, a fire hydrant marker, a concrete lion on a gate post, and a bee investigating a flower
Daisy noticed that her environment was full of letters, numbers and animals

Anything that caught Daisy’s attention was ‘snapped’, from a large concrete lion on a gate post to a little bee foraging in a bush. Sometimes Daisy took the photos on her own, and sometimes she gave directions to her Mummy and Daddy. She even managed to spot a passenger plane high in the overcast sky.

Back at home, the family looked at the images, taking time to recall the walk in sequence and talk about where each of the pictures was taken. Later Daisy’s favourite pictures were printed as an interesting collage and added to the wall where some of her other artistic endeavours are exhibited.

The next time we visited Daisy, she was anxious to show us the collage, talking about each picture and recalling where each one was taken. We then took the opportunity (so much of this kind of learning is about taking advantage of these moments) to discuss patterns, textures, numbers and letters.

A collage of images of street furniture taken by a child - two drain covers, one marked with a V, a large white gate with a diamond pattern on it, and a passenger plane seen high in the air.
Daisy noticed that there were patterns everywhere, underfoot and on people’s gates; she even spotted a passenger plane very high in the sky

Like many children, Daisy’s digital know-how is developing at a rapid pace, and I’m impressed by how quickly she’s learned the basics of taking a photo on a smartphone. One day I’ll have to explain to her what it was like to live without the luxury of digital photography!

Granny Smith says

  • One path of learning can often lead to another, so when it feels right, follow it! There is so much sensory stimulation in the environment, whether urban or rural. 
  • Where it is safe to do so, you can encourage your child to feel the textures outside. You can even take rubbings of manhole covers and other ironwork.
  • There are many ways in which creative photography of your local environment can help with your child’s development: when the UK’s COVID lockdown prevented us from meeting with Daisy, her Grandpa created a photo scavenger hunt for her to enjoy, using toys photographed in familiar locations around our house and garden.

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