Media bias. It’s something that we may discuss in our conversations with family members, friends, and colleagues. Many of us understand that media is constructed by human beings, and therefore, it contains biases and objectives. As adults, we develop our own methods of navigating this terrain and figure out how to function in a world full of media and its biases.
However, what do we do as teachers and parents of young children to help them build foundational skills so that they can navigate our media saturated society? Do we even consider the notion of media literacy as an essential component in children’s learning and development, especially when some children’s cultures are depicted inaccurately, in stereotypical portrayals, or completely omitted?
When reflecting on these questions, it seems that media literacy is an integral part of the puzzle, especially if we want to empower children of all communities and backgrounds. In the book Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years: Tools for Teaching and Learning, Faith Rogow, Ph.D. of Insighters Educational Consulting, conveys strategies we can apply to develop young children’s media literacy in her chapter “Media Literacy in Early Childhood Education: Inquiry-Based Technology Integration”. While her chapter is geared towards educators, several of Dr. Rogow’s best practices can be used by parents and caregivers as well. From her chapter, I want to illustrate two points that she mentions – integrating inquiry and media creation.
One part of developing emergent media literacy in early childhood is creating a culture of inquiry with media. Dr. Rogow (2015) points out,
Media literacy education builds on children’s natural curiosity, encouraging their questions, helping them learn how to find credible answers, and also expanding the types of questions that they routinely ask about media messages. Of course, ultimately inquiry isn’t just about asking questions, it’s about asking relevant questions, which is why, in the last three decades, media literacy educators have developed question sets designed specifically to foster critical thinking about media messages (p. 96).
Media literacy education provides a meaningful entry point for children to become critical consumers of media and creates foundational experiences of conversations about media. This in turn can help children recognize the potential for error and biases in media, which includes misrepresentation of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds. Asking questions about media and engaging in dialogue becomes a part of children’s understanding of the world and one strategy for navigating media.
Along with developing inquiry skills with media, Dr. Rogow also points out the significance of media creation. She (2015) states,
Making media also happens to be one of the best ways to help people internalize the notion that all media are ‘constructed’ – the concept from which all media analysis flows. In order for young children to gain an understanding of constructedness, we need to pair the use of technology with decision-making opportunities and conversations (p. 98).
Being able to create media and allow children to share their stories is an empowering experience for them. It gives them the opportunity to understand that media is a form of expression and media creators have a reason for their choices. This provides foundational experiences for children to examine which voices and perspectives are being “heard” and others that are being left out.
In early childhood, both inquiry and creation are integral pieces to support children’s learning and development. Media literacy builds on the foundation of early childhood best practices and makes children equip to navigate our media-filled world.
While finding meaningful ways to support media literacy in early childhood is important, we also need to be mindful of the way media and media biases impact us as educators and parents. We must consistently work on developing our own media literacy, confront our own biases that influence our media choices, and have the courage to have critical dialogues with others so that be we can better educators and parents. When we really think about it media literacy doesn’t seem to be this optional set of skills we can choose to develop. Rather, it is an imperative part of being an active and thoughtful citizen of this society.