The Genius of Play Guide and Where Toy Cameras Fit In

Posted by Roland N on

We all want what is best for our children. And as it turns out, according to many specialists, including that of Dr. Gummer, play may fit the bill on all accounts. In fact, in 2010, Ontario, Canada made the switch from half-day kindergarten to full days with an emphasis on a less formal, instructional approach.

The government realized the importance of child-initiated free play and that combined with more structured play-based learning, the two ‘should be integral parts of the classroom.’ That when combined, you give children the best of both worlds.

Further to this, in 2014, the importance of play was additionally stressed as a child’s right. It is essential to their development cognitively, physically, socially, and for the good of their emotional well-being.

And while, as parents, we can certainly see how play helps our children grow and learn, we still want to know the best way to encourage them. The Genius of Play is a campaign of which Dr. Gummer is a strong supporter.

It focuses on how kids grow their confidence, build on skills such as critical thinking and creativity, through the use of toys and play. And in the following piece, we will examine the six benefits of play, and how cameras can be directly involved in each area.

The Six Benefits of Play

The six benefits of play are as follows: physical, emotional, social, cognitive, creative, and communication. It is our belief, at Kidamento, that cameras lend themselves well into each of these categories, particularly concerning a STEAM toy.

A STEAM toy is anything that combines the subjects of science, technology, engineering, art, and math. And when children play with these types of toys, they develop essential skills that are the building blocks for the development of specialized skills.

Skills such as communication, patience, eye-hand coordination, and those from which children will continue to benefit in future subjects and careers. But how do you find a good STEAM toy among all those on the market today? And in case you were also wondering how you go about selecting a camera, we have you covered and can answer all of your questions here.

The Genius of Play suggests first to find a toy that is adaptable to profit different age groups. Second, try to get toys that include educational booklets. Third, find toys that allow parents and children to interact together.

And lastly, what we believe may be most important, give toys that have an ARTful impact, or put the ‘A’ in the acronym STEAM. At Kidamento, we believe that cameras, and the art of photography, fit the bill on all the above accounts.
First, cameras are adaptable to different ages. Second, they are educational and require learning through educational booklets. And they will continue to challenge the user as they progress from digital to analog.

Third, they allow parents and children to interact as taking pictures can be a wonderful shared experience. And forth, they, without question, as we will demonstrate further below, allow for artful expression.

But how do they fit into play-based learning? We, too, wanted answers. While we, without a doubt, know the many benefits of giving a child a camera, we wanted to see how they fit into each of the Genius of Play categories. Let’s dig in to find out.


According to the first category, active play helps children develop their coordination, balance, and gross motor skills, to name a few. But how does this relate to active play with a camera? Play research studies were conducted with a group of children aged three to six years old.

The idea behind this study was to allow the children to take wearable cameras and interact within a natural environment. The children took on the role of active researchers on their own sensory tours. They recorded their activities in a nearby school forest and discussed their exploration afterwards.

Their free play with the cameras allowed them to discover their surroundings for one-hour segments over ten weeks. The children were engaged, and researchers got a children’s eye view of how children interact with their environment.

In another similar study, where nursery-aged children were given cameras to use around the classroom, physical gains were evident. One particular parent noted that using a camera helped their child improve hand-eye coordination, this relates to their gross motor skills.

Cameras are also known to help children with their fine motor skills. This is the ability to make movements using the small muscles in our hands and wrists. When a child uses a camera, they use these small muscles to press the buttons and develop their dexterity in doing so.

And while cameras may not allow for kids to be swinging off of monkey bars or kicking a ball around, they do offer the opportunity for exploration. They put children in the captain’s seat of their own adventure.


The second category deals with the emotional aspect and covers how children learn to manage their emotions through play. Children consistently test others. (Many parents can attest to this, with repeatedly having to say no.)  They do so to see how someone reacts, and they learn from this.

Using a camera, children can learn an abundance of emotional skills. They learn patience, as taking a picture is about slowing down to capture an image. And they learn to calm themselves through the overwhelming emotions they are feeling, as photography is an activity that forces them to focus.

But what may go beyond understanding our own emotions, is learning to read that of another. Studies have shown that when it comes to learning emotions and how to recognize facial expressions, some are more challenging than others. While happiness and anger are the two that are mastered the earliest, others such as sadness and fear, are a lot more complex.

But what may be more interesting about the use of cameras for children, and even anyone, is that viewing through a lens allows the user to focus on facial expressions. And beyond that, the printing of facial portraits lets them learn how to read the different emotions.

Further to this, studies have also shown that children who better understand facial expressions perform better socially at school. And even more so, they perform better academically. Contrary to this, those who struggle to understand these expressions face challenges interacting with their peer and may have difficulties learning.

Considering that no parent wants their child to be behind, or struggle with the necessary emotional elements that are needed for play-based learning, the use of cameras and photography can greatly help. All children can benefit through practice.

Practice by taking the photos themselves, printing them, then looking them over and identifying the different emotions they see. And when you put the cameras in the hands of the children themselves, they get to decide what emotional moments they want to capture.


One of the most significant reasons for play, and possibly the prominent reason parents encourage it, is that it lets their children learn how to socialize. But how do cameras fit into this? Many parents may remember having a student photographer go around capturing moments for their school’s yearbook.

They may also remember how photo yearbooks united the school together. Taking photos encourages social interaction. One reason is, the photographer has to engage their subjects in posing for the picture. What’s even more, the subjects will interact with one another.

What makes cameras beyond perfect for socialization is the number of different social activities for which they can be used. From photo scavenger hunts to creating a shared storyline together from multiple images captured.

Give each child a camera and watch their confidence grow. Watch as children who didn’t interact before suddenly have something to talk about. This was the case in Turkey, where refugee children, Turkish Kurds and Syrian Kurds, lived as neighbours.

But despite sharing the commonality of being forced to flee their homes, they were segregated by their lack of socialization with one another. Introduce the use of a camera, and both groups started to integrate, to socialize, and what’s more, they began to use photography as a way to heal.

When we are hurting, we often isolate ourselves. But when we find ourselves on the path to healing, we reach out to others. We share our experiences. The magical unification created through the refugees' use of a camera has taught us that cameras can be a gateway for social integration.


When children play, they learn to think, read, reason, recall moments, and it forces them to pay attention. Essentially, they are working on a lot of different cognitive skills. When we add a camera into their play, we see a lot of areas relating to cognitive development light up.

In the same study we looked at above, where nursery students used cameras and learned physical movements such as hand-eye coordination, we also see how cameras help with their cognitive development. The children were taught how to use the cameras themselves then they became the experts in teaching their families.

As the children took pictures of their home life, when the photos were printed at the school, they had to recall moments and describe what the pictures were of. This demonstrates one of the key elements of cognitive development we want to see in our children through play.

The staff of this photography project also noticed some significant areas of change with the children. Concerning their cognitive development, the children showed awareness to compose and frame their chosen subjects.

They also showed an understanding of geographical location, a sophisticated concept for children of such a young age. Beyond that, technical awareness, including the ability to converse with others through technology, were both observed.

One parent even remarked how much their child liked to remember things about the photos taken. And another commented that her daughter is now reasoning about photos around the house, that she is like her mother when she was little.


What may be the most obvious purpose for giving children a camera to play with is that it encourages them to be creative. Through play, children get to make up worlds, and they get to be creative with solutions to problems.

When we put a camera in a child’s hands, it gives them the freedom to make mistakes. When children get free reign to use a camera as they wish, they may make mistakes in the images they take, but they will also learn from these mistakes and learn to do what works better.

With digital toy cameras, they get to decide what pictures they keep and what they want to delete. They also get the freedom to create stories with the pictures or videos they take. Their imagination is stimulated, and it is up to them to decide what story they want to tell.

Advocates for starting children early with cameras are not uncommon and have a lot of great ideas for creative photography projects. Parents may still wonder, however, about what is the best age to introduce a camera to their children?

Kidamento, like the advocates we mention above, are strong supporters of starting children off early. But don’t feel bad if you missed the boat, we still believe that as we discuss in one of our other posts, that a camera at any age can still benefit them.  

The main reason earlier is better is because their brains are like sponges and are ready to absorb what cameras can teach them. For example, they can capture photos of patterns, water, reflections, and can capture light in dark rooms. But most importantly, they can go beyond and capture whatever their heart desires.


Exchanging language, whether written, spoken, through signs or actions, is an important and necessary developmental skill. When children play, they learn to exchange thoughts and communicate with others. But as many parents will tell you, learning to communicate has a lot of challenges.

Some children need speech therapy, some are born with speech impediments creating anxiety, others are born with hearing loss. And some are born on the spectrum, where the way they communicate is different from others.

Cameras are a great way to bridge the gap between the different ways we all communicate. One particular study discusses how “photography permits children to express their views, thinking and understanding without being restricted to their verbal written language and competencies.”

It even goes on to state that this is “specifically beneficial for young children who frequently struggle to communicate with others about what they have in mind due to having limited language proficiencies.”

And since we already know from above that cameras help increase socialization, we feel confident in expressing our belief that cameras are essential tools to help children communicate.

Another study expresses the idea that photographs can help teach thousands of words, “particularly if they are used effectively in early childhood classrooms.” This is because a photograph does more than say a thousand words; it can bring people to objects and ideas that they wouldn’t otherwise see.

Consider someone who has never seen a kangaroo in real life and try to describe this unique animal. Take a photo, and suddenly everything clicks. Give a child a camera to capture their own world and they are suddenly more engaged in learning; their motivation to learn new vocabulary has increased.

And for those who fall on the spectrum, cameras have shown a great deal of helping them communicate. If you are interested to know more, we invite you to read about How Cameras Open up the World to Kids with Autism in one of our previous posts.

What many have witnessed with children and language is that speaking almost becomes a secondary factor. Cameras have been shown to aid with anxiety, they encourage different forms of expression, and they can be used as a gateway to communicate with others, in all forms.

Final Thoughts

When cameras are combined with play, children are opened up to a world that lets them go above and beyond. They fit well within STEAM toy recommendations, as they help prepare children for future academics. Cameras are engaging and help form the building blocks for higher education.  

Beyond this, they fit into all parts of the Genius of Play. Physically, cameras help with hand-eye coordination, and they encourage children to play and explore the world around them. Emotionally, they force children to slow down and require a calm approach.

They help children better learn and understand facial expressions. In turn, those who are better with facial expressions do better academically and help them to become stronger socially. Cameras aid children in interacting with others and have even helped those heal from past suffering.

They reach into our children’s brains and help them to learn how to recall moments, to describe a story, and aid in other areas of cognitive development, such as geographical location. They promote creativity. When children hold a camera in their hands, they are free to see the world how they imagine.

And they are free to make mistakes. To capture an image, change their mind, and recapture it again. Photography is judgement-free, and it lets our children simply be. Lastly, it unifies all forms of communication.

For those who have trouble finding the words to say, a camera is a means to say something without the need for words. But the best way, we think, to see how a camera can benefit a child is to simply put a camera in their hands and see the magic they make.


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