Dads in Class: Polaroid Project Brings Old-School Magic to Kindergartners

In this series we enjoy inventive ways parents enhance schooltime.

Caitlin Wright shows off her completed Polaroid Christmas ornament, a project organized by her father after realizing kids today are missing out on the photographic process. (Photo: Courtesy Pete Wright)

Jan 29, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

When Pete Wright, a professional photographer in Richmond, Va., recently bought a Polaroid Z2300, his first project was to test it on his five-year-old twins. The camera was a 2012 digital version with a screen and print-out ability. Point, shoot, and print.

Although his kids, Caitlin and Charlie, have become accustomed to photography equipment around the house, they were captivated by the Polaroid. “You should have seen their faces when the image came out,” Wright says. “They were in awe, like they had just seen the best magic trick ever.”

Adults who grew up with printed pictures can underestimate how stunning the photographic process is for children today. It dawned on Wright that an entire generation missed out on the magic of the physical photograph and would continue to do so because of the all-encompassing digital world. He wanted to enrich all the children in his kids' kindergarten class at Reams Road Elementary School with this artistic and scientific experience. Kids needed to know that photos don't just live on Mom's and Dad's phones.

"You should have seen their faces when the image came out. They were in awe, like they had just seen the best magic trick ever."As schools across the country invest in iPads, attempt virtual learning through MOOCs, and acquire digital textbooks, the three-dimensional experience can be lost and with it educational opportunities. Numerous studies indicate that hands-on activities are better at activating students' brains, so they are more likely to retain information and connect ideas.

Welcoming parental involvement, the teachers agreed to the project. Wright came to the class in December before the holiday break, fortified with his wife, his camera, and plenty of Polaroid paper. The students took pictures of each other, and Wright took photos of each one of the students for holiday photo ornaments, which they decorated with paper cutouts and stickers.

Alexandria Wood, one of the class's teachers, says the children were engaged in the project in ways she hadn't previously seen. "Not only was this a career day for the kids," Wood says. "It was also a chance for them to express themselves and own their learning. Oftentimes, we as teachers do a lot of talking. This particular day the kids did the most talking. They were inquisitive and excited to see their final products."

When Wright was a little boy, his father carried a Polaroid camera on their family vacations. “The Polaroid was great because any of us could pick it up and easily take photos and as a family immediately enjoy the moment as it was captured,” Wright says. “When we go back and look at our family albums, there are as many Polaroids as 35mm prints in them. And the Polaroids are usually the most precious because they are the only ones that include my father, who passed when I was 17 years old.”

Polaroid instant cameras entered the marketplace in 1948 and became a suburban staple during the next several decades. In 2008 the company stopped making instant cameras, but it launched a new digital format the next year.

Wright returns next week to the class to help the students create valentines for their parents. His project has become so popular that other area schools want him to do the same in their classrooms.

With everyone from baby boomers to Millennials oriented to ever-increasing processing speeds, one can imagineif only for a momentthe youngest generation slowing everything back down to experience for themselves the magic of how things work.

“I want to keep it going in schools and other photographers to know about it and it grows on a bigger scale,” Wright says. “It would be great if schools bought one of these cameras or somehow Polaroid could send them to schools. We want as many kids to experience it as possible. This is all a part of a subculture we lost but now have back.”

This article was created as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by TakePart's parent company, Participant Media, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.