Family photographs are more than memories and a few good laughs. They also give a child a sense of the continuity of family life. When Autumn, 6, looked at pictures of her grandparents and great-grandparents , she asked, "How far back does it go?"
We were able to talk about changes in the generations. Her great-grandmother was the first young woman in her family to graduate from high school, and she had to fight to do it. Today, Autumn can think about getting a doctorate.
The family photo albums help her deal with abstract ideas such as big and little, today and yesterday. They also encourage her to see people as unique and individual, rather than just as an aunt oran uncle or a cousin.
In this era of frequent moves for many families, it's fun to look at pictures and say, "This was our house on Burns Avenue," or in Alaska, or in Minnesota, or in North Carolina -- wherever.
Relatives are apt to the scattered from coast to coast, and pictures are a wonderful way to keep in touch. I try to take snapshots that are relevant to the child's life: Autumn in front of her first school locker, Josh in his safety boy belt on duty at a corner near school, Zach with his baseball team.
The team picture was important so Zach's grandparents could see him in relation to others. When he visits them and sees that team picture on display, he always names all the other players for his grandparents, although when they look at it, they see only him!
Children love knowing their pictures are carried around in wallets or are on display. Anthropologist Margaret Mead kept snapshots of her daughter and granddaughter under the glass on a coffee table in her apartment. She confessed she was always happy when people notice them and would go over the details of each one.
Once we bridged an ocean with a family album. My husband's cousin from Greece came to visit. They had not seen each other for 15 years. Their lives were totally different, but when we brought out the photos from Greece, his cousin was suddenly very much at home with all of us.
Another time I asked my parents why they had so many more pictures of my brother, the eldest, than of me. He was born during World War II when my father was in service, so the photos were the only record of his son's growth, month by month. I now realize, too, that the eldest generally gets more attention -- and more photos. We have many more pictures of Josh than of the middle child, Zach, and very few of the youngest, Autumn.
Pictures of parents are important, too. I enjoy those we took on our first Florida vacation, especially the one of my husband clowining and wearing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears.
Cameras are relatively inexpensive and very portable. You don't need fancy equipment. Until a child is old enough to take pictures which don't look like abstract art, with heads cutt off or lopsided trees, you might limit their picture-taking to "once in awhile." And the time to get their own cameras may be when they are old enough to pay for their own film and developing!
Once, when I was a teen-ager, we went to a photo studio to have a family portrait taken. My niece, Terri, was a baby, and the whole experience sent her into howls and tears. We made faces and clucked and clowned to cheer her, and she smiled for one brief moment. Snap! It's a beautiful picture of Terri, but the rest of us look like court jesters!