Using animation in early childhood education.

Using animation in early childhood education. Animation as the new way of storytelling and teaching.

“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for quick mass appreciation.”

Walt Disney Company


Storytelling is one of the most important parts when teaching children, furthermore telling a story is  not only a vital part of any form of teaching, no matter how old are the learners, but it is also most ancient form of teaching. All humans, especially children use story telling as a way of communication and it is considered as a form of play. (Kalogeras, 2013) Telling a story comes from inside us, thus being based on our language and delivered to others by tools we know and use. Children nowadays are highly equipped to use any type of technology, they are starting to develop their own way of storytelling, which means that the era of digital storytelling has begun and it has become one of the most often used forms of storytelling. Children under the age of seven often find that using digital tools or technology is the best way for them to express their creativity and by creating stories while using a piece of digital equipment they can now reach wider audiences and express themselves not only through their own voice and sound but also visually. That is when animation steps into early childhood education. (Frazel, 2010) The following essay will discuss the possibilities of animation in early childhood education and how digital storytelling can enhance the way children learn subjects in any area of the curriculum. I am also briefly stopping on the subject of media literacies and the development of critical thinking.

Animation is both a pedagogical tool and a form of digital storytelling. Children learn to tell stories at the moment they learn to speak, mostly from listening to others but also from television, radio and other digital media outlets, they develop a wanting and a need to socialise and communicate with others which causes them to join in. Teachers can use storytelling as a way to engage childrens’ imagination and through the imagination telling a story helps children to learn in different subjects, whether it is mathematics, science, history or art. For example while they are telling and retelling a story or reciting it to different people and audiences, they are not only developing their storytelling competences but are also gaining a verbal artistry. (Grainger, 1997) When digital storytelling is used to teach mathematics children can learn both moving image terms, for example close-up or wide-angle, but at the same time they can extend their mathematical vocabulary with comparing different pictures, shots or scenes. (Vinter, 2010)

As a teacher, digital storytelling can be used a medium between the traditional teaching methods and modern way to get in contact with the children of the digital age. Creating a digital story motivates students and demonstrates to them how complicated managing a project but also pleasing the audience can be. Making a decision while planning the animation creation leads students to monitor and evaluate their cognitive and behavioural skills as they have to be considerate to others. Also creating an animation in a group gives students opportunity to show their goal setting, leadership and self-regulating abilities. (Frazel, 2010). Using film or animation creation in studying gives the children an understanding of the difference between fact and fiction. Supporting the ideas of children and their right to express themselves a teacher helps to develop their critical look on digital media. During the process of creating an animation children can take up the roles of an artist, designer, photographer, actor or editor. That way the teacher creates an interesting and far more hands-on learning experience. (Nevski, 2011)

After the students decide who will be the main characters and what is the main plot of the story it is important to storyboard the story. Storyboarding helps the students to organize their thoughts and give them a whole concept of the animation they are creating. Drawing up a storyboard can be done either traditionally on a piece of paper with a pen or students may want to use digital storyboarding, which means having the knowledge and skills needed to use desired software. Most commonly used software is PowerPoint but for more advanced user there are also programmes specially aimed for storyboarding. When using storyboarding software in classroom it is important that the teacher is able to use and teach others how to use the programme. Also teacher should bear in mind that using a digital storyboarding requires that every student or at least a small group of children have an access to a regular computer or a laptop. (Frazer, 2010)

Creating a digital story or in our case the animation starts with preparation. During the process the teacher can define tasks that support learning through animation creation. Based on the learning outcomes the teacher has set for process, the children will decide what the main story is and who the main characters that the story follows are. Two of the most important parts of digital storytelling are naturally the story but most importantly the way that technology is used to support the creation of the story. (Frazer, 2010).

Majority of the use of technology in a classroom depends on the teachers as it is evitable that the educators themselves are digitally literate and can use technology to enhance the learning process. The ability and confidence to use technology tools offers new opportunities as well as it can generate interest in children and excitement towards learning activities. (Kollom, 2014) Using animation as a form of studying can only be sufficient if the teacher is fluent in using technology tools as implementing subject based tasks into digital storytelling might be difficult enough.

Elyna Nevski (2011) introduces in her MA thesis titled “Developing Media Literacy in Pre-school Children through Animation Workshop. The Case of Laagri Kindergarten” the possibilities of using digital storytelling in early childhood education. She highlights the positive and some of the most important outcomes of digital storytelling and animation creation, which are the formation of literal and oral expression and also the ability to sufficiently learn a second language. Furthermore she emphasizes the significance of the development of critical attitude towards media.

National Association for the Education of Young Children (2012) stated in their study that the most accessible primary technologies for early childhood educators are digital cameras and laptops which are the two tools needed to start the creation of an animation. When creating an animation children use digital cameras or web – cameras and that gives them an opportunity to look at things through a third eye or even through someone elses’ eyes, giving the children a perspective and insight what is real, what is not and how media or the story can be manipulated, which is a step forward in supporting the development of a student who is able to critically analyse the impact that media has.

The head of the Institute of Education in Estonia and an educator Kristi Vinter stated in her book “Media games in kindergarten” (2010) that the new approach on media education nowadays is not only protecting children from the negative influence of media, but preparing children to be active media consumers and creators while having necessary media literacies. Media is often influenced by the creators’ feelings, emotions and values, thus meaning that the consumer, in this case children, must be able to critically evaluate the content of media. The development of media skills usually has three steps, first of which children learn the physical aspect of the technology. That means seeing and touching, so they learn how to change cd-record, turn on and off the TV or take a picture with a camera. The next step in implementing technology tools in their media skills is considered relatively harder than the first step. The ability to recognize and assess the need of media use might be difficult but at the same time is important that the child knows what are the purposes that media is used for and who are the main target groups. It is also extremely vital that the children learn what the aims of using different media tools are. The third and the most difficult part of the formation of media skills is the stage of the development of critical abilities. Thinking critically requires the child to be mentally mature and to have flexible mind set. On this level the student evaluates themselves as the consumer of the media, meaning they know how sounds, colours and actions are used to manipulate the target consumer.

When coming in contact with media children need a variation of competences. Emotional, social, self-expression and co-operation skills are only few important skills that children require in order to comprehend and manage media. At one hand media can offer children amazing emotional experience but in contrast it gives an example of different emotions and the opportunity to practice the interpretation of emotions. (Vinter, 2010)

At 2013 the Baltic Film and Media School a unit of the University of Tallinn created a children film and media school. The goal of the film school is to help children to develop media awareness, visual and digital media literacies. Children aged six to sixteen are welcomed to join two teachers in becoming a researcher, explorer and experimenter. Educators aim to teach the children audio-visual storytelling skills and to rise the value of digital culture, meaning in order to enhance students ethical values the children create different media forms for example a short film, social advertisements, TV-news or an animation. The whole project is built around teaching children to be wiser and safer consumers of digital media. Starting next September I will have the pleasure to join the film and media school as a teacher.

Until now I had used animation as a part of teaching children aged 3-7 for two years and although my aim was to make learning more interesting and practical for the children, it was also exceptionally wonderful and creative way to teach. With my three short years of teaching and learning with technology I have learned that the only way to fully engage children in learning is to be completely involved yourself. When I started the Moving Image Production course I already had an experience with animation and film creation process. I knew the basic information behind creating a film or animated film and I had used the creation process in teaching children. Differently from my previous animation creation process I did not have experience with the animation creation programmes online. Successful use of animation in learning comes from prior domain knowledge, thus when we created an animation based on a tale ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ it was important for all of the people involved to know the story. Similarly in a classroom setting children with low domain knowledge usually have difficulties interpreting events. In addition to domain or subject knowledge children need to fully understand the technology and programmes they are going to use. In the course I had my first experience in using ‘I Can Animate’ animation creation programme which is aimed for children and schools. I found the programme exceptionally easy to understand and use which means that, as children are often more media and technology literate, they will quite possibly obtain the knowledge even faster if they have sufficient support.

As discussed before, animation creation process starts with preparation and that was the part I found the most frustrating in the course. It was partly due to the time limitations but also my ability to do group work. Usually I find working in group fairly easy and interesting but having to tackle a new programme and technology equipment, new learning environment and new group members made it difficult to fully engage in the storyboarding process. Regarding that we all knew the story and had some instructions I found quite hard to include the vision of three people in 30 seconds of animation. That created a situation where we did not have a storyboard and no overall idea of what the short clip might look like. When using animation with young children it is vital to spend time on storyboarding and establishing the group dynamics. Technology should still be only a means to an end meaning that the digital equipment should not be more important that the content of the animation.

Teaching children how to be critical towards media starts from the teachers’ ability to assess the content that they use in early childhood education settings. That also includes what the children create themselves and therefore must be closely observed. When we created an animation in the course we had to share the same story, characters, technology and also the aim, as our goal was to create one cohesive animation. We had to be aware what other groups were doing and analyse and discuss how to fit the middle with our part of the story. Having the ability to choose the story, characters and equipment gives the teacher overview on what the children can create with limited amount of tools. In many ways it might be frustrating for the children but it forces them to consider what can be done with those things and if it is important to have limitless access to technology in order to create something that has value. Children are more than often capable of using vast amount of different digital tools but is important to teach them how to use one specific piece of technology to its limits. To review content that has already made by other people is significant but establishing critical attitude towards the content that children create in their studies and outside school environment is in my opinion even more crucial, as the children of today are the online content creators of tomorrow and therefore have to consider what they create for the future children of generations to come.

Online media and the use of technology is relatively new concept in education and has to be critically reviewed especially by educators and teachers. Increasing amount of new technology puts the teachers nowadays into a tight spot where they are forced to use and create new teaching methods with new technologies, and as one of the most discussed and talked about new ways of teaching and learning animation has become an increasingly important technology-based learning environment and that is why I believe that digital storytelling, creating animations and having abilities to use technology in teaching is important for any teacher.


Frazer, M. (2010). Digital Storytelling: Guide for Educators. International Society for Technology in Education. Washington, DC.

Grainger, T. (1997). Traditional storytelling in the primary classroom. Scholastic Ltd. Warwickshire.

Kalogeras, S. (2013). International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education: Media-Education Convergence: Applying Transmedia Storytelling Edutainment in E-Learning Environments. Yorkshire. United Kingdom.

Kollom, K. (2014). Supporting the formation of educational technology competencies in teacher training. The case of Tallinn University Pedagogical College. Ma thesis Tallinn.

Nevski, E. (2011). Developing Media Literacy in Pre-school Children through Animation Workshop. The Case of Laagri Kindergarten. MA Thesis. Tallinn.  

National Association for the Education of Young Children. NAEYC. (2012). Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. Washington, DC.

Vinter, K. (2010). Meediamängud lasteaias. Media games in the kindergarten. ILO. Tallinn.


Creative Commons License
Using animation in early childhood education. by Linda Helene Sillat is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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