Metro Mama & Metro Baby

By Guest Writer Series: Randy Parker

As an executive at Disney Studios, I was fortunate to work with the creative geniuses who produced successful animated movies like Lilo & Stitch, Brother Bear and Mulan. At Disney we learned how to engage kids using a combination of words, music and images. Now, as the CEO of an educational software company and more importantly, the father of two small children, I’m on a mission to promote the importance of a skill that not only engages children, as we learned to do at Disney, but greatly increases their chances of success. That skill is called visual literacy. Today, many experts agree that visual literacy is as vital to a child’s development as learning how to read and write.

Visual literacy is the ability to understand and communicate with images. When kids are practicing visual literacy they are striking a balance between logic and creativity, and as a result are using their brain’s full potential. Kids are growing up in an environment filled with images on computers, television, games and even their phones. In fact, they’re bombarded by them. Kids that learn how to be visually literate develop the ability to see beyond those images. As a result, they bring their imagination into their thought and decision-making processes. This becomes a powerful spark for the essential life skills of problem solving and innovative thinking. And just as important, it helps kids become less influenced by marketing campaigns and mass messages.

There are lots of ways to encourage children to be more visually literate, and as a result combine their logic and creativity skills. My company, Madcap Logic, makes interactive software for kids which uses animated characters to teach the basics of art. This year we started working with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, donating our software for use in their after-school inner city programs. The goal of the program is to increase the kids’ creative skills and help them become more visually literate. Many of these kids are on the frontline of what educators call the “digital divide.” They typically don’t have computers at home and access at school is limited to coursework.

The results from the program in New York so far have been outstanding. Not only are the kids learning about art, they are gaining the ability to communicate using images that come from within themselves. They’re becoming better at problem solving, staying engaged longer, and learning to express themselves in new ways. The kids interact with the animated characters in the program to learn the principals of art and design, such as color, shape, line and value. These simple concepts give them the tools they need to communicate with images, just like we did at Disney. It’s the basis of visual literacy. And it’s helping these inner city kids learn how to think using both sides of their brain, and communicate visually. By stimulating these kids’ interest in art, and encouraging their creative skills, we’re broadening their horizons and increasing their potential for success.

You don’t need special software programs to help your own kids become more visually literate. Simply noticing and having discussions around how images are being used to communicate can be a great start. Unfortunately, many schools have cut back on arts programs, so simple, daily exercises in creativity at home is a good idea. As you work to increase the visual literacy of your children, you’ll notice them being more observant of the way images are used around them. Then you’ll see them start to incorporate these ideas into their own visual expression for the rest of their lives.

- Randy Parker is the CEO of Madcap Logic, a Durango, Colorado based educational software company. He is the former Director of Operations and Manager of Digital Production for the Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios in Orlando Florida

Originally published February 2009
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