Balancing “Screen Time” Repost From Happy Stuff

the following is a re-post (lack of capitalization included!) from Happy Stuff, which is run by the inspiring Carissa Christner, long-time LittleeLit contributor and soon-to-be trainer. thanks for sharing balancing “screen time” Carissa!

balancing screen time

i’ve been thinking a lot about the healthiest ways to incorporate apps and technology into our family life. many parents deal with the issue by setting a daily time limit, and while that seems so nice and tidy and easily quantifiable (there’s even an app for that!), i know that if i were playing an interesting game and i was just about to complete a challenge and someone told me i had to turn the game off right at that moment …. i’d whine and complain and possibly even throw a giant fit too. i would also feel like i had a right to use up every minute of my maximum allowed screen time every day, as though if i didn’t use it all up, i’d be getting cheated out of my rightful screen time.

if the happy family tried that option, i’d spend large portions of my day having conversations about “just 5 more minutes” or “but i’ve only had 25 minutes of screen time!” or “that screen time didn’t count because i didn’t like that game” or “what if i called granna on facetime, would that count?”* and other “referee” questions in which i’d be constantly re-interpreting and re-creating arbitrary rules. that makes me cranky. plus, those questions are not teaching my child the bigger life lesson of how to include technology in a balanced diet of daily activities.

my friend carisa kluver created this wonderful model for teaching kids how to balance their own media diet (follow this link! read the article!), but i found that it was too abstract for me to explain to my 4 year old, so i broke down the first component — balance — into a system that he could understand and for now, i’ll judge the quality and engagement components myself.


i started by listing big category names for the activities in our lives and i came up with seven: play, go outside, make something (art, food, etc.), screen time, quiet time, chores (or “housework”), and read (or write, or listen to a story, etc.). with the happy little dude’s help, i created 7 illustrations (on circles of paper) to depict each of those activities.



(i was especially excited about the illustration he drew of a train going through a tunnel when i asked him what we should draw for “play.”)


then i talked to him about how these are seven different activities we can include in our day and that we need to try to keep them in balance and not just do one or two for the whole day. i realized as i was trying to explain the “balance” concept with my hands that i didn’t think he’d had much (if any) experience with a set of balance scales, so that analogy was a bit weak for him. since then, we’ve played together with this app and he’s referenced the same “balance”hand gestures i used originally, so i think he’s getting it at some level.


either way, there have been at least several occasions where he’s asked for screen time and i’ll say, “i think we’ve had enough for now, it’s time to do something different” and, instead of fussing about it, he’ll hold his hands out to either side as though weighing something and say, “because otherwise we’ll be out of balance, right mom?” and then he’ll run through the different balance circles in his head (now that we’ve done them often enough that he has them memorized) and he’ll pick an activity that we haven’t done yet today. we don’t do every activity every day and we’ve already had the discussion about how we can’t do six of the activities for 5 minutes each and expect to get 2 hours of screen time (although i’m guessing we’ll have to have that particular conversation more than once). it’s not a perfect system (there are still more requests for screen time than any of the other circles) but for now, his response has been even more positive than i’d hoped.


here’s the thing … talking about the balance circles helps me, too. it forces me to not just obsess about trying to get all the housework done in one day. it reminds me to go outside with him more often. i don’t have to just fall back to saying, “go play while i put the baby to sleep,” instead i can say things like, “why don’t you go have some quiet time while i’m putting the baby to sleep and afterwards, you and i can make something together?” it also helps me to realize that i don’t need a giant list activities for us to choose from every weekend, but having one or two special “make something” activities in mind is a good idea (but if i need last-minute inspiration, there’s always my pinterest board). in other words, the circles keep me in balance as well. and the best part? i feel like the conversations we have about screen time now are helping him form habits that will serve him well the rest of his life, instead of just honing his negotiation skills haggling for more minutes. they’re helping me improve my own screen time habits as well!

if you’d like to use balance circles similar to ours, i redesigned a few, cleaned up the illustrations a bit and made a pdf which you can download here. if you’d like to create your own balance circles, you can download a blank form here. i’m sure some of our circles will change over time and we’ll add new ones too (“homework” comes to mind), but for at least a little while, we’ll use the balance circles.

*by the way, the answer to this question is: “facetime with granna does not count toward your daily screentime except if you spend the whole time playing tiny bang story with granna. then, that’s just working the system, buddy.”

Early Literacy iPads at AVRL, by Angela Reynolds

After many months of planning and creating (and sweating), we now have Early Literacy iPads at the Annapolis Valley Regional Library. Because of limited funding, we have 4 iPads that we are using for this 12-month pilot. 2 of the iPads will be available for check-out for one hour per day IN-LIBRARY only. We are asking that adults check them out on their own library card, but they must have a child between the ages of 2-6 along with them. You can read our iPad agreement here.

el ipads logoApps on the iPads were chosen to enhance the ECRR skills: Talk, Sing, Read, Write, Play; plus I added “Make” and “ABC & 123” folders as well. The apps that are currently on the iPads are listed on this Pinterest board.

We went with the check-out in-library model for several reasons. We’ve been using iPads in storytimes and programs for over a year now, and one thing we’ve heard is that parents & kids want to spend more time together on the devices. We’ve also heard from teachers and family literacy organizations that many families do not have the money to purchase devices for their kids, but want to know more about how they work and want their child to have access to them before they start school. This model gives them access, on their own schedule, and allows for joint media engagement inside the library. Since we have many small branches, and the iPads can only be borrowed for one hour per day, we feel this provides an opportunity for more people to have their hands on the devices than if we allowed them to be checked out and taken home. (We also kind of hope this model will be less likely to result in loss of our equipment.)

MC ipadsWe are placing 2 iPads at a time in the branches, even though we own 4. We are doing this so that every two weeks, the set in the branch can be switched out and refreshed by staff at our headquarters, who are trained to do so. This avoids transport of more equipment, and only a few staff need to know how to do this step. Again, small branches, often with one person on staff at a time, with little time to do extra tasks.

The technical bits are the reason it took us so long to get this running. We are using Apple’s Configurator app to manage the set of iPads. Everyone said it was easy to use, easy to update and refresh the iPads and to add apps. Ok—I’ll say this—yes, it is easy, once you’ve climbed the Mt. Everest learning curve. You have to have a DUNS number, which this small Canadian library system had never heard of, let alone have. Then you have to register with Apple as a business. That’s right, not an educational institution, a business. Then you have to get VPP (Volume Purchase Program) account. Then you have to purchase an app for each device. None of this “sharing on 5 devices” stuff for businesses. The list of steps goes on and on, and you’ll likely need someone with a lot of patience and/or a lot of Apple know-how to get you through it. YouTube is your friend here, because we found lots of solid advice there. Anyhow, once you have it all figured out, yeah, it IS easy. You plug the iPads in, hit refresh, and boom, any changes made by patrons are wiped clean, your iPads are back to exactly the way you want them to be.

So now we have them, just put out in the first branch last week, and we’ll see how it goes. We are trying it for a year, and each of our branches will get the iPads for a month. We may need to tweak things during this time, and we will if we need to. I am looking forward to hearing comments from our branches and seeing how it goes.

Here’s a list of the technology we needed for this project:

Angela Reynolds
Head of Youth Services
Annapolis Valley Regional Library
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

Spooky Story Dice: An App Review, by Naomi Smith

Spooky Story Dice from Thinkamingo is a simple app with lots of possibilities for story telling or dramatic play with a spooky twist. It is currently available for $0.99 from the Apple Store.

The app interface is incredibly simple, two black dice with spooky-themed pictures on a wood-looking background. Kids can tap or shake the screen to roll the dice and then create stories based on the pictures on the dice. In the settings, parents can change the number of dice and find helpful suggestions on how to play with the app. The dice feature pictures rather than words, so younger children and those who do not read English will be able to play. While many of the images, such as spiders or robots, will be familiar to kids, some–such as the radioactive symbol–might take some assistance from a grown up.

I tried the app with a group of fourth and fifth graders from the local Boys and Girls Club where we provided a weekly outreach program this summer.  Reading scary stories aloud with the kids has been one of the most popular themes each year. After listening to some scary stories, I told them we were going to make up our own.  I held the iPad and had kids take turns coming up. Each roll of the dice added a sentence to the story based on the picture shown.  In a few instances, we added in lines to help the story move along. The results are below:

Justin is rich, with a bag of gold, and Elijah likes bats. Elijah met a witch, she threw a bomb at him. But, by a stroke of luck, just as a bomb was coming his way, Elijah found a four leaf clover and was saved. He looked up and saw a dragon named Spiderman. Elijah made a stupid potion, Justin cannot read time. Elijah found a ninja, the ninja came with a gear. Then Justin found a skull and a frog. The frog was radioactive. Elijah and the dragon made a drama troupe. The frog was so radioactive he was bigger than the dragon. He pulled his skin off. Justin made a potion, but only had a little bit of time left. The dragon spun a web –Sherlock used his webs to make a knife and kill him. So Justin had put on a mask for Halloween. Then Elijah and Justin became pirates and flew away in a rocket. They became pen pals with a ghost. The End.

As you can see, using the app won’t make expert storytellers out of novices! In the future I might spend a little bit of time talking about the structure of a story first. Then the kids can take turns coming up with a line or two more based on each set of pictures before rolling again.  However, the kids did have a lot of fun and the app added something more to the typical everyone-adds-a-line story telling game. A bonus was that it was an app that I could use successfully in a group setting without needing to project the image to a larger screen.  I would recommend this for any one looking for a fun spooky story telling game for school aged kids.

Naomi Smith is a Youth Services Librarian for the Parkland/Spanaway branch of the Pierce County Library System in Tacoma, WA. She occasionally tweets at @Naomireads.
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

BridgeBasher App Review, by Awnali Mills

Remember building with blocks?  The best part of all was knocking them down, right?  There was nothing quite as satisfying as the crash and scatter of those colorful blocks.  Well I just found an app that is almost as satisfying: BridgeBasher by Jundroo LLC, which combines construction, physics, scientific testing, and the pleasure of destruction (iPhone/iPad: $0.99/Android: Free).

Bridge BasherThe app opens with an offer to provide instructions—always a good thing in my book, as I am not always intuitive about apps.  Once you get past that, the app does have an ad for Simple Rockets, the newest app offered by the developer.  BridgeBasher is good enough to warrant overlooking this ad, and a button later on that offers the new app.

The next screen shows a picture of a span across a chasm with a grid of dots over it.  Lazy clouds float past.  Your job is to draw from dot to dot to create a bridge across the chasm.  Sounds ridiculously simple, doesn’t it?  Well, it is.  But the fun is just beginning.

Bridge Basher 2After you’ve created your bridge, you naturally have to test it.  After all, the game explains, you can’t really know how much your bridge will hold until it reaches the breaking point, right?  Press the arrow key in the top right corner to test the bridge’s strength.  You have three testing options: balls, words, and joint weights.  If you choose balls, you’ll be adding weighty balls to the bridge with touches until the bridge crashes.  Next, try the words (there is another ad button here for Simple Rockets).  These words rattle across the bridge like a train, describing the weight that they are imitating (Light, Not So Light, Kinda Heavy, etc).  The bridge will flex and bounce, and changes in color will demonstrate the stresses on the bridge and show you the weaknesses until the whole thing dramatically gives way.  Next, use a touch to add weights to the joints of the bridge.  This will also lead to eventual collapse.  Once you’re done with each test, the app gives you a score and a (sometimes snarky) comment about the strength of your bridge.  Build your bridge strong enough and the app will tell you to quit wasting time and go do something productive!  This was so unexpected that it made me laugh out loud.

Bridge Basher 3After each test, you have the ability to go back in and edit your bridge, strengthening or changing it.  The hammer in the top left allows you to remove part of the bridge, or the entire thing.  The top left arrow is an undo button, and the list button in the top right corner is your Help, Save, and Load button.  BridgeBasher also gives you the option of sharing your bridges with friends so they can destroy them, too.  A small button at the top middle gives you the cost of the bridge as you’re building it.

I think this app would be the perfect addition to any elementary- to high school-age program that is exploring the physics of construction.  It was certainly addictive enough to keep me playing!


Awnali Mills works in the Children’s Dept. of a public library and she gets the snot scared out of her by sudden loud sounds coming out of apps she’s trying out. She blogs at The Librarian is on the Loose.
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

All Press is Good Press!

There have been a few mentions of media mentors, children’s librarians and LittleeLit on the interwebs recently! Our friend Lisa Guernsey from the New America Foundation wrote about us on the Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s Blog. Please see More than E-book vs. Print: The Concept of ‘Media Mentors,’ Lisa references the article that two LittleeLit Advisory board members, Dr Marianne Martens & Dorothy Stoltz penned in SLJ’s Up For Debate: eBooks feature.

Our friends at the TEC Center also have a new website, which is full of resources and Show me!” videos about best practices for young kids & new media, and LittleeLit is counted among the TEC Center’s friends, right alongside the Fred Roger Center, Children’s Technology Review, NAEYC & others. What an honour!

Here’s Chip’s intro to the new website.


Beginning Apps for Modeling Joint Media Engagement: Recommendations by Emily Lloyd

In a conversation on the LittleeLit Google Group about apps to use to show parents how to use apps with their kids, the inspiring Emily Lloyd suggested the following apps. What other apps might work well in storytime? Join the discussion!

  1. Finger Paint with Sounds (free–also for storytime)
  2. Lazoo: Squiggles! (free)
  3. OnceAppon (free–could also use in storytime–could all make avatar together)
  4. Endless Alphabet (expensive but worth it–also for storytime)
  5. My A-Z (find under iPhone apps–free–I also use this in storytime)
  6. Toca Kitchen Monsters (free)
  7. Toca Tailor Fairy Tales (free)
  8. Toca Town OR My PlayHome Stores
  9. Hideout: Early Reading (free)
  10. Sock Puppets (free, a little challenging at first, but then a lot of fun–can also use in storytime)
  11. Sago Mini Doodlecast 

Edit: Emily says that Sago Mini Doodlecast should be on the list, too, so it’s #11 on this top ten list :)

And, if you like felt/flannel boards: Felt Board: Mother Goose on the Loose (free, storytime)

New Media Tools for Play by Dorothy Stoltz & Marisa Conner

We (Dorothy Stoltz & Marisa Conner) have the honor of sitting on the advisory board. This past year – as part of our research for an upcoming book – we have enjoyed talking with many of you about how libraries incorporate play into the environment. Your work prompted us to write a chapter on young children and new media in our upcoming book, The Power of Play: Designing Early Learning Spaces. Thank you!! Here are excerpts featuring how to define play and our thoughts on new media as an avenue for play.

Although play is important, it is not an end in itself, or a time for avoiding chores or ignoring others. Play is “a jumping-off place” that can set in motion the possibility of learning. Socrates set the tone for this kind of play in his debate on the virtues of citizenship in The Republic. He asks Adeimantus to reflect on how the serious play of philosophical leaders who encourage original thought compares to the common play among certain tyrannical political leaders who are interested in manipulating and controlling the crowd. Socrates guides his student to think about how a city or society pursuing noble virtues compares to the individual doing the same—that unless play from earliest childhood is noble a man will never become good.  Plato likewise engages in noble play through his dialogues with his fellow readers to pursue the knowledge of the “Good.” He distinguishes between good play—that which leads to the good—and bad play—that which diverts the learner from this goal.

Does a computer program undercut the ability of a child to play, by reducing him or her to a mere spectator? Many electronic media applications (apps) are designed for a certain level of interaction. Does an app or computer program become an avenue for play that uses imagination and thinking skills? Does it offer an open-ended activity to engage the child and lead them to higher thinking—or a closed-ended activity that where, once the button is pushed and the red dot gets bigger, there’s no more thinking involved? Can Toca Tea Party, or a similar app, occupy young visitors during busy times in the library until the play kitchen is free for their use?

A computer or a tablet or a smartphone is—when all is said and done—a tool.  As with any tool, children must be introduced to computer technology with caution.  The key is two-fold – to offer e-books and apps that are age appropriate and high quality, and that appeal to children, and – to enhance the child’s play and learning experience through interactions between grown-ups and young children using technology.

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 7.56.18 PM

Excerpts from an upcoming ALA Editions book to be released in December 2014.   The Power of Play: Designing Early Learning Spaces © Copyright 2014 by Dorothy Stoltz, Marisa Conner, and James Bradberry.  All Rights Reserved.

Are Ebooks Better than Print Books? SLJ Up For Debate

Two of our LittleeLit Advisory Board members, Dorothy Stoltz & Dr Marianne Martens, recently wrote a piece for School Library Journal based around the theme “Are Ebooks Better than Print Books?” (which is a bit like saying “Are puppets better than shakers in storytime?” since they serve different purposes),

Dorothy & Marianne’s article is entitled Ebooks Enhance Development of the Whole Child, and Kathy Kleckner wrote The Book Is Far Superior to the Ebook for Early Literacy. What I like about these articles is that we often agree much more than we disagree, however much we try to polarize the issue further.

People come first, technology comes second.

Read both articles on SLJ’s Up for Debate .



Review of Toca Town by Toca Boca, by AnnMarie Hurtado

We’ve known for a long time that Toca Boca apps are great for encouraging open-ended play for preschoolers.  With Toca Town, it’s as if the geniuses behind all those apps put their heads together and created an app where all those worlds meet.  The result: endless possibilities.

In Toca Town, preschool and kindergarten children who are starting to learn about community helpers can touch and interact with community helpers in a wide variety of settings.  They can choose and purchase groceries from the store, visit the police station and pose the inmate for silly mug shots, have a picnic in the park, stop by a restaurant for some spaghetti, or even help the chef to cook it.  Then they can stop by their house to watch TV or have dinner.  Leaving one place and entering another is very intuitive; inside every room there’s a door icon at the top that will let the child enter and the home screen shows all the places they can tap to explore, bouncing to the music.  Children can also fill each scene with as many characters as they like, by tapping the yellow sign at the bottom right that brings up all of the people.  Anything that is in a character’s hand when you leave them in one place, can be brought with them to another place this way.  So your character can pick up some money from home, go to the grocery store with the dollar bill in her hand, and buy something.

As with other Toca Boca apps, objects interact with other objects and other places.  A character who is tapped while sitting on the toilet will make funny toilet sounds.  An item placed on the gift wrapping shelf at the store will magically acquire pretty paper and a bow.  Put a guitar in a character’s hand, and he will start to play it.  Want that character to leave the restaurant and visit the park?  Just go to the park, and select that character—he’ll still have his guitar with him.

I like the wide range of possibilities with this app and the fact that it has a variety of settings that children love to play—police stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and homes.  The app allows for a lot of creativity, discussion, and imagination.

Toca Town by Toca Boca$2.99, iOS, Google Play and Amazon


AnnMarie Hurtado is a youth services librarian with Pasadena Public Library.
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

We helped Chip write a book!


Carisa Kluver and I co-wrote a chapter for Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years: Tools for Teaching and Learning, edited by our friend & mentor, Chip Donohue. We’ll be presenting on the book at the NAEYC annual conference in Dallas in November. I hope to see many other librarians there!

Here’s the blurb:

A Co-Publication of Routledge and NAEYC

Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years offers early childhood teacher educators, professional development providers, and early childhood educators in pre-service, in-service, and continuing education settings a thought-provoking guide to effective, appropriate, and intentional use of technology with young children. This book provides strategies, theoretical frameworks, links to research evidence, descriptions of best practice, and resources to develop essential digital literacy knowledge, skills and experiences for early childhood educators in the digital age.

Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years puts educators right at the intersections of child development, early learning, developmentally appropriate practice, early childhood teaching practices, children’s media research, teacher education, and professional development practices. The book is based on current research, promising programs and practices, and a set of best practices for teaching with technology in early childhood education that are based on the NAEYC/FRC Position Statement on Technology and Interactive Media and the Fred Rogers Center Framework for Quality in Children’s Digital Media. Pedagogical principles, classroom practices, and teaching strategies are presented in a practical, straightforward way informed by child development theory, developmentally appropriate practice, and research on effective, appropriate, and intentional use of technology in early childhood settings. A companion website provides additional resources and links to further illustrate principles and best practices for teaching and learning in the digital age.


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