Come on son, let’s go out for coffee so I can ignore you!

My 3 year old and I had an hour to burn between preschool and family swim at the Y, so we grabbed one of Richard Scarry’s (paper) books and headed to a coffee shop for some well-deserved organic chocolate milk.  We sat there for an hour reading, pointing at  pictures and talking about what we saw in the book.

There was another family in the comfy chair section with us, but their coffee shop experience was very different from ours.  It was a grandmother, mother and approximately 4 year old boy.  Both grandma and mom were doing something on their smart phones, and the boy…. well, he was just kind of there. He poked around and tried to climb up on his mom (she ignored him).  I offered to let him join in our storytime session, but he declined and hid behind his mother’s chair. He had one of the phones for awhile too, but whatever app he was using made horribly repetitive noises and I would have bet my bottom dollar it was neither age-appropriate nor book-based.

I can’t make crappy parents be good parents, but I can try to make information about good apps and eBooks for kids available to my community. If I can get the word out about good quality materials that are available on smart phones, then maybe that kid would have had a somewhat literary coffee shop experience rather than an empty time-wasting one.  I hope that mom reads to her child at home.  I have no way to know if she does.  If there was a digital option, would she be more likely to do it?  Should I have struck up a casual conversation and said “Hey, do you know about Smart Apps for Kids? They’ll send you an email when there’s a good educational app available for free! The library also has some eBooks you can read with your kid on your phone!” Were there cultural, educational or socio-economic reasons why that mom was ignoring her kid and handing him a piece of technology ? How do we transcend those?

Parents should be reading to their children.  Period.  If it doesn’t happen much with paper books, for whatever reason, then let’s find another way to help them do it. The people who don’t understand the importance of reading to their kids are not coming to the library.  Let’s get it out into the community!

How do we do that? Digital storytelling outreach at First 5 centres? Churches? Community centres? Day worker organizations?  The devices are out there.  They are being used to shut kids up.  That’s far from ideal, but maybe we could get some books on those phones, and maybe moms like coffee shop mom would offer books to her kid instead of something violent or overly commercial.

Let’s get out of our ivory towers about this and deal with the way the people in our communities are actually using this technology, and then meet them there.

And let’s have a coffee while we’re at it.

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Posted on October 12, 2012, in Early Literacy, Field Notes and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I understand that this family was a good example of how not to raise kids overall, as well as a relevant one to the post. No kid should be without educational options.

    On the other hand, I’ve learned that you just can’t tell how a family raises , disciplines, or educates their children simply base upon a short time in a coffee shop. You do get all the credit, however, for offering the child to join in your story time, and even more for using the incident as a springboard for us parents to perhaps figure out some new ways to educate our kids. In a better world, maybe that family would see this post and make the necessary adjustments to raise their child (if needed).

    But don’t forget that it is still sometimes important to teach our kids (and remind ourselves) that every moment of the day doesn’t need to be filled with some sort of sensory input. My 6yo, already an avid reader of chapter books, will still cry “boredom” from the back seat of the car if she doesn’t want to do her workbooks or read. I always like to remind her that if she doesn’t want to keep herself occupied, she can always look out the window. Naturally she refuses, but it’s another one of those lessons that (maybe?) one day will kick in, and our child will be able to find solace in spending some non-sensory, meditative alone time.

    In the meantime, she’ll still get to play the occasional annoying button mashing game on the phone while we’re out. If she’s lucky, maybe another generous parent will offer her to join her story time, and she’ll relinquish the phone back to dad in exchange for a good book.

  2. Phil: You’re right. One shouldn’t judge a family (or a person, or anything really) after just an hour of observation. I agree as well with your comment that children shouldn’t be stimulated/entertained ALL the time. The point I was trying to get across was that mothers like the one in the coffee shop pose such an opportunity for librarians (I look at this situation from the point of view as a mother AND as a digital literacy professional). I think it’s a matter of awareness/education; my personal mission it to show children’s librarians that it is their job to step up and start providing information and programming for people to show them how to access high quality, age appropriate media in the digital realm. Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

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