Power to the Kiddie Apps! by Kelsey Cole

May I invite you to start humming the Mexican Hat Dance song:

I love my little app. *clap clap* My little app loves me. *clap clap* I play it with my friends *clap clap* and my friends play with me. Ole-ho-leho-leho!

Thank you, Old Town School of Folk Music’s Wiggleworms Love You for forever being stuck in my head. All singing aside (does that ever happen?), I recently offered a program called “Power to the Kiddie Apps!” for ages 2-8 with a caregiver. Eleven families attended, all toting their tablets as requested, and all were rip-roaring to go.

The energy of the Little eLit community is surging with ideas about app reference to families, providing appvisory alongside our traditional recommendations. This new outlet for librarians is a very powerful one, a niche that is not filled by many other sources, especially not ones that have such high acclaim in their communities as librarians do.

My library has been providing access to tablets inside the library for 8 months now. Librarians expertly choose new apps every month for ages 2-8, allowing parents and children to preview educational apps before they buy them and providing access to tablet technology for those that do not have it. We have had tremendous success and the iPads are always in use. But in use by both the child and the caregiver?

The power of educational apps is derived from a myriad of sources, the biggest being CO-PLAY and CO-ENGAGEMENT by child and adult. When I see adults talking and playing alongside their children, I get a burst of happiness and delight knowing that the adult is treating the tablet no different than a book or a hands-on activity. But this is not intuitive to all caregivers. Tablets have an ability to mesmerize and it can be easy to fall into the “pass-back” effect where an adult may give it to their child to pacify. This, ultimately, allows adults to immerse themselves in activities sans children.

Well, I needed to give my brain knowledge to the people. Program time!


Prep-Time & Setup: I researched the booty out of Little eLit, finding the presentations by Amanda Armstrong and Lindsay Huth & Holly Jin of particular help, especially with analyzing apps. I find that ECRR 2nd edition provides a really nice framework for presentations on early literacy, so I chose to organize this program as such, focusing on apps that emphasize talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. I wanted to make sure that I included early literacy notes that were relevant to the apps so parents could see their practical use. I also included a few stretcher rhymes to get their blood flowing.

Before the program began, I emailed the registered adults and asked them to download two free apps: Sketch-a-Song (Android, iOs) and Scribble My Story. I wanted the apps to be offered across all platforms, free, and suitable for ages 2-8. This proved to be a very hard task. I found out the hard way that Scribble My Story was free, but only on the iPad. Live and learn, I say.

The Program:

  1. Welcome & download apps
    1. Use email ahead of time to ask people to download free apps
  2. Navigating the tablet world with a young child
    1. Poll audience on ages
    2. What made you decide to come here today?
    3. “another sphere that parents feel they have to navigate in exactly the right way. On the one hand, parents want their children to swim expertly in the digital stream that they will have to navigate all their lives; on the other hand, they fear that too much digital media, too early, will sink them. Parents end up treating tablets like precision surgical instruments” Hanna Rosin, “The Touch-Screen Generation”
    4. Tablets have been out 4 years now—no significant research
    5. Active vs. passive media
      1. Not all screens are created equal
      2. Treat the tablet like you would a book
    6. “Educational apps” are not always educational
  3. Early Literacy Overview
    1. Talking, Playing, Singing, Reading, Writing
  4. READING App #1: Interactive Book (5 minutes)—Monster at the End of This Book
    1. Why it’s a good app: encourages participation, words appear as they are said illustrating a connection between verbal and written words, does not allow you to skip ahead or play with app while Grover is reading
    2. Early Literacy note: Touch the items on the screen after you finish reading to encourage listening skills so that they understand the story
  5. WRITING App #2: Writing App (5 minutes) – Scribble My Story (free), LetterSchool
    1. Why it’s a good app: Drawing is a precursor to writing (you might encourage them to use a stylist to draw), offers the ability to create, save, and share (builds confidence and pride in one’s work), offers tracking of child’s use, beauty in its simplicity, would encourage a child to create a longer book outside of screen time
    2. Early Literacy note: Encourage completion of a project so a child feels accomplished and encouraged to play (and secretly learn) more!
  6. Stretcher Rhyme: Itsy Bitsy Spider
  7. PLAYING App #3: Concept Skills/Brain Boosters (5 minutes) – Bugs & Buttons (Android & Apple)
    1. Why it’s a good app: Mini games explore early math topics such as patterns, counting, and sorting; Provides direction for games; Utilizes various tablet-specific skills (pressing, dragging, pinching), no in-app purchases
    2. Early Literacy note: Speak with your child! This helps process and express the information they are learning and it exposes them to more vocabulary
  8. TALKING App #4: Alphabet App (5 minutes) – Endless Alphabet (Apple)
    1. Why it’s a good app: Unique vocabulary, the sounds of the letters are fun and you’re encouraged to imitate them, definition provided by animation and narrator
    2. Early Literacy note: At this age, apps should be treated like books in that they are meant to be shared and the caregiver is meant to help a child slow down and process what they see through discussion and praise
  9. Stretcher Rhyme: Jim Gill’s List of Dances
  10. SINGING App #5: Music App (5 minutes): Sketch-a-Song (free, Android & Apple)
    1. Why it’s a good app: Co-creation and opportunity to take turns, ability to save songs
    2. Early Literacy note: Music is an excellent way to promote creation and open up a child’s exposure to world cultures.
  11. Family Media Plan
  12. Where to find good apps
    1. Your Librarian!
    2. Common Sense Media
    3. Digital Storytime
    4. Edappsforsale.com

Evaluation: Overall, the parents left satisfied that they were more knowledgeable about using apps with their children. Many of them, interested in the material being presented, already had a general understanding of the best way to use apps with children, so they felt reinforced in their understanding. I highly encourage describing the apps’ great features while demonstrating them, keeping the interest of the children while giving educational notes to the parents.

The age range was wide and it was hard to provide apps for every interest and level so I focused on apps best suitable for the mid-range preschool age. However, I did stress that caregivers could still apply the tips and early literacy practices to older level apps.

All in all, this program really amped me up to include apps in storytime. Just like we demonstrate best practices for reading books with children and sharing rhymes, we can now demonstrate the best way to use apps—through talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing.

Kelsey Cole is the Youth Services Librarian at Fremont Public Library. She blogs at It’s a Library Bonanza!
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.

About Amy Koester

I'm a youth services librarian with a penchant for exciting ideas and engaging programs. It's a sure bet that if you talk to me about STEAM, whimsy, and trying new things, we'll be best friends forever.

Posted on March 26, 2014, in Apps, Interactivity, Literacy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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