Start Them on Technology Young. Really Young.
I’ve been working on a set of guidelines for the intentional and appropriate use of new media in various types of storytimes: babies, toddlers, preschoolers & mixed age or family storytimes. There has been a lot of discussion on my team about how to follow the guidelines of the AAP (discourage media use for children under the age of 2) while still keeping in mind some of the actual uses of technology that we see everyday, like babies in strollers holding iPads instead of looking at the world around them.
After lots of reading, debating and thinking, I’ve come to a conclusion:
We have to start them on technology young. Really young.
So who is “them”? No, not the babies, or even the toddlers. They don’t NEED technology; it’s perfectly debatable that preschoolers don’t either. But their caregivers need to be thinking about what kind of media consumption is acceptable for their family when their child is still very young, because much to our chagrin, very young children are exposed to media every day. How can librarians help?
At LittleeLit we’ve been experimenting with technology that is still embryonic and frankly, sometimes clunky (AppleTV connectivity malfunction much?!) We’ve been trying out different types of media in every kind of storytime program, including baby storytimes (usually only with resources slides, book covers, call numbers, lyrics, parent tips etc).
Perhaps what will emerge from those pilot projects are definitive guidelines that say “actually, using an iPad in a baby lapsit program is NOT recommended, even to display lyrics” but what is becoming clear to me is that perhaps our emphasis should broaden from focusing on the intentional use of apps & eBooks in storytime (especially if caregivers are not present!), and more toward the conversations we can have with parents about the use of new media with their children (many thanks to Dr Virginia Walter for throwing ideas about this around). One model might be Every Child Ready to Read 2, or subsequent iterations thereof, or it might be something entirely new. It could be something focus like app chats, or something seamlessly woven into regular services. Every community, every library, every librarian will differ in the way they meet this societal need. What’s common to our profession, however, is that we have a unique opportunity: families come to us willingly (unlike other kinds of social services), we often have access to caregivers as well as the children (as opposed to child care centers who only see caregivers at drop-off & pick-up) and we have a set of professional ethics that guide us to provide resources without being biased, and listen for the “question under the question.”
Just like how we say “it’s never too early to start!” about reading, it’s never too early to start talking to parents about the implications of media use with young children, and about how they can decide what they want their family media use plan to look like.