Apps in Storytime and Beyond: Mary Fellows & Upper Hudson Library System

I had the pleasure to speak with Mary Fellows, Manager, Youth and Family Services at the Upper Hudson Library System (and past ALSC president) at ALA in stinky hot Vegas. Mary shared with me some of the amazing work that her regional/cooperative library system has been doing with incorporating new media into their services. The following is their beautifully articulated statement of the role of libraries in the new media marketplace for young kids & their families, plus a selection of the other documents included in their Apps in Storytime kit.

Apps in Storytime and Beyond: The Role of Libraries

Digital devices are an increasing part of the lives of many young children we serve. Adults, even in low income areas, are relying on smart phones and tablets for communication, connection to the Internet, and more. Children observe adults’ frequent engagement with digital devices and clamor to be included in these activities.

At the same time, experts warn about the perils of screen time for very young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to discourage parents from using media with children under 24 months of age.

What, then, is the public library’s role in modeling engaging young children with digital resources? What role should we play in advising parents about current screen time thinking and in the best apps to use with children?

First, we must be informed about current research and thinking. Currently, the thinking is:

  • No screen time for children ages 0-2
  • Considered, appropriate, limited use of technology with children 3 and up

Next, we apply this current thinking to our practices. This means:

We shouldn’t be using apps meant for children in our toddler or baby programs. Using Keynote to display song lyrics or Adobe Reader to project a tell-and-draw story that everyone in a large room can see is okay. These apps are not engaging to kids and serve a larger early literacy purpose.

We should make careful judgments about using apps meant for children in family programs where there may be lots of toddlers and babies. Using one app occasionally allows the librarian opportunity to talk to the parents present about apps and young children.

In programs where we use apps, we alert parents to the current thinking about children and media. We take care to do this gently and diplomatically, understanding that parents in the room are at various degrees of awareness about children and screen time. We refer back to the Every Child Ready to Read® five skills that help children prepare to learn -Talk, Write, Read, Play, Sing – and how the app we use reinforces those.

Finally, we share clear messages about using apps with children.

We start by acknowledging how compelling digital devices are to children. We mention that, as adults, we often have them readily at hand, so when our child is in need of attention or distraction, our tablet or phone is an easy go-to.

We mention the recommendation against screen time for children under two and offer the analogy of chewing gum: we may have it in our purse or pocket for our own uses. We know that a young child will be interested in the wrapper, the smell, and the taste. And we also know that young children are apt to swallow the gum, and that can cause health issues for them. So we safeguard our children’s health by withholding gum until they are old enough to unharmed by it.

We introduce parents to the three C’s to consider with apps and children three and older: context, content, and child. We say just a little about each of these, and then invite parents to talk with us afterwards if they want to know more.

  1. Context: the purpose of the activity, and what happens before, during, and after your child uses the app. Screen time should lead to interaction, not replace interaction.

Ask yourself: What will my child learn from this app? Will I make the time to talk with my child about the activity? Can my child and I play together?

  1. Content: the theme and activities of the app.

Ask yourself: Is the app child-controlled? Is the activity one I want my child to imitate? Does the app promote questions, playful reenactments, joy?

  1. Child: children need a variety of active, sensory, and language experiences to maximize their brain development and learning.

Ask yourself: Does my child spend more time with media and technology than other activities? Is she getting enough time for pretend and active play? Do I provide clear boundaries for screen time so that my child is not becoming dependent on devices?

 App advisory is part of our jobs now. We may not have apps to loan, but we must nonetheless have information on them. We can inform ourselves by reading app reviews in School Library Journal, The Horn Book, or other respected, independent review sources. We should keep a list of recommended apps handy for when we’re asked by parents for the best apps to use with their children – and we must offer that help, as we do in all patron interactions, without judgment.

Most of all, we must practice sharing the information about how to choose and use apps until we’re comfortable and authentic discussing it. This is a key way to demonstrate our currency (we’re not just about books) and our value (as a source of parenting help) to our customers. Children live in a digital world, and the vast majority will have screen time every day. Our job is to help parents make considered decisions about how and how often their child uses media, and to help them to choose media wisely.

Further resources:

Blog entries by Lisa Guernsey on The Huffington Post blog:

The Three C’s for Choosing the Right Technology (Mobile Apps) for Children:

Internal Documents

Why iPad Apps in Storytime

List of Apps on iPads

Announcement email

Eamples of notes on how to use specific apps


Robot Lab

My A-Z

Finger Paint


Posted on July 10, 2014, in Literacy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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