An iPad-enhanced Storytime, by Awnali Mills and Rachel Sharpe

This is the story of an iPad enhanced storytime, told by colleagues Awnali Mills and Rachel Sharpe.

Awnali: I was getting ready to do a bird-themed storytime and found the book Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? by Rita Gray. It follows two children as they listen to various birds in their yard and watch a silent robin on its nest until its eggs hatch. The book verbalizes the calls of the various birds and contrasts them to the silent nesting bird.

As I was reading over the story, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could play these birdcalls for the kids?” I tried finding birdcall apps to work on my iPad in an unobtrusive way. No dice. I tried downloading individual bird calls, but that didn’t work well either. Frustrated, I reached out to my colleague Rachel Sharpe to see if she could conjure a technological brainstorm. She did!

Rachel: I searched the Internet for free, downloadable birdcalls and struck gold with a math professor’s website from SUNY (the site has been around since 1997!). The birdcalls are registered under a creative commons license (CC BY-NC 3.0), so I was able to download most of what I needed and modify them to fit my needs. For the rest, I used

Once I had my collection of birdcalls, I used Windows Movie Maker to arrange the sounds. Because I was working with sounds, not video, I had to add 90 seconds of a blank title screen to act as the video portion of the movie. I added the sounds, repeating some of the shorter ones, and left three seconds between each bird call to act as a buffer.

When all the sounds were in place, I saved the video and uploaded it to, a file conversion site. Zamzar quickly converted the file to an .mp3, erasing the video portion of the file and just keeping the audio. Voila! I quickly attached that file to an email and shipped it off to Awnali.

Awnali: Rachel’s .mp3 worked beautifully on the computer, but I needed it on my iPad. Following some instructions I found online, I downloaded Dropbox onto my computer and iPad and used the app to download and transfer the birdcalls .mp3. Success!

I practiced manipulating the iPad while reading the book aloud several times to make sure that it worked seamlessly. I learned that the three-second interval Rachel had inserted was just enough time to read most of the lines without stopping, and it was easy to pause playback for longer lines.

I had the .mp3 open and ready to go before the kids arrived (playing it from Dropbox).  I held the book in one hand and operated the iPad with the other. This worked perfectly. As soon as the children heard the birdcalls, they gasped and looked at their parents, who smiled at them. When one little girl heard the catbird call, she piped up, “What was that??” Because the catbird does, in fact, sound like a cat! This combined to create the charming effect of walking through the woods listening to and watching birds. When I asked, “Do you see the_____ bird?” The kids excitedly assured me that they did. I couldn’t have asked for a better effect.

Undoubtedly, straightforward apps are much easier to utilize. But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be limited to only the content supplied by others. In the true spirit of makers, we stepped out of the box, developed an idea, collaborated with others, and utilized numerous technologies to produce a beautifully enhanced storytime—no app needed.

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.

Rachel Sharpe works in the children’s department of a public library and has permanent dibs on the department’s iPad.

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 31, 2015, in iPad, Story Time and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Rachel Sharpe

    Small correction: the second website should be Sorry!

  2. How neat! What a great, resourceful way to harness tablet and app technology to amplify kids’ storytime. Wish I could have seen the looks on the kids’ faces when they heard the birds.

  1. Pingback: Storytime is for the Birds | The Librarian Is on The Loose

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