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Here at Little eLit, we get asked about free apps a lot. While we consider an app’s content, design, technical features, and age appropriateness before we look at price, the reality is that, just like librarians and teachers everywhere, we know money is a factor. In fact, some of you can’t get apps unless they are free. Not to worry! Little eLit to the rescue! If you want to know how to find quality apps for free, and always-free apps, here is the post you’ve been waiting for.
The 5 Types of Free Apps
First of all, what are we talking about when we say “free app”? There are actually five different categories of free apps.
1. Free apps: These are apps that are always free. While some free apps may not meet the criteria we use when choosing apps for storytime or for recommending to families for anytime use, there are some high quality apps out there that are actually meant to be free. The Exploratorium’s Color Uncovered and Sound Uncovered apps, Software Smoothie’s Felt Board – Mother Goose on the Loose, and the Calgary Public Library’s Grow a Reader are good examples.
2. Free with in-app purchases, ads, and links to full versions: These apps are free but come with strings attached, including links to other apps and even inappropriate content in some cases. However, all of the apps in this category are fully functional at the free level. When we review these apps for programs or for recommendation, we look at the content and how the purchase elements display and are accessed, particularly by kids. In storytime, an ad displayed on the screen is distracting. In-app purchases that are easy for kids to access can get expensive quickly, and they can possibly be purchased without parent or teacher permission. On the positive side, for parents, librarians, and teachers, some of these apps might offer a great opportunity to see how an app works before buying the full version. Note: Most devices have a setting that can be activated to require a password before authorizing in-app purchases. Be sure to know your device and where to find settings like these.
3. Free and it’s just a teaser: These apps are free, but the content of the free version is so limited that the app is not usable without an additional in-app purchase. As usual, be sure to read the app’s description carefully and review the app before using with children or incorporating into a program or classroom so you know what you’re getting.
4. Free temporarily: It costs money to make apps, especially high-quality apps, so some of our favorite apps come with a price tag usually between $.99 and $5.99. If you’re looking for a favorite app, but you can’t buy apps or just want to get the app for free or at a reduced cost, a temporary price reduction is what you’re looking for. Finding apps that are free for a short time does require research and knowing where to find them.
5. Promo codes: A 5th category is also useful to consider when seeking apps, especially for professionals who work with children, families and the community. For every app on iTunes, developers get 50-100 codes that allow users to download an app for free. This system is only in place for Apple, but other formats like Android can also give copies to individuals if you contact the developer directly. These codes are intended for reviewers of apps, journalists and other media outlets, but with frequent updates, especially after a major change to the operating system (e.g. iOS 7), developers often have extra codes that they use for consumer giveaways. They will usually be delighted to hear from a teacher or librarian asking for a free code because of the exposure you can offer their app. The process can also make it possible for you to influence future changes to apps, since the feedback from users is very valuable to independent app developers.
How to Find Temporarily Free Apps
Most app developers reduce an app’s price or make it temporarily free at some point during a six-month period. Traditionally, if developers are going to drop the price of apps, they will do so Wednesday through Friday, or around major holidays like Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, for example. Weekly price drops are usually offered with Thursday evening through Friday evening being the timeframe in which you are most likely to see price changes. With over a million apps in the various markets (Apple, Google Play, Amazon, Nook), it can be difficult to sift through the free apps or reduced-price apps every Thursday and Friday if you don’t have specific apps in mind.
To make the search easier, there are a few sites that can help you keep track of price fluctuations, and some even give you app update notifications. Digital-Storytime, EdApps4Sale (all free, curated for kids apps by Digital-Storytime founder Carisa Kluver), App Shopper, Smart Apps for Kids (+ for Android, for Special Needs), the iMums, App Abled and App Friday are easy-to-navigate sources for price information. We have a full list here, but over time this industry moves fast, so please keep an eye out for new resources and double check to make sure these sites are still active over time:
Recommended Review Sites
- A Matter of App
- App Friday
- Apps for Homeschooling
- Children’s Technology Review
- Fun, Educational Apps
- Great Kid Books
- Horn Book – App Reviews
- Kirkus Reviews
- The iMum
- The iPhone Mom
- There’s A Book
- Touch and Go
– This list is updated on Carisa’s blog & is on the sidebar of every page of her site: http://digitalmediadiet.com
For example, if after searching through the Little eLit Pinterest Apps for Preschool Storytime board you come up with a list of apps you want for your iPad, go to App Shopper and create a wish list. When that app’s price is reduced, you’ll get an email announcing the change. The email will include a link back to App Shopper or to iTunes directly.
Several sources of app price changes can also be found on Twitter and Facebook. Check out @momswithapps or your favorite app developer to see what we mean.
If you need more information about apps, including reviews and storytime, program, or curriculum uses, check out our list of suggested sites.Carisa Kluver created and operates Digital Storytime, a review site for children’s apps; EdApps4Sale, a site that tracks deals on children’s apps; and The Digital Media Diet, a blog exploring new media with a focus on young children. Claudia Haines is the Curation Coordinator for Little eLit and Youth Services Librarian at Homer Public Library.
Are you looking for more information about what went down at ALA Annual with regard to new media and children? Carisa Kluver, founder of digital-storytime.com and a contributor here at the Little eLit community shared her experiences at the conference weekend on her blog. She’s given us permission to share her perspective here. Enjoy!
Librarians in the Digital Age – Part 2: A to Zoo for Apps Starts the Conversation from The Digital Media Diet
At the end of June, I had the honor of being on a panel at the national ALA (American Library Association) conference in Chicago, IL. Originally I was going to prepare a video or be available remotely by Skype, but at the last minute I decided to visit the windy city, stay with a dear friend and make a little vacation of the whole thing. Chicago was especially lovely, with unseasonably cool weather, so I spent a fair amount of time on foot exploring. It was also a crazy time for parades in the city, fresh from their Blackhawks win and during Pride weekend, making hailing a cab more difficult. All that walking was good for thinking but not so good for hauling things, so the genius of digital books was particularly on my mind.
Exhibits and More …
I also spent many hours wandering around the cavernous exhibit hall booths in addition to meeting with bookish people like the librarian contributors to @LittleeLit‘s blog and ‘think tank’. In person introductions are particularly sweet, after months of contact over email, video-chat, Twitter and other digital means. Meeting others so like-minded probably represents one of the most energizing aspects of attending any large conference. And librarians are one energized group! I found nearly everyone in attendance to be sharp, thoughtful and focused on the future of libraries in the digital age. The conversations were simply abuzz about new ‘technology’ everywhere I went. While sitting at lunch by myself in a cafe over a mile from the convention center I overheard two librarians heatedly comparing the digital initiatives in their two library systems.
In the exhibit hall, there were several large spaces set aside for digital technology, ebooks and even apps. Nearly every booth also had a digital offering, from apps that integrated into their service or product for library management to eBooks in every format. However there was very little to be found about any stand-alone book apps nor much in the way of interactive book or educational software offerings for kids. I know my focus on children’s apps is somewhat singular in the publishing industry, but the lack of discussion or even an understanding of the difference between an ebook, app and bookstore portal was disheartening.
Either my focus is misplaced, leaving me out-of-step, or the industry (publishers, libraries, authors, etc.) itself is missing something. Several people asked me about my site and if I would review or promote their digital book offerings. When I explained that I only review apps, they seemed more bewildered than disappointed. I explained that so far, I couldn’t get enough traction with consumers for an iBookstore review site, and while the Kindle eBook market is much more developed, the market for illustrated children’s content is still in a somewhat embryonic stage. No one seemed to be very sophisticated in their understanding of the industry with regard to digital, but everyone seemed at least engaged in the digital shift in one way or another.
Overall, my impression was that librarians in attendance, and most of those presenting, were engaged, passionate and ready to face a digital future. This was in huge contrast to the publishers and other exhibitors who seemed to show-off a singular naïveté or perhaps ignorance, about format, access, consumer interest and other emerging aspects of the digital publishing industry. As a relative newbie to this ecosystem, I was surprised to find myself explaining (or correcting) misconceptions about digital formats, self-publishing, social media marketing and even COPPA regulations, to people who should be much more informed than I am.
A to Zoo for Apps – Starting the Conversation with LibraryLand
My panel presentation was early in the weekend, a ‘Conversation Starter’ entitled: ”Building A to Zoo for Apps: Time-tested librarian skills meet cutting edge technology for kids” and featured talented librarians:
- Sarah Houghton, Director, San Rafael Public Library
- Allison Rose Tran, Teen Services Librarian, Mission Viejo Library
- Cen Campbell, Founder, Littleelit.com
- Trista Kunkel, Youth Services Librarian, Birchard Public Library
plus special guest:
Chip Donahue, Senior Fellow at the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning & Children’s Media and Director of Technology in Early Childhood at the Erikson Center.
and a video presentation from Lisa Guernsey, Director, Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation:
Conversation starters at the ALA are “fast-paced 45-minute sessions intended to jumpstart conversations and highlight emerging topics and trends.” The purpose of this session was to start a conversation within the library community about the best way to approach the curation and evaluation of digital content, like apps, for young children.
What should the role for apps be in libraries? Should they be used in storytimes and if so, why? How can librarians contribute to the evaluation of apps and provide useful information to caregivers, teachers and others seeking information about quality digital content for tablet devices? Should librarians even be recommending apps at all?
A nice summary of our presentation can be found on the @LittleeLit blog by librarian Amy Koester. Or you can watch the whole thing in this video on youtube:
Suffice it to say that 45 minutes was simply not enough time to answer more than a few questions and barely scratched the surface of the conversation that is brewing in the world of children’s early learning and library services. A lot of strong opinions exist about digital content for young kids, especially regarding ‘screen time’ and apps. But the interest in this content is strong among librarians, as evidenced by the overflowing standing-room-only crowd in attendance.
Conversation Started – Trending Topics
Among the most important take-aways from this conversation we’ve started are a series of new questions we must ask ourselves as adults who guide, choose and judge digital content for kids:
- How do we evaluate, curate or recommend apps and other digital media on tablets?
- How do we even decide what to evaluate and what to ignore in a sea of content much too large to cover exhaustively?
- How would evaluations from librarians in particular differ from and add to the already large number of online resources currently available for app reviews (including private review sites, non-profit sites, consumer reviews and a sea of blogs from professionals and laypeople).
- What qualities of an app would be important to librarians when evaluating?
- How would app evaluations differ from the curation already done for print materials or other digital content?
- What are the critical differences between evaluating, reviewing, recommending and curating apps or other digital content for librarians/professionals?
- What resources, rubrics or other evaluation tools are available for professionals to explore before beginning their own app reviews?
- What role should libraries and librarians play in the digital shift?
- Should librarians recommend, model or advise caregivers and professionals about wise use of quality media for kids or primarily discourage ‘screen time’? Is this role different for toddlers under two, children under five or other age groups, like teenagers?
- How can professionals find good age & stage recommendations for library programs & collections?
In the end, my biggest realization was an anti-climatic epiphany. As I wracked my brain to think of all the ways we might create a resource that an army of librarians could fill in to make relevant and thoughtful, I was also struck by the need to include something more than just curation in my grand plan for library-land … the need for education. Of course we know teachers, librarians and other professionals need training on how to incorporate these digital tools into existing programs and services, but we also need a large scale education effort for the general public.
Much like the world wide web presented us with a sea of content that went beyond our usual ways of cataloging, the sea of publications coming into our digital space may be more than anyone can wrangle into a single resource. There is no equivalent for the web to the ‘yellow pages’ for local business phone numbers, for instance. In a similar vein, there may not be anyway that anyone could truly create the equivalent of “A to Zoo” for kids apps. A to Zoo for Apps can’t help but be inspired by the past, but the real challenge will be making it novel and adaptable to the new digital environment of the 21st century. It appears to be a challenge that is both momentous and exhilarating!
These questions are just a few I heard, among many burning in the hearts and minds of those who attended ALA 2013 and our presentation. We will be working hard to keep this dialog going among librarians in particular and I’ll keep you posted as the conversation continues. Please let me know any questions or comments you might like to add!
Carisa Kluver and I did our first tag-team workshop on Friday at the Watsonville Library with a group of SPLAMBA members who were interested in learning about using apps in storytime, but had never tried it out and were unsure about why they should even consider it. It’s becoming clear to me that in every session I lead, there is at least one person who will admit to me at the end that they didn’t particularly want to learn about using technology with young children, but that the approach we use, and the philosophical reasoning behind WHY we need to do this now has changed their minds. The fact that I’m a Waldorf mom is reassuring to these people as well; I view technology for kids as a reality that we must face with wisdom and moderation, not technology for technology’s sake. See my presentation below, and please also see Carisa’s Kids App Presentation Handout and Kids App Research Resources.
Little eLit contributors have put together a suite of resources on young children, new media, and libraries, and it is our hope that they will continue to be of use as conversations about early literacy in the digital age continue to grow outside of this space.
Media Mentorship in Libraries Serving Youth
Young Children, New Media, and Libraries: A Guide for Incorporating New Media into Library Collections, Services, and Programs for Families and Children Ages 0-5
book edited by Amy Koester, chapter contributors including Cen Campbell, Carissa Christner, Claudia Haines, Genesis Hansen, Anne Hicks, Jennifer L. Hopwood, Carisa Kluver, Amy Koester, and Tess Prendergast
Young Children, New Media, and Libraries Survey
survey conducted by J. Elizabeth Mills (iSchool at University of Washington), Joanna Ison (ALSC), and Cen Campbell and Amy Koester (Little eLit)
One of the very first LittleeLit blog posts (December 1, 2011) ended thusly:
eBooks for children: a brave new world. Let’s talk about it!
I started this little blog with a load of questions and no idea where to find the answers:
What does the invention of tablet technology mean for young children?
What is MY young family’s relationship with technology going to be like?
What do these new formats of children’s literature mean for libraries?
How might library services like storytime be effected by the influx of interactive media geared at preschoolers?
While these questions are still not completely answered, we have come a long way in our understanding of new media for children. There are even more questions, but now there are even more librarians working out the answers together. The LittleeLit blog will be shuttered as of today, but the Google group will remain open for anyone who wishes to ask questions or search the archive.
LittleeLit leaves as its legacy a series of documents that sought to more fully understand the role of the children’s librarian in the children’s media marketplace:
The LittleeLit Book is freely available for anyone to use. Thanks to Amy Koester for shepherding us, and to all of the authors: Carissa Christner, Claudia Haines, Genesis Hansen, Anne Hicks, Jennifer Hopwood, Carisa Kluver and Tess Prendergast.
The results from the Young Children, New Media & Libraries Survey as published on the ALSC Blog, as an infographic and in Children and Libraries. Thanks to Liz Mills, Emily Romeijn-Stout, Amy Koester and Joanna Ison.
Our white paper, Media Mentorship in Libraries Serving Youth, which was adopted by the ALSC board on March 11, 2015. Thanks to Claudia Haines, Amy Koester, Dorothy Stoltz and the ALSC Board and staff.
More thank yous:
Thank you again, Amy Koester (rhymes with rooster), for being involved in almost every LittleeLit project, managing the blog for so long, for calling out BS, and for always, always, always closing the deal. You’re a force of nature.
Thank you to Carisa Kluver, who took many, many airplanes and car rides so we could work together. Thank you for being exceptionally good with the following: ambiguity, seat-of-the-pants dramatics, and post-workshop enchiladas. Only the best screw-top Riesling Rancho has to offer for you, honey.
Thank you to Claudia Haines for your calmness under pressure, mad research skills, and apparently 6 pairs of arms (how is it that you DO so much?!)
Thank you to Dorothy Stoltz, who is a philosopher, a diplomat, a naturalist, a visionary, and a model truly worthy of imitation.
Thank you to Dr. Chip Donohue for your mentorship and friendship, and for always having a door open for librarians.
Thank you to Dr. Karen Nemeth for introducing me to the world of webinars, and for your wisdom that always comes with a laugh.
Thank you to Lisa Guersney, who was the inspiration for a lot of the work we did at LittleeLit, and who finds the time to eat flowers in a garden with me.
Thank you to Genesis Hansen for starting LittleeLit with me in the first place. You’re one of the adultiest adults I’ve ever met.
Thank you to Carissa Christner for your energy, creativity and do-itiveness.
Thanks to Anne Hicks for always being willing to step up to the mic.
Thank you to Dr. Betsy Diamant-Cohen….. we’re not done yet 🙂
We are happy to announce the release today of the fifth chapter of our book, Young Children, New Media, and Libraries. This chapter, “Evaluation of New Media,” was co-authored by children’s librarian Claudia Haines and social worker Carisa Kluver. It’s available by clicking here, or on the image below.
To read more chapters from Young Children, New Media, and Libraries, please visit the “Book” tab of this site.
This project, with many contributing authors, has been a work in progress for some time. Chapters are being released once per month, on the 15th, until all chapters have been published here. At that point, the entire work will be put into a single PDF ebook document, including appendices and other additional materials.
The Little eLit Book
Young Children, New Media, and Libraries: A Guide for Incorporating New Media into Library Collections, Services, and Programs for Families and Children Ages 0-5 is available as a PDF via clicking the image below.
If you’d like to access the individual chapters of the book, which were released serially between October 2014 and May 2015, the links are below.
- Chapter One: New Media in Youth Librarianship, by Cen Campbell and Amy Koester
- Chapter Two: Children and Technology: What can research tell us? by Tess Prendergast
- Chapter Three: Developmentally Appropriate Practice: Using New Media with Children, Birth through School-age, by Anne Hicks
- Chapter Four: The Role of New Media in Inclusive Early Literacy Programs & Services, by Tess Prendergast
- Chapter Five: Evaluation of New Media, by Claudia Haines and Carisa Kluver
- Chapter Six: New Media in Storytimes, by Carissa Christner, Anne Hicks, and Amy Koester
- Chapter Seven: Managing New Media for Youth Services, by Genesis Hansen
- Chapter Eight: Tech Savvy Library Professionals: Competencies, Training, and Development for New Media Library Initiatives, by Jennifer L. Hopwood
Books from Little eLit Contributors, Advisors, & Supporters
The following are books that Little eLit has contributed to in some way, or that are written by partners on our journey to media mentorship. Many thanks to all the authors for the time, effort, and care you put into writing these books. We need these, and we need more.
The Power of Play: Designing Early Learning Spaces, Dorothy Stoltz, Marisa Conner, & James Bradberry
STEP into Storytime: Using StoryTime Effective Practice to Strengthen the Development of Newborns to Five-Year-Olds, Saroj Ghoting & Kathy Klatt
Technology & Digital Media in the Early Years, Chip Donohue (editor)
Many families are struggling to figure out how to best manage screentime in their own home. The following is a re-post (lack of capitalization included!) from Happy Stuff, which is run by the inspiring Carissa Christner, long-time LittleeLit contributor and soon-to-be trainer. thanks for sharing balancing “screen time” Carissa!
i’ve been thinking a lot about the healthiest ways to incorporate apps and technology into our family life. many parents deal with the issue by setting a daily time limit, and while that seems so nice and tidy and easily quantifiable (there’s even an app for that!), i know that if i were playing an interesting game and i was just about to complete a challenge and someone told me i had to turn the game off right at that moment …. i’d whine and complain and possibly even throw a giant fit too. i would also feel like i had a right to use up every minute of my maximum allowed screen time every day, as though if i didn’t use it all up, i’d be getting cheated out of my rightful screen time.
if the happy family tried that option, i’d spend large portions of my day having conversations about “just 5 more minutes” or “but i’ve only had 25 minutes of screen time!” or “that screen time didn’t count because i didn’t like that game” or “what if i called granna on facetime, would that count?”* and other “referee” questions in which i’d be constantly re-interpreting and re-creating arbitrary rules. that makes me cranky. plus, those questions are not teaching my child the bigger life lesson of how to include technology in a balanced diet of daily activities.
my friend carisa kluver created this wonderful model for teaching kids how to balance their own media diet (follow this link! read the article!), but i found that it was too abstract for me to explain to my 4 year old, so i broke down the first component — balance — into a system that he could understand and for now, i’ll judge the quality and engagement components myself.
Want to learn the details of Carissa’s “balance system”? Read the rest of this post at Happy Stuff!
Carisa Kluver and I co-wrote a chapter for Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years: Tools for Teaching and Learning, edited by our friend & mentor, Chip Donohue. We’ll be presenting on the book at the NAEYC annual conference in Dallas in November. I hope to see many other librarians there!
Here’s the blurb:
A Co-Publication of Routledge and NAEYC
Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years offers early childhood teacher educators, professional development providers, and early childhood educators in pre-service, in-service, and continuing education settings a thought-provoking guide to effective, appropriate, and intentional use of technology with young children. This book provides strategies, theoretical frameworks, links to research evidence, descriptions of best practice, and resources to develop essential digital literacy knowledge, skills and experiences for early childhood educators in the digital age.
Technology and Digital Media in the Early Years puts educators right at the intersections of child development, early learning, developmentally appropriate practice, early childhood teaching practices, children’s media research, teacher education, and professional development practices. The book is based on current research, promising programs and practices, and a set of best practices for teaching with technology in early childhood education that are based on the NAEYC/FRC Position Statement on Technology and Interactive Media and the Fred Rogers Center Framework for Quality in Children’s Digital Media. Pedagogical principles, classroom practices, and teaching strategies are presented in a practical, straightforward way informed by child development theory, developmentally appropriate practice, and research on effective, appropriate, and intentional use of technology in early childhood settings. A companion website provides additional resources and links to further illustrate principles and best practices for teaching and learning in the digital age.
I subscribe to Children’s Technology Review, which is run by our friend Warren Buckleitner. As part of that subscription, I get a weekly email with reviews and industry news about, well, children & technology. Last week’s newsletter featured Warren’s video review of Astropolo, which one of our librarians, Carissa Christner, has tried out in her library. Check out Carisa’s mention of it in the LittleeLit Google group.
Also check out the rest of the CTR YouTube page for all kinds of videos, reviews and product demonstrations.
Note: Warren’s review comes complete with “bad singing”! Yay! we love bad singing! All singing is welcome and encouraged!)