Category Archives: Field Notes

Welcome to the Digital Neighborhood: A Fred Rogers Center and Little eLit Digital Literacy Symposium, by Claudia Haines

This was a week of collaboration. Librarians and early childhood education experts teamed up in Harford County, Maryland, to talk with more than 80 librarians and educators as part of a grant from Comcast to expand the Harford County Public Library system’s digital literacy efforts. We had two goals: to talk about what’s new and what’s still true in the world of new media and young children, and to train librarians in their evolving role as media mentors. The successful training included Tanya Smith from the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media, Dorothy Stoltz and Kristen Bodvin from the Carroll County Public Library (Maryland), and myself, Claudia Haines, from the Homer Public Library (Alaska).

While in Harford County, Tanya and I also spent time with families of young children at the Abingdon and Bel Air branches to talk about what to consider when using digital media with young children, tips for choosing apps or any digital media, and then how to explore them with their children. Both the training for professionals and the discussions with families included rich conversations and thoughtful questions, demonstrating that collaborations leave us all better informed.

Here are the slides we shared at the training. The first set of slides are those used by Tanya and I to discuss research, the important NAEYC/Fred Rogers joint position statement on technology and young children, how to evaluate apps and other new media, the role digital media has in the library, and factors to consider when incorporating new media into storytime and other programs.

This second set of slides were used by Dorothy and Kristen to talk about Every Child Ready to Read and early literacy.

We discussed a variety of apps and resources that librarians and educators can use to guide their digital media use with young children and their families. We wanted to make those available here, as well as share the several handouts we brought.

Five Practices & Early Literacy Components Support Each Other
Homer Public Library’s new media brochure for families
Rubric for Evaluating New Media
NAEYC/Fred Rogers Position Statement- Key Messages


Claudia Haines, Little eLit Curation Coordinator
Youth Services Librarian
Homer Public Library
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.

New App Storytime in Madison, Wisconsin

Little eLit regular, Carissa Christner began a new app-based storytime series at the Madison Public Library last month.  Read more about it (and learn why it’s called the Supper Club) on her blog here. 

Tacky and the Winter Games in Storytime: Field Notes, by Sarah Kostin

037For my first foray into digitally enhanced storytime, I chose to read the app, “Tacky and the Winter Games” by Oceanhouse Media, during our Olympic-themed Pajama Storytime. This required surmounting some technical issues with the iPad and our projector; it turned out I needed a Lightning to VGA adapter to connect with my 4th generation iPad. And because we do not have a projection screen, I improvised and projected onto our banana-yellow wall. You know, with the lights out, I really didn’t even notice a color difference. The hardest part of setting up was positioning our gigantic media cart, which the projector is bolted onto, and then positioning myself in a good spot so people could see both me and the wall.

Once I got going, I had so much fun reading this way. I felt like the kids and parents were more engaged, especially the parents who were able to read along with me. The book itself is very funny and creates a lot of openings for great audience participation. There was lots of laughter; I felt like a rock star. Because I was standing up, as opposed to being in my normal seated position, it felt more like a theater performance than a reading. This only enhanced the energy of the program.

The Tacky app makes very good use of comedic timing, revealing the funny bits not all at once, but with a page slide of the finger. When it came time to sing the Tacky Olympics Anthem, the whole crowd (those that can read) sang along with me because they had been following along, too. The app included a cute little soundtrack and sound effects that played through my Bluetooth speakers and worked really well to propel the story forward: the sound of the starting gun popping, the sound of Tacky’s fish skis flopping in the snow. Afterwards, I turned on the lights and sat on my regular storytime cushion in the front of the room. I asked the crowd of about 35 kids and 25 adults if they enjoyed it. Applause. I asked the parents specifically if they enjoyed it, and they said “they loved it!”

In planning the program, I felt that I should balance out the digital portion of our program with lots of movement and activity. Because it’s the middle of a long winter in the Rockies, I had been noticing the kids’ and parents’ need for a little more activity and a little less listening. After Tacky was over, we did a short movement song and then moved right into the Olympics portion of our program. I had five events set up along the length of our Children’s section: ring toss, ball toss, high jump, pom pom hockey, and the tunnel. I had two crafts prepared: a pipe cleaner snowboarder (or skier) and a gold or silver medal necklace made with Fruit Loops. I also supplied popcorn in Dixie cups that almost resembled tiny Olympic torches. Overall, I would give this program the “Big Winner” medal.

Sarah Kostin is the Head Youth Services Librarian at the Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Not one to sit still for very long, she is always looking for new ways to spice up programs or invent new ones. She is super excited about being a member of Little eLit, swapping ideas and exploring all of the new ways that digital media can be incorporated into library programming.

Felt Board app in Storytime: Field Notes, by Stephen Tafoya

Amy Wright, our Children’s Librarian here at the Rifle Branch Library, implemented the Felt Board app (by Software Smoothie) into her “Fly” themed storytime. Amy, who is AWESOME at storytime and working with kids, took to using the app and iPad in a way that made it fun and engaging so that parents and caregivers could really see how technology can be another tool to help build early literacy skills. We even had a good laugh at the little “slip up” that happens part way into the clip, so be sure to watch the whole thing!

Stephen Tafoya works as a Technology Trainer for a library district, and he partners with Youth Services Coordinators to engage kids and teens with technology in library programming.

October Challenge: Trying an App in Storytime, by Catherine DiCristofaro

I got the chance to participate in the New Media in Storytime training sponsored by the Maryland Eastern Shore Regional Library. Cen Campbell provided everyone with fantastic information and insight into using picture book apps and other newer technology in a storytime and library setting. After seeing how successful her demonstrations were, I was determined to try a picture book app in my own storytime to see how my families would respond. I decided that I would have enough material for a “normal” storytime (i.e., no apps) but have one ready to go if the group I had that day was up for it. I decided to actually show the story directly from my iPad screen to keep it simple.

app in storytimeAfter we finished our story books, I had the children move closer to the front so that everyone could see. We used the “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive this App” on the iPad. If you are not familiar with this particular app, it features Mo Willems’s Pigeon asking to do something that the user denies. If a child is familiar with the Pigeon in book form, he or she will have no problem adapting to the app. There are three options that allow users to have different levels of control over the storytelling elements. The first level, “egg,” simply tells a story. Level two, “chick,” allows the user to pick different elements of the story from different lists. Finally, the third level, “Big Pigeon” allows the user to record his or her voice to add a personal creative element to the story. I used this app in two different storytimes, one with 18 children and one with 12. I decided to use the chick version so that we could add some creative ownership to the story by picking elements, but we wouldn’t have to try recording sound with that many young children trying to help.

Some of the children had trouble NOT touching the iPad. I could tell that they weren’t used to having a table present and not being able to touch it. However, once I explained that I would be pushing the buttons so that everyone could see, they understood and managed to keep their fingers in check. As each option for the story was presented (what is the smelliest – gym socks, kitty litter, or stinky fish), the children called out choices and I tapped the picture to add it to the story. Once all of the choices had been made, we were ready to hear the story we helped create. The kids were entranced. They listened intently and participated by yelling “No!” when the Pigeon made his request. After the storytime, I had a chance to talk to a parent to see what she thought about integrating apps and technology into storytime. She said that she liked it and that as long as it wasn’t the only thing we did in storytime, she thought it was a nice addition. Overall, I thought my first app in storytime experience was a success and I hope to try more in the future!

Catherine DiCristofaro is the youth services librarian at the Charlotte Hall Branch in the St. Mary’s County Library System. Catherine served on the 2012 Blue Crab committee for the Children’s Services Division of the Maryland Library Association. She is passionate about picture books and making sure that children and adults alike view reading as something that is fun and worth doing!

And sometimes you just need to leave technology at home and go to the farm

emandalhowdyI attended an alumni gathering in San Francisco recently for Shawnigan Lake School, the illustrious institution in the backwoods of Vancouver Island from which I attained my high school diploma (ZOMG! it has an entry in UrbanDictionary). At the event I made the acquaintance of another Kaye’s girl (that’s what we call the girls who lived in the Kaye’s boarding house) and she told me about her job as the office manager for Emandal, an educational farm in Mendocino county, CA, a few hours north of San Francisco. Whitney Donielson is also a blogger and told me about some of her projects and experiences with technology as a child, and while she was attending Shawnigan (when I was there we didn’t have computers in our rooms, let alone wifi or the ability to download Youtube videos to watch after lights out!). I asked her if she’d be willing to write a post about unplugging for my high-tech blog.

Unplugging is also part of a balanced media diet, and even though children’s librarians need to keep up with the lightning-fast pace of the digital publishing world for children, we also need to communicate to parents the necessity of leaving the iPad, smartphone, laptop, kindle, nook, or ipod at home every now and then. So take a peek at Emandal: A Place to Unwind, Breathe Deeply and Connect.

Technology Limited Post


About a year ago, shortly after graduating from college, I moved to a remote educational farm in Northern California to work in the office. The technology at the farm is limited by city standards: there’s no cell phone reception of any kind out here (only landline phones) and while there is internet access, it’s also limited: slow satellite internet that’s only accessible from the office area.

I’ve head my generation referred to as “technology natives.” While I wasn’t born knowing how to use a computer like all those YouTube videos of 18-month-olds using iPads, I did install AOL on my dad’s computer in 1st grade using one of those free CD-ROMs from the grocery store. Because I grew up with technology and computers, and because I’m working at a place that seeks to provide a space where folks can take a break from it, I’ve truly seen life on both sides of the spectrum.

While many schools and businesses are working to expand their use of technology and computers, the farm strives to remain a relatively technology-free space. During our summer Family Camp programs, we limit the areas where folks can use their phones, tablets, laptops, etc. While there are a few grumbles, for most guests, it’s the one time of year when they’re truly able to separate from their devices and they relish it.We also don’t use technology during our outdoor educational programs for elementary school students, instead relying on reading, discussions, physical activities, and other teaching tools. Most of the schools seem to like this, often requesting that our educators not even discuss technology or media with their students.
On the one hand, I wonder about the wisdom of limiting kid’s technology usage—surely it puts them at a disadvantage, living in such a computer reliant world—kids really are the future, and some day, they’re going to have to know how to run the servers and fix the automated traffic lights. It seems counterintuitive to shelter kids from such a significant part of their communities. And, of course, computers are an excellent tool both for teaching and learning.

emandalbabyBut I’ve also watched kids revel in getting back to the basics, so to speak. I’ve witnessed kids spending hours reading books, hiking, swimming, and getting really dirty. I’ve watched kids fall under the spell of the animals, watched shy kids become more confident as they collect eggs from the chickens, and seen their pure joy as they spend hours picking wild blackberries.

I’ve realized that too much of anything can lead to oversaturation—we need books and computers, email and face-to-face communication. Balance is key, and while I don’t think we need to go the route of Ned Ludd and completely eschew technology, both kids and adults need to occasionally take some time to really unplug.

Whitney Donielson
Office Manager
Emandal Farm

Come on son, let’s go out for coffee so I can ignore you!

My 3 year old and I had an hour to burn between preschool and family swim at the Y, so we grabbed one of Richard Scarry’s (paper) books and headed to a coffee shop for some well-deserved organic chocolate milk.  We sat there for an hour reading, pointing at  pictures and talking about what we saw in the book.

There was another family in the comfy chair section with us, but their coffee shop experience was very different from ours.  It was a grandmother, mother and approximately 4 year old boy.  Both grandma and mom were doing something on their smart phones, and the boy…. well, he was just kind of there. He poked around and tried to climb up on his mom (she ignored him).  I offered to let him join in our storytime session, but he declined and hid behind his mother’s chair. He had one of the phones for awhile too, but whatever app he was using made horribly repetitive noises and I would have bet my bottom dollar it was neither age-appropriate nor book-based.

I can’t make crappy parents be good parents, but I can try to make information about good apps and eBooks for kids available to my community. If I can get the word out about good quality materials that are available on smart phones, then maybe that kid would have had a somewhat literary coffee shop experience rather than an empty time-wasting one.  I hope that mom reads to her child at home.  I have no way to know if she does.  If there was a digital option, would she be more likely to do it?  Should I have struck up a casual conversation and said “Hey, do you know about Smart Apps for Kids? They’ll send you an email when there’s a good educational app available for free! The library also has some eBooks you can read with your kid on your phone!” Were there cultural, educational or socio-economic reasons why that mom was ignoring her kid and handing him a piece of technology ? How do we transcend those?

Parents should be reading to their children.  Period.  If it doesn’t happen much with paper books, for whatever reason, then let’s find another way to help them do it. The people who don’t understand the importance of reading to their kids are not coming to the library.  Let’s get it out into the community!

How do we do that? Digital storytelling outreach at First 5 centres? Churches? Community centres? Day worker organizations?  The devices are out there.  They are being used to shut kids up.  That’s far from ideal, but maybe we could get some books on those phones, and maybe moms like coffee shop mom would offer books to her kid instead of something violent or overly commercial.

Let’s get out of our ivory towers about this and deal with the way the people in our communities are actually using this technology, and then meet them there.

And let’s have a coffee while we’re at it.

AppleTV Learnings

I played around with my library’s AppleTV and I learned some things.

  1. The battery in the remote can die even if it just sits in the box most of the time.  This can be confusing when you try to get past the “Setting Date and Time” phase of the starting up process and you need to change the network you’re on and you can’t because the darn thing won’t respond.
  2. You have to pay the $60 to get a decent HDMI to VGA adaptor to work with projectors. You can’t hack together $3 HDMI/DVI cable to a DVI/VGA cable  (May be obvious to most people but I seem to have to learn things the hard way).
  3. Update software for  both AppleTV and iPad to get full functionality.
  4. The dudes at Fry’s can’t test your AppleTV remote for you without a big manager dude present.

Field Notes: Introducing New Apps

photo by mitikusa: parent who’s been asked to read the same picture book 20 times in a row understands that young children can be creatures of habit and like repetition. I’ve found the same to be true with ebooks and apps – my son tends to use the same few over and over and over. For the sake of Mommy’s sanity and to help him branch out a little bit from time to time, I’ve tried some different methods for introducing him to new apps.

For the record, the obvious approach (“Look, we have a new ebook! Want to try it?”) absolutely does not work with my kid. It only generates resistance. I’ve found that similar approaches work for introducing ebooks as for print. When we get new books, I just put them in the big pile of books on my son’s bed and let him discover them for himself. He’ll ignore them for awhile, but eventually will pick them up and browse through. With ebooks and apps, I put new ones into his folder on my iPad and just wait for him to realize they are there. At first he’ll open the app, look around for a minute and then abandon it. Gradually he’ll spend more time exploring each time he opens it, and within a week or so, if he likes it, it’s become part of his regular rotation.

If I’m really excited about a new app and don’t have the patience to wait for him to discover it on his own, the surefire method for getting his interest is to let him see me using the app. I just wait until he’s out of the room, open it up and start reading. He can’t resist the lure of the iPad, so as soon as he sees me using it he’ll come sit with me and check out whatever I’m doing. The first chance he gets  he’ll take over and start exploring on his own.

How about you? Do your kids take easily to new apps and ebooks? How do you get them to try new things?

(photo courtesy of mitikusa)