Category Archives: Research

Help with a Parent Video Game Survey!

We here at Little eLit are always on the lookout for research that can help paint a realistic picture of this new media landscape with children. To that end, when we see research in progress that needs input or survey participants, we want to help out! We’ll all make better decisions and create more realistic best practices if we have a solid picture of this landscape. Which means you should give your input whenever you’re eligible. 

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logoAre you the parent or guardian of a child between 4 and 13 years of age? Do your children play video games? If so, you are eligible to take a survey about digital games and family life, co-sponsored by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and Arizona State University. Parents who complete the survey will have a chance to win a $50 gift card to Amazon.com.

Click here if you’d like to take the survey.

The Digital Games and Family Life Survey will be the first of its kind to gain a sense of the role that digital games are playing in modern family life and routines, across both place and time. Past surveys of digital games have typically queried adults separately from children, or asked parents about their children’s gameplay, but not about their own. This new survey will reconcile these two worlds of gameplay by recognizing that today’s parents grew up playing digital games and that their histories and relationships with them inevitably shape their parenting around their children’s gameplay.

The Cooney Center and ASU are seeking parents of children ages 4 through 13 to take the Digital Games and Family Life Survey. We will keep the survey open for about a month and release a report in Spring 2014. Here are just some of the research questions this survey will address:

  • To what extent have digital games permeated family routines and rituals, or become essential aspects of family life?
  • Where exactly do parents draw the line between what is an acceptable level of violence in digital games and what is not?
  • What do parents see as negative effects of their children’s digital game play? What do they see as positive effects?
  • To what extent are digital games replacing board games in family entertainment routines?
  • What do parents think about the role of digital games in school? What about other types of learning?
  • How might parent perceptions of digital games differ by theme, context of play, and purpose of play?
  • How do parents’ digital game practices (past and present) intersect with their children’s game play?
  • How might all of the above vary by child, parent, and family characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity, income, parent marital status, and number of siblings?

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Go to, dear reader, and let your experience and opinion be known! There is no better way to shape practice than by informing understanding of a topic. Your input is incredibly valuable.

Thoughts on a Conversation with Dimitri Christakis, by Claudia Haines

Over the past year I have been researching the use of digital media with kids, and in particular interactive media. I wanted to know more about integrating interactive or new media into library programs with kids, particularly those under the age 8. As my research intensified over the last couple of months and I began to experiment with apps and other digital media in storytime and other programs, one name appeared over and over again; that of Dimitri Christakis, self-labeled “pediatrician, researcher, and parent,”* director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and a professor at the University of Washington, School of Medicine.

Dimitri’s research and comments popped up in a variety of articles, books, and websites about early childhood development, kids, and digital media. I don’t often contact researchers I discover in my research, so what made me contact him? Some of his quotes were used to suggest that the interactive media found in many apps can provide quality experiences for young kids and that content, and not just quantity of time using digital devices, is an important factor. Dimitri’s quotes were also found in popular articles with conflicting claims that digital media is bad for kids. Period.

As a prominent researcher in the field of early childhood development and someone who has spent a lot of time looking at the environmental factors that affect development, Dimitri seemed like the person who could help me better understand the research, however little there is, and hopefully guide my work with new media in storytime at my library.

A few weeks ago I had a chance to speak with Dimitri. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation:

Research on Interactive Media

Dimitri confirmed what I had found in my search. There are no big studies that have specifically looked into interactive media at this point. Research can’t keep up with the technological developments that have come about in the past couple of years. He did suggest that there is some past research we can use to thoughtfully predict the impact of interactive media. Research using computer models (games and activities) with kids can apply to the apps and digital media on the market today. (Dimitri referenced research by Georgetown University’s Children’s Digital Media Center, which can be found in the journal article “Contingent computer interactions for young children’s object retrieval success.”) Unfortunately, this research is not often cited in the arguments against use of apps and other digital media. The research investigating only the effects of television is.

Librarians, educators, and caregivers will be happy to hear that Dimitri and other researchers are, however, undertaking studies involving interactive media (like apps) with babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and older kids.

Interactive vs. Passive Media

Dimitri and I both agreed that apps, and interactive media, are different than some television and other passive media, the focus of much of the research related to young kids and media. Based on previous research and what is known about early childhood development, Dimitri felt that interactive media most likely does not have the negative effects associated with most passive media.

Apps With Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

From what is known specifically about brain development and generally about early childhood development in babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and older kids, Dimitri felt strongly about not using passive media with infants. His own research, “The effects of infant media usage: what do we know and what should we learn?” has supported this. Interactive media, again, is different and will have different effects on children at different stages of development. It may be harmless for babies–the subject of his current research–but Dimitri couldn’t say it was beneficial.

For older children, the story is different. Apps and interactive media can be positive, especially when content is strongly considered along with the quantity of time a child spends with digital media. Quality content and the age appropriate amount of time using a device equals a healthy media diet. As Dimitri said, “Carrots are good for you, but too many can be bad for you.”

Librarians and New Media:

Dimitri and I then talked about one of my biggest questions: With more than a million apps on the market (900,000 in the Apple Store), many of which are targeted as educational apps for kids, how does a parent, educator, or librarian know what app is developmentally appropriate and what has good content?

After our discussion about research, Dimitri and I talked about the reality of helping families navigate the world of interactive media, the role of librarians, and the work being done at littleelit.com. While I don’t think Dimitri has much considered the role of librarians in the new media conversation, he is a library fan. We both agreed that librarians have credibility with families and caregivers in the world of information. Using their professional experience, librarians already sift through media selecting the high quality books, audiobooks, movies, and more that are appropriate for their library’s community. When it comes to apps and other digital content, librarians can again have a role. Librarians can offer help with digital literacy; not just helping families learn how to use the Internet or a device, but also helping kids and caregivers select high quality content and how to do that on their own. Modeling how to use media, regardless of whether it is paper or digital, and “appvisory” are important in helping families with digital literacy in the changing information landscape.

In grad school I played a small part in a multi-year, early literacy research project which involved children’s librarians from a collection of public libraries. It made me think more about the reciprocal relationship that is possible between public libraries and researchers. Research is relevant to the day-to-day work in public libraries as children’s librarians put into action the findings about child development, early literacy, and literacy of all kinds. What may not be as obvious is the opportunity public libraries (and children’s librarians) offer for researchers to see how something like interactive media works with families in action, in real life, in storytime. Talking with Dimitri about interactive media and the newly evolving research brought me back to the idea of using libraries for research labs and I hope researchers consider not just schools, but also public libraries for more of their future endeavors.

For now, I look forward to navigating the world of interactive media with kids of all ages and their families; critically searching for quality content, confidently encouraging joint media engagement and a healthy media diet, and enthusiastically teaching families how to choose the media that is right for them.

* “TEDxRainier – Dimitri Christakis – Media and Children,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoT7qH_uVNo.

The IMLS Growing Young Minds report, by Claudia Haines

In its recent call to action, Growing Young Minds : How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners, the IMLS identifies ten key ways libraries and museums can use their valuable roles to further community efforts in early literacy. As cornerstones or their communities large and small and trustworthy resources, libraries and museums are in a unique position to invigorate and foster new ways to boost literacy. The report recognizes this and includes examples of dynamic ways both kinds of organizations are making it happen.

If you’re wondering how new media is reflected in the report, check out #6 in the ten ways museums and libraries support community efforts. What’s missing? How public librarians can positively influence the use of digital media in literacy, along with their school counterparts.

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

Balanced, Current, and Revelant, Part II: A Short, Sweet Literature Review, by Tess Prendergast

If you read Part I, you will know I went pretty hard at this notion of whether the AAP might actually be qualified to make decisions about early literacy learning. Put simply, pediatricians are not qualified to make those kinds of recommendations, and we have many other experts to go to to help us make decisions on this topic. Moreover, even if you tend to be wary of digital technology, it is important to not let this barrage of ambiguous and conflicting data overwhelm you so much that you freeze and choose not to do anything at all. The world will indeed go on without your decision, but it may be a loss to the communities you serve that you did not actually decide to do anything about digital technology. The available research is reassuring enough: digital tech tools can (and do) support early learning across many contexts, and just because there is scant research about library contexts does not mean we cannot proceed with confidence. Much of what we learn, we learn as we observe real life. This is just as important for our practice as double-blind studies, in my opinion.

On the other hand, if you are very keen on technology, it is just as important to not just dive in willy-nilly and hope that what you come up with is going to meet your goals. We all need intentional, deliberate, and thoughtful applications of what we know so far about how technology can support children and families. As professionals, it is critical that we know what these tools are all about and that we be capable and comfortable navigating the ambiguity found in this field of early childhood.

The following is a short, hopefully readable literature review of some of the academic pieces that have helped to inform my evolving knowledge about technology and early childhood. As I mentioned, none of it is from the library field, so we must also understand the contextual differences therein. That being said, I think these authors are worth familiarizing ourselves with. They have a lot to say on this topic, and we should be listening.

In “A is for avatar: Young children in the literacy 2.0 worlds and literacy 1.0 schools,” author Karen Wohlwend emphasizes the concept of play. This short and highly recommended article emphasized play; this is early childhood we are talking about, and most of us agree on the importance of play. She says:

Children pretend their way into literacies by “playing at” using computers, iPads, or cell phones as they try on technologically savvy user identities.

In this short, very readable piece, Wohlwend also contends with the digital divide and promotes the idea that the early childhood classroom is the ideal place for disadvantaged children to engage with the digital media that shapes communication in the world today.

She also contends with the spectre of the “natural child” and how this idealized notion of childhood “distances our youngest learners from access to digital technologies that make up modern literacies.” She then says:

Questioning the common-place (just the way things are) and commonsensical (what we just know) allows us to see how our beliefs keep us compliant and complicit in maintaining the current ways of doing things in schools.

This same kind of questioning is what we as professional librarians need to be doing with regards to the kinds of mainstream early and family literacy messages we tend to spout. It is just not good enough to say that we are and have always been about “the best books for children.” We are about content, regardless of platform or media, and our job is to embrace it, evaluate it, and continue to provide the best services to families in our communities with regards to all content (books, apps, games etc).

Wohlwend continues:

At a minimum, we need policies that remove institutional barriers and actively support a permeable literacy curriculum that encourages young children to bring their cultural resources to school, including digital technologies and popular media.

The biggest barrier is the negative attitude about children and screens, though. Screens–meaning all this digital tech, games, iDevices, and other handhelds–can be viewed in both positive and negative light, simultaneously; a good critical educator (including librarians!) will be able to cope with this ambiguity and move forward with curricular and pedagogical choices that support literacy development without being detrimental in social and physical domains.

Wohlwend can be found on the web here, and she is the author of several books and articles about the role of play in early literacy development.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for librarians to consider the work of the UK scholar Jackie Marsh. In a 2004 article called “The techno-literacy practices of young children,” Marsh reports on her study of a group of young children’s “techno-literacy” practices. Building on the paradigm in which children are seen as “active meaning-makers,” she describes how her participants demonstrate varied avenues to learning literacy by their interactions and engagement with technology media such as television programs and video-games. Marsh identifies and confronts the intense focus still placed on literacy as a mainly print-based concept. She believes this focus has led to over-emphasizing formal, printed, and text-based reading and writing skills. She also believes the negative views of media in young children’s lives are largely unfounded and not reflective of what is revealed in the existing research.

In her 2004 study, Marsh found that families value the role that television plays in their children’s lives and that parents actively participate in their children’s engagement with the media text made available to them via shows such as Bob the Builder™. The parents in this study believed strongly that such television shows facilitate imaginative social and cognitive development. Marsh emphasizes the importance of non-print media, such as television, computers, and mobile phones, that children encounter in their non-school lives.

Marsh’s 2006 study, entitled “Emergent Media Literacy: Digital Animation in Early Childhood,” followed the work of a small group of 3 and 4 year olds who learned how to make stop-motion animation videos in their preschool. They used small toys, together with a digital camera and an animation program loaded onto a computer, to accomplish this task, and the results were impressive.

Finally, Jackie Marsh is co-editor (with Joanne Larson) of what I consider to be the most up-to-date, authoritative resource on early childhood literacy: The Sage Handbook of Early Childhood Literacy, Second edition ©2013. I own a copy, it cost a lot, and it weighs a ton. While I haven’t read the whole thing yet (talk to me next year!), Marsh, along with Karen Wohlwend and dozens of other early literacy scholars, have written chapters on a dizzying array of subtopics in early literacy, much of which is important for us, as practitioners, to know. However, for this topic I can tell you that the index shows that the term digital technology takes up an impressive amount of real estate in this volume. It is wrapped into discussions of play, home literacy learning, multimodality, and children’s writing, among other things. I think this is proof positive that this topic is here to stay, and if librarians really see ourselves as having a role to play in the support and development of early literacy in our communities, we are well advised to read all about it from the people who, so far, seem to know the most. Finally, as I mentioned before, it really is time for librarians and library scholars start conducting a whole lot more library-focussed research on this topic (and lots of other topics too) and telling everyone else all about it.

References:

  • Larson, J. & Marsh, J. (2013). The SAGE handbook of early childhood literacy (2nd ed.). London: Sage.
  • Marsh, J. (2004).The techno-literacy practices of young children. Early Childhood Research, 2, 51-66.
  • Marsh, J. (2006). Emergent Media Literacy: Digital Animation in Early Childhood. Language and Education 20, (6),493-506.
  • Wohlwend, K. (2010). Focus on Policy: A is for avatar: Young children in literacy 2.0 worlds and literacy 1.0 schools. Language Arts, 88, 144-152.
  • Wohlwend, K. E. (2013). Literacy playshop: new literacies, popular media, and play in the early childhood classroom. New York: Teacher’s College Press
  • Wohlwend, K.E. (n.d.) Teaching new literacies in PK-2 classrooms. Retrieved from: http://e339blog.blogspot.ca/
Tess Prendergast is a children’s librarian in Vancouver, Canada. She currently studies at the University of British Columbia in pursuit of a doctorate in the Department of Language and Literacy Education. She also blogs about early literacy and children with disabilities at www.inclusiveearlyliteracy.wordpress.com.

Balanced, Current, and Relevant, Part I, by Tess Prendergast

Question: Why is research about digital technology, young children and libraries so hard to find?

Answer: Because it has not even been written yet.

When children’s librarians approach the topic of digital technology’s place in early childhood, I think we need ways to “converge” what we learn from the available research with our own expertise and mandates. Despite the fact that we are information professionals, this convergence, in this divided field, is not at all an easy task. I am a children’s librarian with 17 years on the job. I am also halfway through a doctorate in early literacy, but I don’t claim to have all the answers or even any of the answers! What I do claim, however, is that what I have found to be most helpful and informative to me as an early literacy researcher has come from mostly qualitative research in the field of early childhood education. A lot of qualitative research tends not to “prove” anything because that is not its aim. It provides illustrative data drawn from real people’s lives, tied to important themes and issues that concern us all. We can and should learn from this kind of research as we move towards the goal of creating our own.

You might be thinking: But we are children’s librarians! We are not early childhood educators! And we are not all early literacy scholars either! Why don’t we just go to our own research? Well, there is the problem, staring us in the face. Our profession has very little research (qualitative or quantitative) about children and literacy, and even less on the impact of technology on young children. To date, information schools have just not generated the volume of research that early childhood librarians need to draw our own informed conclusions, based on our own contexts. Thus, we are forced to borrow heavily from other spheres, such as education and even medicine. While I acknowledge a great deal of common ground, children’s librarians, teachers, and doctors have different mandates. While valuable and respectable in their own right, wholesale application of these different paradigms’ research to public library contexts is not without its own hazards. One of those hazards makes itself so apparent in the current debate about screen/digital/tech use in storytime programs. The hazard is that librarians are not sure whose research should be used to make good, rational, thoughtful, 21st-century decisions for our public library work with young children. We literally have no research of our own to draw on, and what we borrow from varying camps may not fit nicely into our paradigms.

I definitely do not think that I have this a this all wrapped up, but here is what I think early years librarians need from whatever research we can find on this topic: Balance, Currency, and Relevance.

Balance: We need balanced research that clearly acknowledges the need to provide children with a range of opportunities from which to learn, opportunities which together help support their development across all domains, not just those of early literacy learning. Balanced research will emphasize the importance of human interactions in all early learning.

Currency: Current research will build on studies from the past to a certain extent, but truly current research will take into account contemporary, present day realities of children in our communities. Older research studies that tell us it is bad to have the television on all day are not useful in this conversation; we already know that. What we need to know is how contemporary children are experiencing contemporary technology (including television programs) in their lives. Our practices and decisions should be based on actual childhood, not ideal childhood.

Relevance: The data we draw on for making the best digital tech decisions in early literacy/library services for children should be relevant, meaning well-matched and appropriate to the contexts and realities of families who are most like those in our communities. I don’t just mean the ones we see in our libraries. We need to understand the realities of all the families in our communities, especially the ones we do not see in our libraries. We really need to see and understand research that is relevant to the realities of Western childhood, in all its diversity. This is not an easy task. Believe me when I say that you can spend many years studying children and you will only scratch the surface of all there is to learn from them and about them.

Right about now you might be saying: But we are working professionals and we are busy enough for goodness sake! How are we supposed to get a handle on all of this? In other words: Where to begin? And please don’t tell me I have to get a PhD to understand all of this!

For this particular topic (digital technology and early childhood) I recommend starting with the NAEYC–the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Their joint position statement with the Fred Rogers Center says (among other things):

  • When used intentionally and appropriately, technology and interactive media are effective tools to support learning and development.
  • Intentional use requires early childhood teachers and administrators to have information and resources regarding the nature of these tools and the implications of their use with children.
  • Limitations on the use of technology and media are important.
  • Special considerations must be given to the use of technology with infants and toddlers.
  • Attention to digital citizenship and equitable access is essential.
  • Ongoing research and professional development are needed.

Then, you may wish to compare that statement (read the whole statement, not just the summary I gave you) to this one from American Academy of Pediatrics about media and children. Again, read the whole thing, not just the snippet I have here.

Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.

By limiting screen time and offering educational media and non-electronic formats such as books, newspapers, and board games, and watching television with their children, parents can help guide their children’s media experience. Putting questionable content into context and teaching kids about advertising contributes to their media literacy.

The AAP recommends that parents establish “screen-free” zones at home by making sure there are no televisions, computers, or video games in children’s bedrooms, and by turning off the TV during dinner. Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.

Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.

Now I want you to think about these statements while considering the expertise of the people behind them regarding their collective knowledge about early childhood literacy & learning. I am pretty sure that the authors of the NAEYC statement all hold advanced degrees in education (or related fields), with specializations in early learning. Many of them have conducted and published their own research about various aspects of early childhood learning with actual children. Now remember, I said that wholesale adoption of their conclusions is not necessarily going to be a perfect fit for public libraries. However, given the choice between the education sphere and the medical sphere regarding something like early literacy, I feel pretty confident in my leaning towards education for a better fit. On the other hand, although no doubt well trained, pediatricians do not receive any specialized training in early literacy. For this reason alone, they are just not the “experts” I would go to first (or at all, actually) for help understanding any aspect of early literacy or learning. Personal experience with the copious quantities of early literacy research which I need to read, understand, critique, and synthesize in order to get my doctorate tells me that none of it has been written by a pediatrician. This not to say they are not out there, but none of the authors on my extensive and very authoritative course reading lists in early literacy have been pediatricians (or any other type of medical doctor).

Yes, pediatricians are concerned with the health of children, and research does suggest that excessive and/or inappropriate exposure to screens is unhealthy. I could have figured that out myself, but that has more to do with various aspects of my socioeconomic, educational, and cultural characteristics than any medical training I have or don’t have. All this to say, we all know the hazards of excessive screen use, for all ages. We do not need medical degrees to be authoritative with that statement. It is, for many of us (privileged and educated as we are) what we call “common sense.” Meanwhile, this AAP statement is being used as a blunt instrument by many who question the value or appropriateness of screens in early childhood. And, because medical doctors are mythologized as being much more than just very well trained professionals in their own fields of pediatrics (which they are), their opinions on such things as the appropriateness of digital technology in early childhood is taken as the only expert opinion we will ever need. Because a doctor said so…

On the other hand, educators–and by educators I mean those folks with those advanced and multiple degrees who work for National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) as well as many fine schools of education in universities across the Western world–not only have abundant training in early literacy, but they are the creators of a copious quantity of research on this specific, and very important, topic.

So, I want to ask you: Who do you trust more to help you make decisions about the place and value of digital technology in early childhood?

My next blog post will summarize what some of the “experts” in the early literacy field have been saying about digital technology in early childhood. Their work is real research. It is authoritative enough for me because these people are experts on this topic. I think we should be listening to them. Then, as a next step, we should get the library profession committed to the notion of generating much more of our own research from which to build and continually develop our own expertise and practice.

References:

Tess Prendergast is a children’s librarian in Vancouver, Canada. She currently studies at the University of British Columbia in pursuit of a doctorate in the Department of Language and Literacy Education. She also blogs about early literacy and children with disabilities at www.inclusiveearlyliteracy.wordpress.com.

One Laptop Per Child: An experiment with library connections, by Anne Hicks

One Laptop Per Child is a non-profit organization whose stated goal is to “empower the world’s poorest children through education.” They provide children with durable and low cost laptops in the hopes that they will be engaged in their own education and will benefit from self-promoted learning.

OLPC is currently in the midst of a two year experiment in which they have given 40 tablets to the children of two remote Ethiopian villages. The research experiment, titled the Reading Project, looks to see how the children will learn solely through the use of the tablets. With no access to qualified teachers, the hope is that these illiterate children (all of whom have had no exposure to the written word) will gain literacy skills through self-directed exploration of the tablets.

Each device is preloaded with literacy themed apps, eBooks, and educational games. The adults in the village were taught how to recharge the tablets using a solar powered charging system. Once a week technicians return to the village to exchange memory cards that allow the researchers to track how the devices have been used.

At MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Conference held in October of 2012, OLPC’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte provided some early results:

After several months, the kids in both villages were still heavily engaged in using and recharging the machines, and had been observed reciting the “alphabet song,” and even spelling words. One boy, exposed to literacy games with animal pictures, opened up a paint program and wrote the word “Lion.”

Let me remind you that these children had never even seen print before. Ever. Now they are spelling!

The study is ongoing and Negroponte himself says it’s too early to tell if the children will actually be able to teach themselves how to read. It is promising that in a part of the world where children do not have access to schooling, they are able to gain valuable literacy skills.

How does this relate to what we do as Children’s Librarians? Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting we recommend parents and caregivers just hand a child an iPad and expect it to instill a love of reading. I believe that the OLPC experiment demonstrates that tablets can be powerful tools for promoting literacy. Imagine how much more powerful they would be with a librarian recommending high quality apps and eBooks and demonstrating how best to use these devices with children. We should feel inspired by these new possibilities, not scared of them.

Curious to see some video of the children using their devices?

To read more about the Reading Project, visit MIT Technology Review and the OLPC blog.

For some ideas on how to incorporate apps into your storytimes, visit my blog Anne’s Library Life.

Anne Hicks
Children’s Librarian
Henrietta Public Library

Content, Context and the Individual Child

Great article from NAEYC by Lisa Guernsey entitled How True Are Our Assumptions about Screen Time?

The article debunks 5 common assumptions about screen time through an examination of scholarly research.  I felt myself alternately nodding wisely while musing:

“Fascinating.  I shall use this information in my programs. How interesting that study was! Content, Context and the individual child, what wonderful and useful alliteration! How lovely!”

And rolling my eyes and thinking:

“WTF? There are parents who let their 4 year olds watch CSI? What is WRONG with these people? Some parents still think that TV teaches their kid how to do things? They think that violent or scary movies won’t affect their preschoolers, even though they’re specifically designed to freak the f^c7 out of people?”

Views on children’s media consumption are so polarized it’s mind boggling. I rant regularly about die-hard luddite librarian-types who think children should never look at a screen EVER, and that even book-based apps have no place in a library; and then I read something like this which respectfully recounts the straight-up stupid assumptions and decisions some parents make about the media they expose their children to. I realize there are huge socioeconomic and educational factors that can account for these differences, and that it is part of my job as a librarian and digital literacy advocate to provide information and resources to both ends of the spectrum.  But come ON.  CSI?!

My big take-away from this article is the aforementioned cleverly alliterated “Content, Context and individual Child.” What matters is how the screen is used; that the content is age-appropriate, there is context enough for the child to learn something from the content, and that the child’s interests and abilities are respected.  Below are some excerpts that I felt were particularly relevant to interactive media (much of the article focused on television).

Assumption 3: All media for children under age 2 is damaging.

What the research shows: If parents use media with children under 2, they should make sure that screen time leads to social interactions with their babies and toddlers, instead of replacing those interactions. Parents should avoid exposing their very young children to adult-directed programming.

But the fact is that many children under 2 do use screen media, so some researchers point to the value of paying attention to how those families select and use that media. Researchers are coming to agree:  How parents approach media matters. For example, Alan Mendelsohn, a pediatrician and researcher at New York University, has shown that negative impacts typically associated with television watching can be lessened when parents talk to their babies about what they are seeing on screen (Mendelsohn 2010).

But the fact is that many children under 2 do use screen media, so some researchers point to the value of paying attention to how those families select and use that media. Researchers are coming to agree:  How parents approach media matters. For example, Alan Mendelsohn, a pediatrician and researcher at New York University, has shown that negative impacts typically associated with television watching can be lessened when parents talk to their babies about what they are seeing on screen (Mendelsohn 2010).

[Cen’s gut reaction: “Babies should NOT watch TV! I don’t care how much you talk to them while they’re doing it. All you’re doing is damage control if you do that.  It’s NOT educational.  If you’re going to sit your less-than-2 year old in front of a TV, just own up to the fact that you’re doing it to keep them from shoving a walnut up their nose or falling down the stairs while you get the dishes done.]

Assumption 5: E-books are distracting to young children.

What the research shows: It’s all about how they are used.

It’s true that many e-books for children come with so many bells and whistles that children merely click around on the screen without paying much attention to the storyline. It’s also true that some research has uncovered parents’ tendencies to focus on the technology (telling their kids when and where to click) and not the story when reading an e-book with their children. This is leading children to recall very little about what was read. In a small study conducted at Temple University, for example, “behavioral directives went through the roof” while reading comprehension sunk (Parish-Morris, Collins, & Hirsh-Pasek 2006).

But after reading these studies carefully, it becomes clear that at least two factors are at play: the design of the e-books and the behavior of the parents. Tackle these issues, and electronic books could be no different or better than printed books. Some e-book companies, for example, are designing picture e-books to favor highlighted text and engaging storylines over distracting playthings. As e-books become less of a novelty, parents may also become less inclined to order their children around on how to use them. A more positive approach to e-books, however, will require parents and educators to stress the importance of content, context, and the individual child (the Three C’s) in choosing media for our children.

Note: Technology changes quickly. Use the research-based NAEYC/Fred Rogers Center position statement on “Technology and Interactive Media in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8” for guidance on when and how to use technology with young children in ways that will help, not harm. www.naeyc.org/content/technology-and-young-children.

Mr Rogers!

Who remembers Mr Rogers?

The Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College mission is “ to advance the fields of early learning and children’s media by acting as a catalyst for communication, collaboration, and creative change.” 

They concentrate their efforts on children from birth to age 5, and they have a great searchable database for key individuals, organizations, publications, and media sources related to early learning, early childhood development, and children’s media.  There are also downloadable publications on Children and Media, Play and Learn Apps and useful external links.

Research Source: Saroj Ghoting, Early Childhood Literacy Consultant

A colleague directed me to the website of a Library consultant by the name of Saroj Ghoting.  She has fabulous resources available for Storytimes, Every Child Ready to Read®, Summer Reading Club, Handouts, Trainings and loads more.  She also  has a research section tucked away under the Resources section of the website, and I was pleased to see a whole section dedicated to Media and Language Development (see below).  Especially interesting is the paper presented by the NAEYC and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media.

Effect of Media Viewing on Language Development
Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8: A Joint Position Statement by NAEYC and Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children Media at Saint Vincent College (2012)
Want a Brainer Baby?
Baby Einsteins: Not So Smart After All
Associations between Media Viewing and Language Development on Children Under Age 2 Years by Frederick Zimmerman et al. (abstract).
Brief Exposure to Mandarin Can Help American Infants Learn Chinese
Educational Videos Drain Baby Brains
Television Watching: Practical Advice for Parents of Young Children (Hanen Centre)
Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years (American Association of Pediatrics Pediatrics online October 17, 2011 DOI: 10.1542/pes.2011-1753)
Children’s Media Use in America: Zero to Eight Common Sense Media, Fall 2011
Child’s Play: Should Preschoolers Engage with Technology or Good-Old Fashioned Fun? Preschool Matters Today, National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) blog summer 2011

Research on iPads in Kindergarden

I’m starting to see research studies pop up that support the use of electronic media (usually iPads) with young children.  One that caught my eye recently was the Advantage 2014 program in Auburn, Maine.  This program began in September 2011 and gave each child an iPad for instructional use in the classroom.  Half of the kindergarden classrooms received their iPads in September, and half received traditional teaching methods until they received their iPads in December.  When you look at the research summary, the results are not startling, but they are consistent. There are naysayers who attribute the increased performance in the experimental group to the shinyness of a new toy, and they speculate that these kind of results will normalize over time.  Maybe so.  I can’t wait to see what other research comes out in the next few years.  One thing that really rang my bell was that the largest gain in this study was in phonemic awareness.  So cool!

They also include a Rubric for evaluating apps for children which is going to be very useful for me as I stomp off into the brave new world of App/eBook collection development.