Whether stated or not, the implication for the apps loaded onto the iPads in the library are that these are librarian selected apps. The resources and skills that we use for choosing material in traditional formats can be directly applied to app selection. Many of the review journals we trust for recommendations have already begun including app reviews. Using the tools at our disposal, we can narrow down the selection of literacy apps, but many review sites make no distinctions between a great app for one-on-one use, apps for use in storytime, and apps that give the best experience when mounted in the space. That’s when we have to step in as librarians and evaluate the best apps for our early literacy spaces. When evaluating apps for use on an installed iPad, there are a few selection criteria I like to keep in mind.
Avoid advertising and don’t get stuck. Some free apps can get “stuck” on a parent information screen or attempting to connect to the iTunes store, or may contain age-inappropriate advertising. Because most mounts provide no home button access, I look for apps where there is little or no opportunity to become stuck.
Watch out for vertical orientation or “tilting.” Unless you’re mounting an iPad on a spinning or movable mount, watch out for vertical apps. Several great apps, Nursery Rhymes and Go Away Big Green Monster, use a vertical orientation and are therefore better suited for storytime use than in a horizontal mount. Other stories, like Nosy Crow’s Little Red Riding Hood, ask users to tilt the device to complete an activity which may frustrate young users when iPads are in stationary mounts.
Choose interactive apps for use on interactive technology. I think it’s valuable to select apps that offer a high level of interactivity and a variety of activities. Some free apps only make one image or activity available, which doesn’t provide as rich an experience as Lingo Zoo, for example. I prefer not to purchase apps which provide almost no interactivity–for example, those that provide a comparable experience to watching a video. We already offer Bookflix, ebooks, and videos for checkout or viewing on the Kids’ computers, so I prefer a more interactive experience on the iPads rather than a passive one.
Look for intuitive navigation. I look for apps that are intuitive for children to navigate with or without their caregivers. Some apps require a caregiver to adjust settings or to navigate from screen to screen and lend themselves better to a guided experience. Caregivers and children should be able to sit down and dive right into the experience without requiring tutorial or written instructions. Make It Pop is an excellent example of intuitive navigation.
Putting the time into selecting apps suitable for use in your children’s space will pay off in reduced frustration for both patrons and staff. Tablet technology, like all the interactive elements of children’s library design, can be a great tool for encouraging early literacy behaviors and caregiver engagement.
Good luck and have fun!Amanda Foulk is a Youth Services Librarian at Sacramento Public Library. She became passionate about children and technology when her branch was chosen to pilot early literacy iPads for the Sacramento Public Library system, and has always been opinionated about quality content for children in any format. She can be reached with questions or comments at email@example.com.
So you have new media in your storytimes and other library programming, but what about incorporating into your children’s spaces?
Since their first pilot in October 2012, Sacramento Public Library has installed early literacy iPads into the Kids’ Spaces at four library branches and in a pop-up library project cosponsored by the library and News10. With each pilot program we’ve learned new tips and tricks for getting the most out of tablet technology in our libraries.
Digital literacy is part of early literacy. We have puppet theaters and writing tables, block bins and early literacy computer stations, so why not include iPads into the design for our children’s areas? A number of the programs that we use extensively in our early literacy programming, such as Every Child Ready to Read and Mother Goose on the Loose, are incorporating new media into their programs. The National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media put out a joint position statement in January of 2012 with recommendations for using technology with young children. One of the key messages of that position statement was the need for “information and resources to effectively select, use, integrate, and evaluate technology and interactive media tools in intentional and developmentally appropriate ways.” Children today are increasingly more familiar with technology, whether libraries are a part of it or not. And we need to be part of it. Because providing information and resources to select content for children is central to what we do as children’s librarians.
Parents, teachers, and even app developers are looking for guidance. There are so many “educational” apps out there for children, it can be completely overwhelming. Immediately after we installed the first iPads at South Natomas, we had parents asking for information on the app being featured. There are parents who care about what content they’re giving their children, and they’re looking for recommendations. Librarians are already giving quality advice about which board books or picture books are appropriate for their young children, and we can be just as comfortable giving a great app recommendation. Parents will put their smartphones and tablets into the hands of their young children. Having iPads in the library gives us credibility to recommend good content and best practices for the use of that technology.
Having early literacy iPads in our library supports our goals of promoting literacy. The iPads, like the AWE early literacy stations, are engaging. They attract families to the language-rich early literacy spaces that we’re creating and encourage children to engage with each other, with the technology, and with their caregivers. By loading high quality, developmentally appropriate apps we encourage children to engage in talking, reading, writing, singing, and playing – the behaviors that will help them build a strong foundation for learning to read later in life. When they touch a balloon in “Make It Pop,” it increases their awareness of the alphabet. When they trace a letter in “LetterSchool” it prepares them to be able to write their own name.
By installing early literacy iPads with librarian-selected content in the library, we’re also providing access to all of our families, not just those who can afford to have an iPad at home. With the increased likelihood that children will encounter tablet technology in educational settings, there is a need to address the “digital divide” between children from higher-income and lower-income families.
Whether you’re looking to update your existing children’s area, or designing a new language-rich kids’ learning space, consider incorporating interactive technology to encourage early literacy and digital literacy for all your families.Amanda Foulk is a Youth Services Librarian at Sacramento Public Library. She became passionate about children and technology when her branch was chosen to pilot early literacy iPads for the Sacramento Public Library system, and has always been opinionated about quality content for children in any format. She can be reached with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.