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.
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
How do we decide what gets pinned to the Little eLit Pinterest boards?
Look to the name of the Pinterest board where an app is pinned for your first clue. The apps we are pinning to the Pinterest preschool storytime board, for example, are apps we have used in storytime, or would be appropriate for use in the storytime setting. Each app is accompanied by metadata that draws attention to a variety of important elements including: interactive features (very important), contribution to early literacy (based on the ECRR skills and practices), age-appropriateness, quality of app (story, images, features, etc.), functionality, kid-appeal, etc. You’ll find reference to these elements in the metadata. At the top of each board, you’ll find a key to the metadata so we didn’t have to use up our 500 word limit with repeated text. (The Pinterest platform has a few limitations!)
For example, the “Apps for STORYtime: Preschool” board looks like this:
For each app, we include:
- Title = What is the full title of the app?
- Developer = Who developed the app? Who created the original book, if applicable?
- OS/Device = Is the app for an iPhone and/or an iPad? Is there an Android or Kindle version? Is there another version?
- Storytime Use = How would you use the with kids in the storytime setting? Does the app incorporate any ECRR skills or practices? Is it a STEM/STEAM activity?
- Technical Notes = Are there any technical details that are important to using the app with kids? Are there in-app purchases and/or in-app ads? Are there parent settings? Is personal data being collected? Are there any navigation issues? Are there any special technical needs?
- Cost at Time of Review = Costs can vary, but what is the estimated cost of the app? An estimated cost can be helpful for board users.
- Age = What is the approximate age for which the app is appropriate? (the app will be pinned to multiple boards if applicable to multiple age groups)
Choosing appropriate apps is not unlike choosing other storytime components, but it is sometimes harder to do because of the sheer volume of apps on the market, the added technology component, and the relatively new use of apps in storytime. This metadata, along with the actual apps we’ve selected, can help librarians find apps perfect for storytime. Part of our effort is to connect librarians with apps to try, as well as to connect librarians with other librarians who can share their experience with the apps and use of interactive digital media in storytime or other programs.
In libraries and schools across worldwide, librarians are integrating interactive digital media into their collections, programs, and advisory services. Recognizing the widespread use of a rapidly expanding array of technology tools–useful for collaboration, learning, and discovery–these pioneers are doing what they do best. They’re using their professional experience to identify quality content; select new tools for use in their programs; model how to use materials with kids; help kids and adults navigate the broadening information landscape; and promote literacy across media.
We’ve talked a lot on the Little eLit blog about the use of apps in preschool storytimes and with kids of all ages. Librarians are sharing their individual experiences using interactive digital media with kids, both here and across the web. Search the Internet and you’ll find librarians and educators testing apps and digital media of all kinds with kids, recognizing that the interactive digital media of today is not the passive media of yesterday.
It’s time to share what we know and what we’ve tested with each other on a broader scale. Librarians already using apps in storytimes, and those interested in incorporating new tools and content into their library programs and collections, need to hear from others about what’s good and what works. Let’s sift through the exploding abundance of digital media available for kids and families and put our “appvisory” skills to work.
And let’s do it in one place.
Little eLit has organized a team of librarians to create a series of boards on Pinterest.com to collect field-tested apps for preschoolers, toddlers, and elementary age kids. With each pinned app, we’re including easy-to-use metadata along with the representative image so librarians, educators, and parents can find out about an app’s suggested storytime use, its value in early literacy, or what makes it a great app for elementary-age programs. We also have some boards for “anytime” apps that might be excellent, but may not be program material.
We need your help to fill these boards with apps field-tested in storytimes and in elementary programs. Check out our Pinterest how-to!
Will you help us?
If you’re using digital media in your library and you’re a Pinterest user (or want to be one),
contact us and we’ll get you pinning!