A wise and funny colleague of mine once used the word “wormholing” to refer to the blank, zombie-like expression on his baby’s face when the child was exposed to a television show. That face is a really good indicator that the child’s brain is not learning anything. That face is what the good doctors Frederick J. Zimmerman, Dimitri A. Christakis, and Andrew N. Meltzoff took issue with in the Baby Einstein debacle. That’s passive screen time face.
That’s not what we’re doing here.
Wormholing generally doesn’t happen in any of my programs, and I hope it doesn’t happen in yours either. The reason wormholing doesn’t happen in storytimes, even if digital tools are involved, is because storytime is an interactive, wiggly, musical, multi-sensory literacy-supporting extravaganza. Adding a flannel board that happens to be digital does not change that, nor does showcasing a great new book app for which the library also has circulating paper copies. That said, it is very important to take into account current recommendations about screen time for very young children, and to make parents aware of those recommendations.
My son didn’t see a lit screen until after his 2nd birthday, and I don’t just use technology in my programs for technology’s sake. If there are under 2s in the crowd I tell parents about the position statements of the AAP and NAEYC and remind them that the program is geared for preschoolers (or whatever age group I’m aiming for.) I model healthy media behavior and tell parents that the interaction they can have with their children and an iPad is a co-reading experience, or Joint Media Engagement, and is NOT an electronic babysitter. I tell them that I’m showing them some of the really high quality stuff that is available to them through the devices they already use (a service similar to book recommendations). I use digital felt boards, books, apps and presentation software and gear my content to my crowd. I make them wiggle when they need to wiggle, and I read or tell stories in whatever format works best for that program. Storytimes that incorporate digital media are still interactions with caring, knowledgeable adults; they still foster the love of reading; and they still support the development of early literacy skills.
It occurred to me that there really are two different uses for the “digital storytelling” tools that I’ve been proselytizing: A) high quality digital content (appvisory!), and B) presentation tools. The former is age specific and requires the evaluation skills of a librarian (or educator) to decide what content is appropriate for what program in what community. The latter is just professional presentation skills. Often a digital storytelling program is a combination of the two, but in the case of 2s and under, sometimes all you’re going to do is use your mirrored iPad as a presentation tool to facilitate learning for the parents (who, as we all repeat extensively, are their child’s first teachers). This does not mean you’re exposing babies to more screen time by showing them how to “pop” the blackberries in Peter Rabbit; it means you can be displaying lyrics, resources or other material for sleep deprived caretakers and helping them learn skills to support their babies’ development. You can be providing visual cues in addition to aural so parents and babies know when it’s time to get up and dance. I used to use whiteboards, flip charts and PowerPoint presentations for that. Now it’s much easier to use my ipad.
As with anything else in life, I try to use the best tool for the job. To teach new songs, I use my voice, my flute, and lyrics and pictures on a screen so parents can sing along right away. To ensure that everyone in the room can see a book (The Going To Bed Book, for example) I use the app mirrored on a large screen. To learn new nursery rhymes I use Rosemary Wells’ My Very First Mother Goose (paper!) and to re-focus energy I use finger and body movements.
Digital tools are just that; tools. Use them when they’re appropriate, don’t use them when they’re not, and for goodness sake, don’t wormhole any babies!