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.