Exactly one year ago (on Feb. 4, 2013!) I received an email from Tess Prendergast introducing me to Cen Campbell, her colleague and friend because, “She has some great ideas about librarians’ potential role in helping parents navigate the digital world as they support their kids’ learning. She already loves and uses Mother Goose on the Loose and wants to open a discussion with you!”
Following that, Cen emailed, saying that she had been using MGOL as a resource for years and had also been developing techniques for using apps and eBooks in storytimes and advocating that others do the same. She asked how I felt about mobile technology, and I replied:
“Technology can be great if used in the right way. I have refused to produce MGOL training videos thus far, because the whole point of MGOL is to get the parent to physically interact with their child and PLAY with their child. I am afraid that if I created a video it would end up becoming a program that parents play on their video player for their child to watch. That being said, my niece raves about a librarian named Eric in Washington DC who uses his iPad during MGOL to show actual photos of the animals after singing ‘I went to visit the farm one day.’ The kids can listen to actual animal sounds and mimic them rather than simply saying words that represent the animal sounds such as “Moo, moo, moo.” I liked that idea so much that I went out and bought an iPad and looked for an app for that. I found something that almost worked, but I cracked my iPad screen before I had a chance to play more with it or to actually use it in programs!”
This led to lively email conversations with Cen. She asked if I would be willing to present a workshop with her called Goose 2.0: Incorporating digital media into Mother Goose on the Loose. I told Cen I’d prefer to wait until we met in person before making a decision, after all, we did not yet know if we had any personal chemistry. Cen asked if she could blog that we were thinking about presenting a Goose 2.0 workshop and I agreed; right after her post appeared two people asked if they could book us! I said “yes”, and it was a good decision. (We definitely have the personal chemistry and our workshops have thus far gotten rave reviews.)
Cen then asked if I had ever considered creating a MGOL app. I only had limited app experience and could not even understand what an MGOL app would be! Via Google hang-out, Cen introduced me to Mindy and Dave Douglas, the Software Smoothie app developers. Mindy was a former preschool and drama teacher who is now a mother of seven and working at home as an app developer. She shared my philosophy about appropriate practices for using technology with children. We decided to create an app that we felt would be beneficial for the youngest children, those who attend MGOL programs.
Mindy and I shared thoughts on parenting, on education, on nursery rhymes, on the importance of parent-child interaction and play, on the need to inspire imagination, and on the desire to have our app be used by as many people as possible. Mindy’s husband, Dave, wrote the code for the app. Together, we created the Felt Board – Mother Goose on the Loose app.
We selected a variety of nursery rhymes, some well-known and others not. I sent Mindy the MGOL flannel board templates created by the extremely talented Celia Yitzhak (who also happens to be my sister!) and Mindy converted them into electronic felt board pieces. We enlisted a group of volunteers (mostly children’s librarians!) to test the app as it was being built and to offer feedback.
Our final product, Felt Board – Mother Goose on the Loose, is an app that I am extremely proud of. It leads users through a number of levels:
First, children with their parents choose a nursery rhyme and the characters to go along with it. Then, they press the icon for sound, and they manipulate the characters as the rhyme is recited (FINE MOTOR SKILLS – a first step to WRITING). Once they learn the words (VOCABULARY), they no longer need to use the icon; they can recite the rhyme on their own. (USING WORDS AND COMMUNICATING). Then, when they are ready to advance to the next step, they can use the characters to create their own stories, even combining characters from different rhymes (EXERCISING THE IMAGINATION, PLAY, and NARRATIVE SKILLS).
One of the icons plays a song in Spanish, and an icon on the top leads to pages for adults that explain how the rhymes can be expanded beyond the iPad. For instance, a list of ways to present the rhyme “Jack Be Nimble” in subsequent weekly Mother Goose on the Loose programs includes reciting the rhyme while using the flannel board pieces and clapping, doing it as a knee bounce, reciting the rhyme while showing a book illustration, and presenting the app. The app is used as just one of many options. It does not replace any of the other, traditional ways to use the rhyme. But it does expand and enhance what is already being done.
For parents, clear instructions state that the app is meant to be used for communication and for play between parents and their children, and not as a tool for babysitting. A list of ways to use the app on the iPad as well as ways to play with the rhymes through activities at home follows.
Since our goal was to provide the app for as many people as possible, we decided to make if available on iTunes as a free download for everyone. My hope was that librarians would demonstrate the app in their Mother Goose on the Loose sessions, emphasizing that it was for parents to use WITH their children, and supplementing the demonstration with developmental tips highlighting the importance of nursery rhymes, play, and parent-child activities. After hands-on demonstrations, librarians were encouraged to provide hand-outs with a web address for the free download, in order to allow parents to continue their play at home.
In early November, the Felt Board — Mother Goose on the Loose app was released on iTunes. Two days after the launch, there were already 1270 downloads and the app was named by iTunes as one of the “Best New Apps!”
Some librarians have been incorporating the app into MGOL (using only one rhyme or a maximum of two per session). One librarian, Julie Ranelli, reported that a parent who had chosen not to expose her son, who is under 2 years old, to any screen time, was initially wary. However, the relieved parent heard that the nursery rhymes would continue to be presented in a variety of ways with the app only to be used once or twice in each program. This parent chose to return with her child the next week, and they continue attending MGOL programs.
The Mother Goose on the Loose app is technology done right! This app allows families to work together to learn those ever important nursery rhymes and then make it meaningful by playing with them. At the Kendallville Public Library, we have promoted the use of nursery rhymes for years—they are an important piece in our literacy package; necessary for school success. This app helps us to introduce and play with them in a new way. Whether working with families or in a 4th grade book club, we use the app the same way. We listen to the various nursery rhymes, learning the words and the “felt” pieces and when/where they are to be placed. Once a level of comfort has been reached, we challenge children to retell the nursery rhymes without using the sound available. From there, we ask them to change the story—make it their own. This is loads of fun with older students who love to “mess up” a rhyme we all know and love. My 4th grade book club students were given the opportunity to give these loved characters an EXTREME MAKEOVER—a wonderful opportunity to play with words, retell stories and use their imagination. Besides, who needs a water spout to climb when you can climb a cell tower. A wonderful app that allows you to sing, read, write, talk about and play with rhymes. -Beth Munk, Kendallville Public Library
Some rhymes work better than others; “Humpty Dumpty” is such a great flannel board activity (that helps build so many school readiness skills and gives the children such pleasure when they can knock Humpty off of his wall) that I would not recommend replacing it with the app. However, other rhymes such as “The Grand Old Duke of York” or “Little Bo Peep” are fun to present as apps during an MGOL library session.
Recently, Little eLit was named as one of ten finalists for the Opening Minds Innovation Awards (along with Every Child Ready to Read @ your library!) All finalists were invited to showcase “their stuff” at the Opening Minds conference in Chicago this past week, and Cen invited me to be part of her crew, showcasing the app. For two days, I demonstrated the app to educators and advocates for young children. Each time I spoke about it, played with it, and saw the reactions of others, I became an even stronger believer in the benefits of limited and thoughtful use of new media in early literacy programs.
Cen began taking videos of some of these interactions and she asked if she could post them on the blog. Then she asked if she could post a video interview that took place about ten years ago at an MGOL training workshop in Massachusetts with Shelley Quezada to illustrate the progression of MGOL and show how the app is just one small piece of the bigger picture. I agreed.
Just as many librarians say that the “Listen, Like, Learn” approach of Mother Goose on the Loose, the songs, and the demonstrations helped them enjoy and improve their own programs for parents and babies, I hope that this app will help to calm the unease that some librarians feel regarding technology use in programs.
We librarians are the leaders. We help parents by showing them how to talk, sing, read, write, and play with their children. We demonstrate loving ways to read books, how to have fun with words, and how to talk about the world around them. Isn’t it great that we now have one more item to add to our tool box, a nursery rhyme app that encourages conversation and imagination, grows vocabulary, and gives parents another way to play with their children? And, just like the public library, it is available for free for everyone.
I never want to see apps replace book reading, outdoor play, block building, dancing together, and the many ways that parents and children can interact together. However, I do think that new media is here to stay, and if we can model appropriate ways to use it and supply high-quality apps along with developmental tips to guide parents, then we are doing exactly what children’s librarians are meant to do!
Thank you Tess, for introducing me to Cen. And, thank you Cen, for inviting me along for the ride!
I tend to start conversations with this preamble:
“I have this crazy idea…..”
Most of the time it results in amusing thought experiments, but every now and then, when the stars align just right, and the right people are part of the conversation, synergies leverage, paradigms shift, everyone does their part and something awesome happens.
Such is the case with the Mother Goose on the Loose App. I was working with Betsy Diamant-Cohen on workshops for incorporating new media into Mother Goose on the Loose workshops, and I’d been using the Software Smoothie Felt Board App since the very beginning of my digital storytelling journey in 2011. I was looking at Betsy’s felt board pieces and singing her songs & rhymes and I thought….
“Wouldn’t it be great if we had a digital felt board version of this?”
So I introduced Betsy to Mindy & Dave Douglas, floated the idea, and they worked together to produce the app that is launching today. It’s pretty amazing to see an idea come to fruition like this, but to have it available for free is even better. The app is designed to be a storytelling tool both for use in storytimes with a group, and one-on-one with a child and caregiver. Storytellers can model using familiar songs and rhymes with accompanying images, or using the felt pieces to co-tell new stories together. For an example, you can sing along with the recording of the Grand Old Duke of York, and make him go up and down with his men, or you can use new pieces (like the boat, which we can use for row-row-rowing as well) and make up a new story about what’s doing in the boat. I actually did this with my son; it turns out that the poor old duke goes over a waterfall and turns into a rocket ship, but your story might be different.
Here’s the press release for the launch:
Birmingham, AL – Software Smoothie, the developers who brought you the original Felt Board app for the iPad, and Dr. Betsy Diamant-Cohen of the award-winning early literacy program, Mother Goose on the Loose, are pleased to announce the release of the Felt Board – Mother Goose on the Loose app.
Felt Board – Mother Goose on the Loose is a nursery rhyme flannel board app designed for young children to use along with their parents and caregivers. It features favorite nursery rhyme illustrations and sound recordings from the popular Mother Goose on the Loose program, which is offered to families in public libraries all across the country. Together, children and caregivers are able to help Bo Peep find her lost sheep and dance them around the screen, guide Jack and Jill up and down the hill, march with the Grand Old Duke of York, jump 2 Little Monkeys on and off the bed, and more.
“With Felt Board – Mother Goose on the Loose, Software Smoothie brings historic mother goose rhymes to 21st century learning for children, educators and parents,” says Jackie Bryla, SLPA and founder of ACT – Apps Consultation and Training. Felt Board – Mother Goose on the Loose is a versatile app that encourages parent-child interaction, and also reinforces early literacy skills. It can be used in the home, library, and in early childhood education settings.
The app also includes an information section with tips from Dr. Diamant-Cohen for parents using the app together with young children, and for librarians seeking to incorporate the app into their Mother Goose on the Loose library program. She stresses the importance of parents interacting with their children when using technology, and offers this advice for librarians seeking to incorporate technology into their early childhood programs:
“Technology and new media handled with careful consideration, in moderation; In ways that fit with the program’s intent and don’t overwhelm, that enhance but don’t replace, and that encourage parent/child interaction are appropriate for use in a Mother Goose on the Loose program.”
The app was created based on a recommendation by Cen Campbell, a children’s librarian and founder of LittleeLit.com, a website dedicated to helping libraries incorporate digital media into their early literacy programming. She has used both the original Felt Board app for the iPad and Mother Goose on the Loose in her program, and imagined bringing the two groups together to create an app. Ms. Campbell made the introductions that sparked the conversation and collaboration, resulting in a finished project that all are extremely proud of.
Carisa Kluver and I were doing a New Media in Storytime workshop for the children’s services staff at the Mission Viejo Library last month. Before our participants arrived I was running through some of the digital storytelling techniques I wanted to demonstrate that day. I had one of my Keynote presentations up on the screen and I was running through Farmer Brown had 5 Green Apples… except that Farmer Brown didn’t have GREEN apples, as I was used to singing the song (I’ve been dong that song far longer than I’ve been using an iPad in storytime!) because the Software Smoothie Felt Board app only had RED apples. So I sang it wrong. Over and over, because I kept forgetting that the apples were red when my brain wanted them to be green.
Eventually Carisa said to me, “Why don’t you just ask Mindy to make you some green apples?”
Carisa was right; both she and I have worked with the folks who make the app and we know they’re always happy to get feedback to make their app a better early literacy tool. What was especially funny about this situation was that it illustrated one of the key points I always try to hammer home: children’s librarians have an unprecedented opportunity to work directly with content developers to raise the overall quality of children’s content offerings in the digital media marketplace.
Long story short, Mindy made me some green apples. You can see them below in my Farmer Brown had 5 Green Apples felt board below. Thanks Mindy!