Blog Archives

Digi-tots Playtime, by Stephen Tafoya

In 2010, when I worked as a Reading and Comprehension Consultant, and the year the iPad launched, I immediately got excited at the potential for iPad usage in education. Of course now it’s become a mainstay in the classroom. When I started working in libraries in 2012, my gears started to crank again with potential ideas for program use.

Last summer I got to partner with a few of our children’s librarians to test out some apps in teen programming and storytime and discuss how to use iPads and apps in the most effective ways. It was well received but progressed a bit slower than I’d hoped (as some of you may have seen at your libraries). Getting people on board and excited can be a task in and of itself, in addition to just figuring out how to make it work. But once you get the ball rolling, it can be contagious and hard to stop.

R Digi-tots Handout Apr14

So earlier this year, I started brainstorming with Amy Wright, Rifle’s Children’s Librarian, about how we could use iPads with the kids. Amy started to implement the digital piece in her core storytime while we planned to launch an all digital specialty program called Digi-tots Playtime.

We’ve been through 2 Digi-tots sessions now, held the First Tuesday of each month, and so far we feel we have a solid program. The challenge is getting people who would want this program to come on a different day that is outside of anything they else they attend regularly at the library. The feedback from those who attended has been great. It’s amazing to see how much families know and do not know about mobile devices and apps.

About the program: we have structured Digi-tots Playtime similar to storytime since it is something the kids are already familiar with. We have an opening song, a story app, an APP-tivity, a second story and one final APP-tivity before free play. The goal is to let the children with their caregivers have the iPads in hand so that they can explore the app along with the group. This had mixed results the first time we did it, especially with stories. Once the kids figured out how to turn the page, some of them were 2-3 pages ahead of the group and no longer attached to the group activity. This brought to awareness that we need a “best practice” for when the iPads are in their hands. Basically, some fun rules that engage the caregiver to encourage the child to keep “hands up” when Miss Amy is reading, and to touch the app when she says it’s okay. We haven’t had a chance to implement this thinking yet, but we shall see for next time.

I think one of the best parts of Digi-tots Playtime is the APP-tivities. Basically, it’s taking an early literacy app and turning it into an engaging group game that gets the kids Talking, Singing, Reading, Writing, Playing (and Laughing… I really think that should be a sixth practice 🙂 )

Some examples of APP-tivities we’ve done:

1. Endless Alphabet – Having the kids talk and tell the answer to what letter comes next in the jumbled word, and to play and make silly faces and the sounds of the letter. When we did the word “exercise,” we also played by exercising at the end of the word.

2. colAR Mix – Letting the kids write and color on the page and watch their faces light up as their creation came to life on the little screen (ie. iPad Mini). This app is a great introduction for families to STEM-based learning.

3. Wheels on the Bus Band – We played the song on the big screen and sang, and the kids had access to the iPad and app and can use any of the numerous built-in instruments to play and jam along. One thing to note: because that app interface is very busy, the children could feel overwhelmed by all the colors and activities. We talked about maybe having other singular instrument apps loaded, like the bongo apps, and also having things like egg shakers and other real instruments available in case the child wants to use something else.

At the end, the kids are free to go play with toys or play on the iPads with any of the apps we have loaded. We make ourselves available to answer questions that caregivers might have and to engage the children in play. The whole thing, with freetime at the end, goes for about 45 minutes, which is a good amount of time for this type of program.

We are excited for next month and will be working on bringing new families in to try it out and hopefully help them better navigate this digital world they are in.

Stephen Tafoya works as a Technology Trainer for a library district, and he partners with Youth Services Coordinators to engage kids and teens with technology in library programming.
Little eLit is a collaborative think tank of professionals thinking about the topic of young children, new media, and libraries. Individuals who share their viewpoints, experiences, and presentations in Little eLit blog posts are expressing their personal views and do not represent Little eLit as a whole.

Felt Board app in Storytime: Field Notes, by Stephen Tafoya

Amy Wright, our Children’s Librarian here at the Rifle Branch Library, implemented the Felt Board app (by Software Smoothie) into her “Fly” themed storytime. Amy, who is AWESOME at storytime and working with kids, took to using the app and iPad in a way that made it fun and engaging so that parents and caregivers could really see how technology can be another tool to help build early literacy skills. We even had a good laugh at the little “slip up” that happens part way into the clip, so be sure to watch the whole thing!

Stephen Tafoya works as a Technology Trainer for a library district, and he partners with Youth Services Coordinators to engage kids and teens with technology in library programming.

Green Eggs & Ham Breakfast, by Stephen Tafoya

SamIamThis year was our 4th Annual Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s Birthday. However, this was the FIRST year we incorporated technology (besides that magic stuff that turns our eggs GREEN!).

Before the program started, kids filed into our large meeting room, and OH! Every so often, the children would catch a glimpse of a rascally black and white cat prowling around the hallways and by windows. When all the kids and adults were seated, Amy, our Children’s Librarian, started with a Welcome song and message, and THEN…

THE CAT IN THE HAT came out to greet the children!

(AND got her tail stuck in the door. Luckily Amy was there to be a helper!)

The Cat in the Hat comes each year to read Green Eggs and Ham. And this year, the Cat in the Hat read it from the screen using the Green Eggs and Ham iPad app. This gave EVERYONE a good view of the story from the big screen!

After the story was over, everyone sang a silly song; just enough exercise to build up an appetite FOR:

GREEN EGGS & HAM! (and juice and orange slices)

It was a celebration everyone could sink their teeth into!

Stephen Tafoya works as a Technology Trainer for a library district, and he partners with Youth Services Coordinators to engage kids and teens with technology in library programming.

CATS Winter Workshop: APPles & Androids, by Stephen Tafoya

I had the opportunity to present at the CATS (Children and Teen Services) Winter Workshop in Colorado at the end of January. The program was called APPles & Androids, and I would like to highlight the points from the workshop for you here.

Before we got into the slides, we did our first APP-tivity. Using Endless Alphabet, I told the participants that I needed their help. “These rascally monsters just came through and messed up all my letters and I need you to help me put the letters back in order to build the word.” By asking choice/contrast questions, I had the participants tell me which letter was first, which one came next (or after) that first letter, and so on. As you may know, when you touch a letter in the game, it makes the letter sound. So, when I touched the letter, I had the participants make that letter sound with me, and told them they could even use their hands to show me what they think the letter sound looks or acts like. Once we put all the letters back in place, we cheered ourselves on a job well done, and then we listened to what the meaning of the word was. I shared with the participants some language I may tell parents. “By asking your child questions about which letters go where and having them repeat the silly sounds, you are helping them build letter and sound knowledge and the order sounds go in to make up a word. You can also have your child play and act out the word meaning to help build their vocabulary!” And that was our first APP-tivity.

Then we started in with the slides. I gave everyone the big picture of tablets in society. From there, we took a look at the different tablets that are available, and ones you may consider buying for programming use. Starting with the Kindle Fire, we discussed the different models, and how having access to Kindle Freetime Unlimited would make this tablet great for a digital literacy station. Going into Android, I highlighted the specialty “kid” tablets and spoke about Android tablets in general. Now that the newer Androids have the ability to create custom profiles this is a huge draw; however, they still don’t have the content that Apple does in their App Store, but they are growing. That led us into Windows 8. Not a whole lot to offer in terms of how we use them in libraries with children. Maybe someday.

From there, it was all about the iPad, the various models, the pluses of all the app content that is available, and how to evaluate apps in the App Store (I live demoed that piece). From there, the discussion led to how iPads can be used in the library with young children, the most common use being implementation in Storytime. I shared other ideas, things I’ve done or seen in other libraries, stuff that other libraries could potentially do. Then we went into the big picture of how and why the Librarian should be the media mentor (SPOILER: it’s so the PARENT in turn becomes the MEDIA MENTOR) 😀

I did another APP-tivity with everyone, using Sago Mini Forest Flyer and how to “think outside the app”. I taught everyone how to make a flying bird friend using their fingers and taught them this song:

I’m a little birdie,
Flapping through the forest,
Looking to see what I can see.

So they flapped along as I moved the bird on the screen and then placed her on one of the animation spots. When the bird started to interact, I would say, “What’s this? Our friend Bernadette (what they named the bird) smashed her face right into the cupcake! How silly, Bernadette! She must really love cupcakes!). Now, we are going to sing our song and fly again with our friend, but this time I want someone else to talk and tell me what Bernadette does.” And we did a few rounds of that.

At the end, I gave them language to tell parents like, “Through talk, singing our song, and play, you are helping your child build Vocabulary and Narrative Skills.”

We concluded our workshop with tips like Know Thy App (when you use it the first time, after each app update, to the point where you could do it in your sleep), Extra Tech Prep Time and Have a Backup Plan WHEN (not if) the tech does fail. And toIntegrate Naturally as it relates to their specific community (ie. slowly build it into storytime, survey parents first, etc.).

The workshop was well-received, questions throughout, and overall the CATS Workshop was a hit! Lots of great presenters, STEAM-related content, yummy food and friendly fellowship.

View the presentation slides here:–androids

Stephen Tafoya works as a Technology Trainer for a library district, and he partners with Youth Services Coordinators to engage kids and teens with technology in library programming.

Kids & Tech: The Lego Movie, by Stephen Tafoya

hr_The_LEGO_Movie_10So we took our kids to see the Lego Movie. Great movie! This is not a review of the movie, nor do I intend to give out any spoilers, but I do want to touch on the theme of it for a minute.

If you are paying attention to libraries lately, there is a growing trend of “maker” culture that is taking shape in the forms of maker spaces and STEM-related programming. There is a BIG push to offer this type of programming to children and teens, as it gives them new avenues to explore, expand their minds, and set them up for future success in their adult life.

Because we are in this transition stage from classic learning to STEM-based exploration, there are many (adults) who are also resistant to this change. Or they are just not good with change in general or not comfortable with any form of technology. But like many of my tech-minded colleagues, I believe we should embrace this movement WITH the classic methods of instruction to enhance learning for upcoming generations. Another solid tool for our instructional toolboxes.

With such movements come complications. Cost. Accessibility. Knowledge passed on from (effective) knowledgable instructors. It takes money, effort, and time. But as cost on STEM-related technology goes down and awareness (and accessibility) goes up, this maker movement will continue to grow. Not just for the “brain-y” kids with 4.0 GPAs or those with Master Degrees. But for EVERYONE!

That’s what this movie’s heart is. That’s what Lego has been all about for so many years now! But with the movie, it really drove home this message in a, dare I say, emotional manner (yeah, I teared up a bit). Parents should embrace a child’s creativity. Let them explore and play. Let them find out who they are, whether it is with physical toys, make believe, or an iPad with apps. And the key here is always always ALWAYS going to be: Let’s explore together!

When you embrace a child’s desire to explore and make and build and destroy, you are giving them the world. When you explore with them, you are giving them life!

If you know adults who are fearful of this rapidly changing world, or just need the information to adjust and be comfortable with it, encourage them to try and embrace the maker culutre. At libraries, give them access to it. In schools, build it into lesson plans and share with parents what this type of instruction does for a child’s development. And let them know, whether or not they completely like it, it is their child’s future, and giving the child access now is setting them up for success in their adult world.

Stephen Tafoya works as a Technology Trainer for a library district, and he partners with Youth Services Coordinators to engage kids and teens with technology in library programming.

Guided Access, by Stephen Tafoya

Even though the iPad is not kid-friendly out of the box, it does have a few tricks up its sleeve. One of those tricks is Guided Access.

Guided Access allows the user to lock the iPad into one active app so that the user cannot get out of the app or access certain features without the passcode. Often, this feature is used with students who are on the autistic spectrum or kids who have a hard time focusing but need to complete their assignment within one app. I am currently using it so that I can focus on writing this blog post and not jump out to check my news feed every two minutes (see, it’s made for distracted techy dudes too!). If the child were to hit the home button, the device would give a message that the Guided Access feature is running and that the child needs to “triple click the home button to exit.” If the child triple clicks, he is prompted to enter a four digit password (if a password has been set up) in order to exit Guided Access or to change any of its settings.

To access Guided Access on your own iPad, follow these steps (screenshots below):

Click: Setting > General (on left hand side) > Accessibility (on right hand side) > Guided Access (under ‘Learning’ category)

From there, you can turn on Guided Access and change its settings.

Step 1

Step 1

Step 2

Step 2

Step 3

Step 3

Step 4

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Step 5

Step 5

Now let’s apply this feature practically in Early Literacy programs in our libraries. Say you are hosting a Digital Storytime where the kids and parents have playtime afterwards with the iPads. Maybe you had a certain theme and want them to complete a specific activity on the iPads today versus letting them free-roam the apps as usual. Guided Access will keep the child (and parent) on task in order to, say, complete a finger painting of an elephant in the app Art of Glow. Or maybe you are considering using iPads as an Early Literacy station in your library somewhere. You can definitely leave it open to all the apps you have installed (with Restrictions in place of course), or you could do some creative programming by hand selecting apps for use on certain days of the week, maybe tied into the theme of storytime or Summer Reading.

Or perhaps you’ve just so happened to position yourself as the App go-to Guru in your library, and parents are looking for ways to use their iPad with their children and they need help keeping them in one app at a time (e.g., to spend time learning their letters before launching into Angry Birds).

Whatever the case, just know this is a tool for locking into an app for singular use. I recommend trying it yourself. Turn on Guided Access, set a passcode (but don’t forget it!), experiment with the settings, lock yourself in your own apps so you can finish your work before checking what’s up on Facebook! Exit out. Log back in. Do it again and again until you are a master and ready to use it to meet your needs!

Stephen Tafoya works as a Technology Trainer for a library district, and he partners with Youth Services Coordinators to engage kids and teens with technology in library programming.


Know Thy App! by Stephen Tafoya

As I’m gearing up to present my “App-les and Androids” workshop for our Children and Teen Services Winter conference in Colorado, I have one slide in my presentation that keeps sticking out in my mind. That slide is:



It’s a very simple concept really, and what it says is this: if you are using apps and tablets in any sort of library programming or educational aspect, spend a good amount of time with the app before you unleash it in practice.

This seems like pretty straight forward “Yeah Duh!” advice. I think most all of us wouldn’t jump in to a digital storytime session with a new app without first test driving it. But something that may not be obvious is test driving an app you have used once before, but since the first time you used it, the app has been updated to a new version; or the operating system of the tablet itself has been updated.

If either of those scenarios are true for your app or device, I highly recommend taking the app for a walk in the park (again) before running through the woods (is that a good analogy?)

And even if it is a new app and you are evaluating it for the first time, are you pushing all the buttons? Are you changing settings and playing with it in all it’s various ways? Are you putting it up on the big screen for a practice run to see how it looks and sounds without anyone else in the room?

And maybe most important, do you know your app well enough so that you could operate it with your eyes closed? Meaning, can you run an app without having to think about it so that you can give your full energy and attention to the many beaming faces of the children you will reach?

Know thy app! 🙂

Stephen Tafoya works as a Technology Trainer for a library district, and he partners with Youth Services Coordinators to engage kids and teens with technology in library programming.

Tech Experimentation with your Kids, by Stephen Tafoya

When I became a dad, naturally I was ecstatic; but beyond just the role of father and having a father/child relationship, having kids has opened up a whole new door that I didn’t even really see at first.


Not like vials-of-bubbling-chemicals-that-I-make-my-kids-drink-to-gain-super-powers experimentation (but who knows what the future holds!). I’m talking about the opportunity to take all of my experience of working with kids, literacy development, and technology to try fun and innovative ways to help them learn and grow.

screen568x568For example, our household has recently delved into the world of Minecraft. Meaning I play Minecraft, my wife shakes her head at my new obsession, and the kids are clammering over each other to join in on my own gameplay excitement. Of course, PC Minecraft is pretty tough to control and can be a little scary at times, but my kids REALLY wanted to play it. So we researched and found an app called Toca Builders (by Toca Boca) in the iPad App Store, which is essentially Minecraft for kids.

Guess what? They LOVE IT! Not only are they being engaged in STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) learning, but they are developing really complex problem solving skills and having fun while doing it. My oldest daughter even took it upon herself to incorporate stuff she is learning in kindergarten math, creating fanciful artistic patterns for her buildings and saying, “Look at my AB pattern, Dad!”

My test subjects

My test subjects

Experiment: success!

What all this experimentation boils down to is not just “How do I do this?” but rather, “How should I approach and think about this?”

For example, most people who approach me (as a Technology Trainer) to help them figure out why something is not working on their phones are only seeking a fix. And those same people will keep coming back again and again, which is great because I LOVE helping people and solving a good problem, and it teaches them a new skill. But as technology goes, there are always going to be TONS of problems that need to be solved, and I wouldn’t be doing my job if, after feeding them a meal, I didn’t show them how to fish.

Translation: “Now that we solved your problem, let me now show you how I think about solving these kinds of problems.”

This is what I love about Little eLit. A site where we solve individual problems, share new ideas, but also teach one another how we think about a problem and approach the issue to solve it. It has the best of everything, and as a new contributor to the site, I cannot wait share with you in all these elements of EXPERIMENTATION!

Stephen Tafoya works as a Technology Trainer for a library district, and he partners with Youth Services Coordinators to engage kids and teens with technology in library programming.

Tablet Shopping for the Kids, by Stephen Tafoya

One of the many daunting challenges parents face is Christmas Present Shopping. All the choices. The different prices. What’s hot, what’s not. And what your children actually want for Christmas. And that’s just TOYS! But as you may know, tech toys–especially tablets–are one of the HOT items this holiday season. And like toys, tablets come in so many varieties and configurations that, if you are not up on the latest-and-greatest in tech land, you can get lost in the swarm. Luckily, we are here today to discuss tablet shopping for the kids.

What to Look for in a Tablet for the Family

If you have not had the chance to try or buy a tablet, there are some very key questions you should ask yourself before you buy the first tablet that comes across your radar. The first question being:

Who will primarily use this tablet?

In this scenario, we are assuming you are buying for your child, but there’s nothing that says it has to be their tablet only. Much like the home computer that is shared among family members, you could have a tablet that is shared amongst everyone. This question alone can determine which way to go.

LeapPad2 Power Learning Tablet

LeapPad2 Power Learning Tablet

If the tablet is for the child only, there are a slew of Android-based (Google’s operating software) tablets that are customized to make them kid-friendly, mommy and daddy approved. Meaning, they are restricted from access to ALL the apps in the app store with limited (or no) access to the internet. Instead, they are pre-loaded with pre-approved (by you) educational apps and games. Tablets that fall into this category include the Nabi 2 and Nabi Jr, the LeapPad, and the VTech InnoTab. There are more kid-only tablets out there, but these are the HOT ones this season!

If you are looking for something shared, tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids and the Amazon Kindle Fire should do the trick. In this situation, there is a bit of a learning curve for how to switch from “kid-mode” to “adult mode” to do everything you want to do, and vice versa. What’s pretty cool about the Kindle Fire is Amazon’s content option, called Kindle FreeTime Unlimited, which offers unlimited access to all of its kid-friendly books, apps, and games on a subscription basis starting at $4.99 (or $2.99 if you are a Prime Member).

iPad Mini

iPad Mini

Outside of the kid-friendly tablets, you do have traditional offerings. You can always buy a general Android, Windows 8, or Apple iPad tablet. Going this route can be trickier in terms of securing your tablet so as to prevent your child from accessing areas they are not supposed to be in. Or in the case of one family, pushing buttons and racking up a LARGE app bill on the parent’s bank account. This is not to say an iPad or Android tablet is not safe (we here at Little eLit are big iPad users!). You will just need to spend some time learning how to adjust the appropriate controls in each device to suit your family’s needs. Also, having a full-fledged tablet grants you access to ALL of the content in the app store, so really it grows with the child as they move on to more age-appropriate apps.

Once you have decided who will be using the tablet, you want to consider such things as:

  • Tablet size (7 or 10 inch category. Consider little hands and their ability to grasp the size and weight of tablets in each size range)
  • The Drop Test (and sticky finger test, and the Poke-the-screen-with-hard-toy test…) Basically, is the tablet you are purchasing durable enough for your children and the way they play?
  • App Store (which apps are you looking for? Educational only, or are you looking for a game the kids already LOVE and MUST HAVE? The iPad tends to have a wider variety of quality apps for kids than a full-fledged Android tablet, though the kid-friendly tablets are working to change that)
  • Parental Controls (though we discussed this already, it’s important to reiterate in doing your research to find a tablet that meets your standards of tablet security)

All this is typically what I recommend to parents asking about tablets for their kids. There are a handful of articles out there that discuss all these topics and even go into details about the tablets, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I will just link you to two similar articles HERE and HERE.

Also, if you live near a store such as a Best Buy or Micro Center, take an hour to go and test out each of their demo tablets. Pick them up. Look at the screen from all angles to see if it has a good screen. Feel the weight. Push buttons. Ask the sales rep questions. Let your kids try it too if they are with you! See how easy (or hard) it is for them to interact with the tablet. If you don’t live near those kinds of stores, check your local library to see if they have a tech kit that serves this need, or ask a family member or friendly neighbor if they would be willing to let you test drive their device.

Whichever tablet you choose, make sure to make it a learning experience for both you and your children together as you explore the wonderful world of the tablet frontier.

Stephen Tafoya works as a Technology Trainer for a library district, and he partners with Youth Services Coordinators to engage kids and teens with technology in library programming.

Hour of Code, by Stephen Tafoya

This week is Computer Science Education Week (CSED), and since 2009, numerous tech groups have been involved in pushing the need for Computer Programming in education through the Hour of Code initiative.

The goal of Hour of Code is to get 10 million people to participate in one hour of Computer Science programming to see if it may be of interest to them as a career/education choice; it is also to help advocate for Computer Science classes to be taught in schools as part of the core curriculum. The majority of this campaign is focused on getting kids and teens to visit the website and try one of several hour-long courses in computer programming. The courses range from simple tasks like helping the angry bird move over a field to catch those rascally pigs, to more complex measures like developing your first mobile app. Participants can learn on their computer or mobile device, and there is even an offline version that teaches the core concepts of how a computer thinks. Whichever course a participant chooses, they are likely to have FUN since most of the courses have a user-friendly interface and engaging teaching content.

To get started, check with your local school or library to see if they are hosting an Hour of Code event, or visit if there are no local offerings in your community. At our library, for example, we are promoting the Hour of Code by showing the 5-minute promo video (below) during our Wig Out Wednesday program. Then, on Friday the kids can stop by to participate in any programming lesson of their choice, utilizing the library’s laptops and iPads that are provided for this event. To sweeten the deal, we are rewarding those participants with a bonus half-hour of internet time if they complete their programming course. Afterwards, the kids and teens are encouraged to go beyond that initial lesson and try out the other courses.

So far there has been tremendous support from prominent public figures (Mark Zuckerberg, President Obama) to hundreds of teachers and parents who see the need for this skill to be taught in our education system. Oh, and you don’t need to be a child or teen to participate. If you, my dear adult reader, are curious about code, try it out for yourself! And don’t think your six-year-old is too young, either. They have programs for “ages 6 to 106” (though you still may need to read the instructions to them). Code is the new literacy skill that powers our daily tech lives and one that needs to be taught to all students to give them a new core skill set that will contribute to their growth and successes in the world of tomorrow.

Stephen Tafoya works as a Technology Trainer for a library district, and he partners with Youth Services Coordinators to engage kids and teens with technology in library programming.