To App or Not to App

Posted on January 23, 2013. Filed under: Children's Services | Tags: , , , |

I’ve written a grant (and fingers crossed that I get it!) to buy e-readers and tablets for my library. Part of it is for a technology petting zoo for adults, but the other part, and the real reason, is to use in storytime. There’s been a lot of back and forth about whether we’re doing the responsible thing by using apps in storytime, considering the opinions on screen time for younger children, but here’s my take on this.

My storytime is for toddlers, ages 18 months to 3 years, and we have another one for preschool. Typically we read a couple of books, do a couple of fingerplays or flannel board stories, and sing a few songs. I use my phone hooked up to speakers for the music I need, which is really just for when they’re coming in and our welcome song. (I hate messing with music during storytime. I feel like it disrupts the flow, so I’d rather just sing without it, even though I can’t carry a tune).

After talking about it in my department, we determined that: A. We can use a tablet and a music subscription service, or copy songs from our current professional collection to the tablet; and B. We can use apps to supplement, not necessarily replace, our stories and songs. Have an animal in the story? Press a button to make that animal’s sound, and you have the kids join in. Is there a letter of the day? Use an alphabet app to see that letter dance across the screen. Do you need a new flannel board, but you only have a little time to create it? Do it on the tablet instead. Really, what’s the difference between putting up pieces you’ve made by hand or pieces you’ve made digitally? Some libraries use a PowerPoint and a projector instead of a paper song sheet. I can hook the tablet up to the projector and do the same thing and more.

Apps and tablets are not inherently bad. The key is how you use them. I have no plan to purchase iPads for parents and children to share during storytime. Even if we’re all reading the same book, and we’re all reading out loud as a group, that’s too much of a distraction, and it’s enough of a challenge to keep toddlers focused as it is. But a good counting app with fun animations or a song accompanied by a video might be the difference between keeping them attentive or losing them altogether. There’s no loss of interaction when apps are used this way, and it seems like that is a primary concern. I agree that using the TV or a tablet as a babysitter, even when the content is educational, doesn’t benefit the child as much as when their mom or dad sits with them and asks them questions about what’s going on to enhance their learning. By using apps in storytime in a way that encourages interaction, just as we do when we’re reading a book, we’re modeling good methods for parents and hopefully limiting screen-time-as-a-babysitter to those inevitable pulling-their-hair-out moments.

Using apps in storytime is not going to be for everyone, but the decision needs to be more about a reflection of your community rather than your personal preference. If you’re in the kind of community that is as far from early adopters as you can get, then no, apps aren’t for you. But if the people in your community have all of the latest gadgets and had them as soon as they came out, you might be missing an opportunity to connect with them if you treat apps like a redheaded stepchild.

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