The Screen Free Story Time is the Best Story Time

Story times for children age 0-5 are one of the most valued and popular programs libraries provide the communities we serve. It is both a vehicle and an icon for the library’s commitment to literacy development and literacy promotion.

In the years 0-5, children are developing the brain that must serve them for all future learning and the approximately 30-60 minutes spent during story time is extremely limited in our effort to support literacy development. To best serve children, librarians are obligated to use this time in promoting the most effective activities and materials available to us toward early literacy skill development.  Achieving that goal does not include screen time.

The traditional activities of early literacy development such as songs, fingerplays, puppetry, scarves, shakers, action rhymes and reading from print are all better for children compared to screen use. Displacing them with screen uses reduces the time spent with solidly healthy activities. As the American Academy of Pediatrics tells us, “young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”

Traditional activities and materials in story times are superior to screen use because they:

  • have a long and excellent record of experience and ample research showing they support early literacy development that screen use does not have
  • are more widely and cheaply available to all families so that they may be repeated at home
  • fully support parents who want to limit screen time for their children according to AAP Guidelines
  • avoid the risk of adding screen time for children who already have screen time in excess of AAP health standards for children
  • more effectively support and encourage adult-child relationships by relying more on human interaction compared to screen time
  • promote healthy physical activity that screen time does not

The new screens and screen uses are in many ways exciting and even amazing. They are part of a very new and enormous cultural change in how technology is used today. Still, screen use is not appropriate and beneficial everywhere, for everyone, at every occasion. Like at the family dinner table or while driving, story times at the library are best without it.

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Our guest blogger today is Kathy Kleckner. Kathy is a children’s librarian for Dakota County Libraries at their Rosemount branch. She has worked as a librarian on a bookmobile,  in elementary schools and in urban systems.  She is a member of the Minnesota Library Association and ALSC.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

This entry was posted in Children & Technology, Early Literacy, Guest Blogger, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Screen Free Story Time is the Best Story Time

  1. Jill H. says:

    Now, this is a well-put, reasonable argument against using “screens” in traditional storytimes. I really appreciate Kathy’s thoughtful take on this hot-button topic. Too often the debate seems to be techies vs. luddites with one side screaming “all screens are evil and eat baby brains!” and the other side yelling back, “screens are awesome and you’re old-fashioned and silly!”

  2. Megan Egbert says:

    I respect Kathy’s take on this for her own use, but in my own storytimes, I feel like using screens can and does increase interaction with people. It’s not about the tools you use, it is how you use them. So you need to find tools that intrigue/inspire both you and those you are serving. For me, at times, that is fun, engaging, interactive apps or animated stories.

    • Jenny says:

      Yes. I agree. It is how these tools are used. Besides, no librarian is saying digital devices will or should replace “traditional” storytimes. I am weary of hearing this tired argument. Why can’t we use them like we use a puppet or flannel prop? These devices, apps, and ebooks are resources that can grow our storytimes in slightly different ways. 100 years from now, I bet they will be folded into “traditional” storytimes. That’s all.

  3. Abby Johnson says:

    I think every librarian needs to make that choice for her/himself and the communities that he/she serves. I agree with commenters above that the important factor is how you use the tools. If tablets and ipads are popular in your community, I believe it does good to show parents how to choose good apps and how to use them in a way that *is* interactive and does promote learning.

    Whether librarians choose to use apps in storytime or not, I think the important thing is that it’s done with purpose and that that purpose is relayed to the parents. Avoiding apps in your storytime is not enough since, as you mentioned, kids may already be getting screen time away from the library. Telling parents why you’ve chosen not to use apps helps them learn and make choices for themselves. Alternatively, when using apps in storytime, the important factor is educating the parents about why you’ve chosen to use those apps and how they can best use them at home.

  4. My background is actually in social science research. As a social worker, I had a number of courses that covered developmental psychology as well as working directly in maternal and child health studies for a decade at the Univ. of Washington.

    First of all, I’m appalled at the paternalism of this post most of all. The tone of this article reminds me of the response I got from one librarian I asked about book apps in 2010. She literally rolled her eyes and suggested several print books with the comment that ‘screen time is bad for kids’. And as a result I decided it was up to me to try to provide a decent resource for parents. I spent nearly a decade doing home visits for research projects (across all income levels) and a lot of families had the TV on constantly and nary a book to be found. When I first read a book app on my iPad with my preschooler it was eye-opening. I immediately imagined a way to get all those reluctant families I used to work with to finally incorporate reading into their existing parenting styles. I was shocked that no one else saw this potential. Reading a digital Dr. Seuss book helped my child be even more exited about finding the same title in print. And we started to read even more as a family, in print and digital, almost immediately.

    A library is a public institution that is, in many ways, no different than other community service organizations. It is charged with ‘serving’ the ‘community’. Period. This means creative programming is needed to draw in and engage people with a wide variety of values and lifestyles. Of course each organization has deeper goals – many programs I worked for did outreach to prevent youth violence, teen pregnancy, drug abuse or to inspire pro-social values, family stability, educational attainment, etc. We designed programs that people wanted to attend, voluntarily, but did have educational goals once we got them into the building. I could never teach a parenting class, for instance, and expect to draw families in by being hostile to their current practices, even if I wished to change them (a good example would be families that spank for discipline – a very controversial issue in family outreach services).

    I’m no expert on how librarians conduct storytime, but I was a heavy user of these programs when my son was young. The experience was most likely the reason I named my site Digital Storytime in the first place, actually. Libraries are sacred to me as are books in every format. But I’m realistic about what it takes to get kids & families engaged … and not just the families that are the ‘low hanging fruit’. To effectively inspire behavioral change we have to first create a connection and meet families where they are, not where we’d like them to be (and I agree that kids are, by and large, getting way too much unsupervised time in front of a variety of screens). But a librarian demonstrating ‘wise’ use of media, with extension activities, co-viewing suggestions and more, for an audience of young kids and their caregivers? That is not among the type of ‘screen time’ I would want to see restricted.

    Simply believing something strongly or wishing to push a personal value on the people you serve is not helpful, not even close. You can represent it as a personal philosophy or slip “imho” at the end of a diatribe like this, but to say it in a way that sounds like a professional mission statement is irresponsible and deeply offensive. It’s also culturally insensitive. And don’t even get me started on the AAP. They have been entirely worthless for over a decade on this issue – they are afraid of their own shadows and a deeply political organization. And they’re doctors for goodness sake – how much developmental psychology do you think THEY get in school … about as much as they get for bedside manner and nutrition (one class at best). Being doctors doesn’t make them remotely good at policy positions on digital media for children (imho).

    The reports, even in the popular press, after the 2011 AAP presentation (and failure to address new media) were not flattering – From the NYT: “The worry that electronic entertainment is harmful to development goes back at least to the advent of radio and has steadily escalated through the age of “Gilligan’s Island” and 24-hour cable TV to today, when nearly every child old enough to speak is plugged in to something while their parents juggle iPads and texts. So far, there is no evidence that exposure to any of these gadgets causes long-term developmental problems, experts say.” [http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/19/health/19babies.html?_r=0]

    If one reads deeper into the existing research, it is much more nuanced and clear that:

    quality matters more than quantity
    not all screens are equal
    co-viewing is important
    modeling is powerful

    And that media literacy is valuable (especially to families who use libraries b/c they don’t have access to high tech any other way). The imposition of these values on low income families in particular, who are so dependent on libraries for access to all media (in all formats, including dead tree books) is especially unfair. I shrugged off the librarian’s disapproval and just felt bad about myself for a couple days before I got angry and decided to do the job myself. The young parents I worked with in my years as a school social worker would simply not come back.

    Having a black & white message for parents as if librarians are cave people saying, ‘media bad’ ‘books good’ is insulting to the whole library profession (imho). And did I mention it’s paternalistic. Yeah … it really is, so it’s worth repeating. It goes against most of the training I have had in treating populations I serve with respect. It also shows that someone is only talking and not really listening, not taking in new information from others with respect for the source. This kind of rigid thinking doesn’t invite dialog or understanding or help anyone change their existing thinking about digital media, screen time and reading. It only serves to divide people more deeply into one camp or the other.

    And this is simply untrue (in my experience): “Traditional activities and materials in story times are superior to screen use because they are more widely and cheaply available to all families so that they may be repeated at home”. In fact, digital book apps are often free or just a few dollars each, many low income families have smart phones now (although no computer at home or internet access beside the phone) and over time this ‘device saturation’ is projected to flood almost all strata of society, especially the young. And what about geographically isolated families? Digital devices offer access in ways print materials can never approximate. To say ‘traditional’ or print materials/formats are superior is short-sighted at best.

    I am not suggesting print isn’t amazing – but kids who read digital books read more overall (including print books) for fun according to recent research. [http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/press-release/new-study-kids-reading-digital-age-number-kids-reading-ebooks-has-nearly-doubled-2010] It’s not either/or and sending a subtle or not-so-subtle message of disapproval only drives people away from the library and everything it has to offer. I guess I just wish every line in this post was proceeded with “I believe that …” and followed up with “This is why I feel this way …”. These are very valid opinions, but they were stated more as fact, with very little research to back them up.

    So, here are some of my opinions as a counterpoint, based on my personal experiences with both print and digital books and many years working with children & families. Ways books on tablet devices MAY increase children’s literacy, not decrease:

    1. They offer a rare alternative to other digital media, right on a highly desirable digital device and in a way that actually gives books a fighting chance to be equally appetizing to our media-savvy kids.

    2. They are the only way digital media for kids, an already growing category of time in our children’s daily lives, might truly give back by sharing time with reading.

    3. Most book apps have a ‘Read Myself’ option and even when they don’t anything with a text story can always be muted and still have some of the magic of the iPad by having high resolution, back-lit illustrations. This means books at bedtime, a naturally dimly lit environment, can be particularly enchanting just from the color and light.

    4. Tired parents can more easily have a book read to both parent and child and may share more books with their kids as a result. Instead of 1 or 2 books at bedtime, a parent can share 3 or 4, for instance, which is no small thing in the lifetime of an early reader’s experience.

    5. In households that are not reading to children (1 in 5), these ebook apps represent one of the most realistic ways to quickly increase exposure to children’s picture books by children not even in school yet. The ease of use, instant gratification and reasonable prices for digital book apps, in addition to their high-tech appeal, makes the transition to reading easier for families that haven’t been reached by our otherwise extensive efforts to increase young children’s literacy.

    6. In households that don’t read enough to their kids, likely more than the 1 in 5 figure, digital book apps in particular can reach more families than ever with a product that feels cutting edge while delivering on most of the old-fashioned goals of reading.

    From: How Will iPad Picture Books Affect Young Reader’s Literacy?
    http://digitalmediadiet.com/?p=114 – March 2011

    Thank you for inspiring this discussion. I think it is way overdue and goes beyond storytime and libraries.

    Respectfully,

    Carisa Kluver, MSW
    Founder – Digital-Storytime.com
    Blog – DigitalMediaDiet.com

  5. Kelly Doolittle says:

    My! After reading Carisa’s lengthy response, I’d just like to add that I did not feel as though Kathy was suggesting librarians were “cave people” at all! You can be a thoroughly modern person and not feel the need to use techie gadgets during storytimes. That said, I agree that they can be used effectively. Just like with any other storytime extenders, it depends on the person using them.

  6. TessP says:

    It has been a week or so since I first read this post – and I initially resisted responding. Carisa has taken the time to respond in detail and I agree with her overall assessment but felt it was time to say something myself about this.

    Kathy, your post would have been far more accessible to me (and others, I suspect) if you had framed it more overtly as your opinion, to which you are entitled. I think that absolute statements such as “the best” are not helpful. I ask: How can one style of storytime be “best”? There are simply too many variables across the board to make that statement sound even remotely convincing to me. A screen-free storytime might be deemed to be best by you for your community, and I have respect for your ability to make that decision as you go about your daily work with families. However, blanket statements like “best” stated on this forum seem to be somewhat less respectful of others’ opinions as I would hope my professional colleagues and I can expect here. I am well aware that it is your opinion, as the ALSC disclaimer states, but that does not stop me from responding in an unfortunately very negative way to your basic argument to keep screens out of story times. I think it is important to continue this debate and I believe this forum to be the best place for professional librarians to do this in the blogosphere. However, it is my hope that future discussions of this (and any other topic) are written very overtly as “opinion” pieces (however strongly those opinions are stated). I believe we need to own our opinions and be extremely respectful when transmitting them to our professional colleagues on this forum.

  7. KathyK says:

    Tess,
    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I think what you say gets at the heart of the nature of the discussion around screen time and how it can develop successfully.

    The question of whether or not story times are best without screen use is a question of fact. It involves evidence-based information regarding child (literacy) development, brain development, access issues and physical health. I clearly but briefly point out such facts in my post. As professionals, it is up to us to identify the relevant facts and determine what is best. The quality of our service to children and families depends on our ability to do so. If such important questions were simply and entirely left up to individual opinions then there really is no basis for librarianship as a profession. Without articulated standards and the pursuit of what is best, based on a careful review of all known facts, we are not much more than a crowd source. The higher the standards, the stronger the profession. I think we need to be extremely respectful of our pursuit of excellence for children. I think it is essential that we talk about our services with the needs and benefits to children at the center. Always. My post isn’t about me or other librarians. My post is all about what is best for a child’s literacy development and identifying the best practices toward that goal.

    The question may have some complexity and a number of variables but surely it is not beyond our capacity. No one has provided a reply to this post showing that what I identify as best is wrong. This post is an opportunity for anyone to make such a case. There have been numerous opportunities. If there are significant facts missing from or contradictory to my post, I look forward to knowing them. If someone wants to provide information for promoting screen use to children age 0-5 as best for children, I want to read that. I am looking for what is best. I want know what is best and do what is best. If it is different from what I am doing, I will not take offense. Quite the opposite, I would be grateful to know, with fact-supported confidence, how to improve my practice.

    I think new technology and ever higher levels of technology use are a challenge for us to navigate and do our best by children. There are risks involved for children. The question is a serious one. I think we need our profession more than ever to do that successfully.

  8. Lisa Shaia says:

    I’ve been thinking of this article since it was posted. I’ve been keeping up with the ongoing comments, too. I think Kathy shares Aaron Schmidt’s opinion in Library journal’s recent article “Focus on People, Not Tools”
    http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/06/opinion/aaron-schmidt/focus-on-people-not-tools-the-user-experience/
    I’m looking forward to seeing research and data on this subject in the near future.

  9. KathyK says:

    Lisa, Thanks for the link, hadn’t seen it.

  10. Cris Rowan says:

    The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2004 that children aged 0-2 years should not have ANY exposure to technology, 2-5 years should be limited to 1 hour per day, and 5-12 years to 2 hours per day. We now have one in three children entering the school system developmentally delayed (Kershaw P 2009), one in three are obese (Tremblay M 2010), and one in six have a diagnosed mental illness (Waddell C 2007). One in eleven children between the ages of 8-18 years are addicted to video games, pornography, texting or Facebook (Gentile D 2011). Because of technology overuse, children are sedentary, isolated, neglected, and overstimulated. We are now witnessing the first generation of children many of whom will not outlive their parents (New England Journal of Medicine 2012.

    Health and education professionals would be wise to recognize the deplorable state our children are now in because of technology overuse, and consider setting an example to parents to restrict use of all technologies, especially with young children. One in five parents report they don’t know how to play with their children, and one in three report that playing with their children is “boring”. Librarians could model appropriate interactions with children through the use of non-tech tools for parents, and set a path toward creating sustainable futures for all children.

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