“We all have only one life to live on earth. And through television, we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or to cherish it in creative, imaginative ways.” Fred Rogers
When Mr. Rogers looked at the new medium of television in the 1950s, he saw nothing of value for children. But instead of writing it off, he saw the potential of the new medium to reach children and crafted an entirely new approach and way of using television. That is the model that I look to in using technology with children. Do you approach new media with fear or look for the potential, for “creative, imaginative ways” that enrich life?
Many librarians are familiar with and emphasize the five practices of ECRR2 (Every Child Ready to Read 2) in library programs. Can we highlight these practices with intentional use of technology? These would be good ways to model best practices for parents and caregivers.
Visit the Fred Rogers Center’s Early Learning Environment or Ele (pronounced “Ellie”) for short. Here you will find a variety of media focused on improving children’s language and reading skills. You can create your own Ele, search by age, activities (talking and listening, reading, writing, playing, arts, math & science) and media type (books, videos, games, songs, interactive tools, mobile). The Ele brochure notes that “Talking is teaching. Talking with children is a great way to support early literacy skills. For every activity on Ele, we provide suggestions on how to talk about it, and why it matters.” The Ele is a wonderful resource to recommend to parents, teachers, child care providers and others in your community as well as to find some of the best media you can use yourself.
Try the Everyday Grooves app (free) from the Fred Rogers Center which provides catchy songs to accompany everyday activities and help parents create a sense of routine for their children. Examples include getting dressed, bathtime, brushing teeth, clean up, and my favorite, “We Like to Read.”
Sing along with Grow A Reader (free) from the Calgary Public Library which includes videos of 25 different action rhymes and songs. Features some pretty awesome librarians too!
Does your library subscribe to Tumblebooks? Have you ever used one in a storytime? Incorporating one can be a great way to make patrons aware of a library resource that is often underutilized. In storytime I like to show the print book and then the Tumblebook. In a read-aloud Tumblebook, the text appears on the page and words are highlighted as the book is read aloud. The other day I was helping an ESL tutor find materials and she was delighted to discover this feature. She explained that parents of the children she tutors want to help their children learn English and understand the importance of reading aloud, but they do not know how to read English themself. The Tumblebooks can make it possible for these parents to read aloud with their children.
Explore the International Children’s Digital Library (free, there’s also an app!) This one-of-a-kind library is devoted to children’s books from around the world, many of which are not available in any other format, in many different languages. The site’s interface is designed based on research by children — thus you can search by color of cover, and other kid friendly ways..
Touchscreens are great for those little hands that don’t have the fine motor skills to use the mouse or even grasp a crayon yet. Squiggles! is an open-ended app that encourages creativity. When children are done and press go, their scene comes to life, teaching them that the marks they make are meaningful. (free)
Storybird is a website focused on storytelling (free, with registration required). A variety of artwork in different styles is provided, and you write the story. This tool is great for parents and preschoolers to explore together. Suggest starting with just three parts – beginning, middle, and end – to help young children begin to understand the structure of a story. I encourage children to think of their story first, before using the computer. Then, choose artwork. Children can tell the story (talk!), while the adult responds, prompts as necessary and transcribes their words. My son’s preschool teacher took the time to ask children about what they drew and wrote the words on the back of their artwork. These words explaining his first scribbles were his first stories. Storybird is another way to create stories and since they are digital, can be easily shared with family far away.
Have you tried “Don’t Let the Pigeon Run this App” from Mo Willems? ($5.99)
It’s all about creating a story, with children helping choose items for the story, and starring the Pigeon of course. Children have more control depending on their age: at the most basic level, the egg, the app uses shake and create technology, whereas the chick allows children to make choices. They can also record their own voices and make as many silly stories as they like.
Alien Assignment is an “augmented reality” app from the Fred Rogers Center (free). Children must interact with their environment to accomplish their mission of helping the aliens fix their spaceship. It has a scavenger hunt feel, where children must take a picture of “something you sit on” so the computer can fix the captain’s chair, or take a picture of “something smelly” to fix the garbage disposal. This app requires getting up, moving around, and talking with an adult . . . and it’s really fun!
Families will enjoy the wonder of the day from Wonderopolis (a site created by the National Center for Family Learning “to help you find learning moments in everyday life”). Curiosity, the desire to learn, begins with wonder . . . and this is a great place to start.
Technology changes rapidly and there are so many choices facing parents today that it can be overwhelming. The latest guidelines on media use by the American Academy of Pediatriacs state that “Parents, educators and pediatricians should participate in media education, which means teaching children and adolescents how to make good choices in their media consumption.”(See more at: Managing Media) Librarians can help parents discover some of the best resources out there. Media literacy skills can be built along with early literacy skills. We can encourage parents to be involved with their kids media diet, to ask questions about what they are doing, and most of all, to explore new media together. In the midst of it all, we can continue to talk, sing, read, write, and play with young children.
Robin L. Gibson is a Youth Services Librarian at the Westerville Public Library in Westerville Ohio and member of the Children and Technology Committee.