Digital World

I Work For Children, Not Technology

I work for children, not technology. I say this because they don’t always belong together and I am obligated, as is anyone who has the public’s trust in serving children, to put children first.

In practice then, I am consistently looking to know and use what is best for children. All of us who use ECRR have the research and materials from ALA to assure us that we are being effective in supporting early literacy development when we employ its strategies and practices. ECRR does not include screen time for children ages 0-5. This is not an oversight. ECRR is based on sound research that does not recommend screen time for children of this age. In fact, no authoritative source recommends screen time for children ages 0-5. This is because there is no research to direct them to do otherwise. My role
then is clear: I do not recommend or encourage screen time for children 0-5. And my standards are high: Only the best for children, please.

Not coincidentally, this course of action is completely consistent with my experience with children. I routinely see the sad, glazed expressions of children at computer screens. Children learning are children playing, moving and interacting. This is what the research shows and it’s what I believe we want for our children. I believe screens detract from or distract from what we know how children learn. I see screens draw children into a fixed stare, passivity and immobility. I have seen children behave in an addicted way toward screens. In my observations, screens do not promote or facilitate human interaction. I mostly see screens being used as things to occupy the very young child away from the
adult. I think we are fooling ourselves if we think the small screens are the beneficial, new frontier of child-adult relationships and learning.

But I have digressed into anecdotes. I don’t need to do that. I simply do not recommend or encourage screen time for children ages 0-5 and that is based on research, not my personal taste and opinions. It really is this simple, isn’t it? Do I have to judge parents? No. Do I have to instruct adults in the use of screens with babies? No. Do I have to know, use and demonstrate apps for toddlers? No. Do I have to remove screens from the environment? No. Do I have to make myself available, for free, to companies who want me to help them do their product development? No.

I have to do what I know is best for children (see ECRR) and I do and it is fun. It is fun for kids and it is fun for adults and it is extra fun in groups of kids and adults.

If an adult asked me how to make the optimal, educational use of screen time (they never have) with their child who is 5 or younger, I would discuss with them how important their personal interaction is and how important talking is for their child. I tell parents that children thrive with their encouragement. I tell them that when they are having fun with their child, their child is learning and thriving. I tell them, “Follow the joy”.


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.  Kathy just recently returned, quite vitalized,  from the ALSC Institute in Indianapolis.

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


  1. Jill

    While I admire your passion and principles here, I can’t agree with your conclusion. We DO work for children, and it is true that passive screen time is not great for small kids. But digital media and interactive apps are part of our world now, and like it or not they’re part of kids’ world too. Like any other media available for children, there are good examples, excellent examples, and terrible examples. It behooves us to apply our (hopefully strong) skill in appraisal and advisory to help parents and caregivers find the good stuff and use it in the best way possible. Plopping the kiddos in front of a screen alone to stare passively until their little eyeballs turn to pixels is not good. But exploring a well-made story app together and using “dialogic reading” techniques (that they maybe learned from us!) to talk as they play would be much better. IMO, if we ignore apps or decide they’re “not our job,” we’re opting out of a chance to steer families toward better practices with their children. If we work for children, that’s not right.

    1. Kathy K

      I wonder if we can agree that the small screen experience is essentially a personal, isolated experience. I really think that is its physical nature. I also think passivity is inherent to screen use. I think trying to make screen use a social, interactive experience (that would be the only way to make it beneficial to a child of age 0-5) is illusory. The thing is, we have the book which is virtually perfect. We know what the best practices are, I hope we can find the conviction to stick with them.

      1. Brian

        It is easy to agree that the small screen experience is essentially personal and isolated. However, if that is the criteria of undesirability, then couldn’t the same argument be used against books? I think that your second point, passivity, is a more valid argument against screens and apps for young children.

        If we observe a story time with 0-5 year-olds, where an adult reads to a group of children, what is really going on?

        Answer: Live theatre.

        The book is simply the script, and the illustrations are the props. If the story teller is a skilled performer, he/she will engage the audience with the full range of human interactions: tone and amplitude of voice, emotions, facial expressions, body language, and eye contact. The quality of the performance will determine the level of connection each child feels, and in the connection with the performer, the child may experience joy.

        As educators, what we are trying to create is an association in the mind of the child: book and joy, and growing from that, reading and joy.

        I have no doubt that skilled story tellers could create joyful performances using a small screen / app as a script. The question for me is, do we want to create the association of screen and joy in the minds of the young children in our care?

  2. Cen

    This conversation is such a wonderful learning opportunity for all of us. In the eloquent words of Kiera Parrott: “Technology is not the enemy. It is tempting to operate as if supporting literacy is a zero-sum game in which the players are technology versus books. But it is not a simple dichotomy.” Here is some more information on this topic: Once Upon an App, which recounts the development of a digital storytelling project based on ECCR and Not all Screens are Created Equal (Common Sense Media). Also read the NAEYC position statement, which states “When the integration of technology and interactive media in early childhood programs is built upon solid developmental foundations, and early childhood professionals are aware of both the challenges and the opportunities, educators are positioned  to improve program quality by intentionally leveraging the potential of technology and media for the benefit of every child.”

    1. Kathy K

      I keep reading the NAEYC statement. We are “positioned to improve program quality”? By “leveraging the potential of technology” ? The is a highly circumscribed endorsement of technology for children. If this level of endorsement was on a box of food, I wouldn’t eat it.

      Also, they really aren’t paying attention to the intense developmental needs of the child age 0-5 are they?

  3. Amy Graves

    Kathy, you mention that your position on screen time is “based on research.” Would you mind sharing what research you are referring to? I know a lot of us in the profession would love to see solid research studies on using interactive technologies with young children.

    I wrote a column about this for the upcoming winter issue of Children and Libraries–actually, I wrote about the lack of research on the educational benefits or drawbacks of young children’s use of new media. The lack of research is understandable, as new technologies spring up too frequently, and develop too rapidly, to allow for in-depth research to occur.

    As Jill mentions, examples of these new applications range from awful to awesome. As librarians, expert media evaluators that we are, we are well suited to analyze these new media, to sift the good from the bad, and to offer advice accordingly. Do we have to? I suppose not. But many of us are realizing that this is an opportunity rather than an obligation.

    I respect your position. With ECRR, you are utilizing a well-researched model, used in libraries all over, with great results. You are doing right by the children in your community, providing them with the early literacy skills they will need to succeed in school and in life. I can’t argue with that.

    But I also admire those in our profession that are navigating this new terrain, without a map. These colleagues of ours are busy identifying the best technologies, and finding ways to harness them to enhance library programs and services. Are there guaranteed outcomes? No. These methods have yet to be proven effective, for the reasons stated above. All I can tell you is what I’ve observed: When the use of interactive media is facilitated by a knowledgeable adult, it can, in fact, be harnessed to explore the same early literacy principles as ECRR.

    And, I might add, it doesn’t have to be either/or.

    1. k Kleckner

      The research we can all rely on is in ECRR. There is plenty there. There is no research saying screen time is good for kids age 0-5. None. That is my point.

      It is not excusable. If the tech companies selling screen based content for kids age 0-5 had supportive research, they would be telling us about it. It doesn’t ‘t exist. I don’t believe research will support the use of their products. It is very worrisome.
      I don’t think proceeding ahead to use and promote screen based content with kids this age is a responsible use of the information we have. When it comes to kids, we should know what we are doing and not make assumptions or take risks.

    2. Kathy K

      It is either/or. Either we know it is good for kids age 0-5 or we don’t.

      We don’t. So what is the right thing to do?

  4. k Kleckner

    Jill, yes, finding “the good stuff” is our job. The good stuff for children 0-5 is off screen. ECRR is the best and promoting it is far from missing an opportunity, it is how we seize opportunity to effectively support kids and families and assuring no harm to children.

  5. Kiera Parrott

    Hi Kathy. Rather than respond here (I think Jill and Cen already did a great job articulating the issues when it comes best practices for using digital media with parents and children), I responded to your recent comment and concerns regarding my blog post from 2011 about using iPads in the library:

    1. Kathy K

      You wrote: “I question your statement that children under 5 should not, under any circumstances, be exposed to digital media. ”

      I have never made that statement. I don’t appreciate having my position falsely characterized. I do wonder what motivated you to do that.

  6. Evan

    I completely agree, Kathy. I find myself constantly cringing when technology and children are juxtaposed in a way that doesn’t seem to be very beneficial to the most important component of that equation: the child.
    Yes, as librarians we should be at the forefront of the technological happenings, and we should know how to use the devices our patrons clamor for, but what I noticed most of the other commentators stating was that technology or screen time was okay if ‘used intentionally and appropriately.’ Therein lies the rub. While we, as librarians, can educate our patrons and public about the most ‘appropriate’ ways to use these devices, how many of them will do so or even ask for help? And the patrons that need us most tend not to even come to the library in the first place!
    Technology is incredible. I agree. Children will have plenty of time to learn how to use the technology available, and might I add most of them that do know how are TERRIBLY deficient at it…i.e. couldn’t search for something and actually find a reputable source if their lives depended on it. Oh, but those same boys and girls could whoop me in a round of some terrible video game…gee, that’s going to help write and research the papers in college. Not.
    I cannot encourage or recommend screen time for children between the ages of 0-5. I don’t use it in my programs, and I don’t advocate others using it in theirs. We have a powerful role in modeling for parents, and while we could model by using ‘appropriate’ iPad apps and such, why not instead promote a resource that is accessible to the 99% and not just people with the means to purchase a tablet device? Oh yeah, Books!

    1. Kathy K

      You make good points. No educational professional is saying that any level of technological literacy is necessary to kindergarten readiness. I believe that the “intentionally and appropriately” application is only effective in the classroom, using programs that measurably support learning objectives, in a structured and focused time frame.

      Our, modeling of behaviors and practices is powerful. Like you, I want them to be the best.

      Are there parents leaving story times feeling the least bit inadequate for not having and using apps with their toddler? We are failing these
      parents and seriously undermining the power of the book for children.

  7. Brian

    Hi Kathy,

    In your words I hear needs: a desire to provide high-quality literacy education, a desire to protect children from potentially harmful influences, and a desire to help other librarians and parents do the same.

    At your Library, have you felt pressure (from supervisors or parents) to use or promote screen experiences for young patrons?

    Are you familiar with the Early Literacy Station from AWE? If so, what are your thoughts? (I think I can guess, but I would like to know your opinion)

    Your reliance on research results to guide your work serves my need for living in a thoughtful, rational world; it gives me hope for the future.

  8. Phyllis Peter

    HALLELUJAH, thank you Kathy, while I know technology and screen time will be part of our children’s lives, I refuse to try incorporate it into my storytimes and interactions with children. They will get enough of it as their busy parents manage their day to day lives, and I see my role as a Children’s Librarian to put stories and books and most importantly, a warm, caring adult who is sharing those stories in front of the youngest patrons I serve every week. Every knee hug I get after storytime tells me that my instincts are right, and as you said, research supports it also.

  9. Brian

    The primary concern I have for children of all ages interacting with “apps”, is that we are rapidly creating a society composed of individuals who have all had, essentially, identical experiences. All apps, even the “great” ones, are extremely limited by their programming. They deliver the exact same experience, over and over again, to millions of children. What I foresee in this is a loss of identity. Even if these apps are shown by research to be beneficial in literacy education to the individual child, is it worth the cost? As a culture, we are already suffering from the homogenizing effects of television and advertising. Do we really want to advocate technology which can only lead to even less uniqueness, less individuality?

  10. Phyllis

    On the listserv and blogs I think the point of using technology in the library versus having it used in storytimes was being missed. Of course I expect to use technology day in and day out, but I also refuse to incorporate digital storytelling into my weekly storytime and I will continue to actively lobby this viewpoint, because I think it is best practice. I see it as standing up for what is best for our youngest patrons. Kids are constantly asked to compete for attention from their parents versus a screen, I guess I see storytime as a screen-free refuge with a caring person sharing stories. While mom is busy texting or checking her iPhone, I’ll be reading and interacting with that toddler, warmly sharing stories and introducing books. Of course I remind parents not to use their phones or Ipads during storytime, and to share storytime with their children, almost every session someone does.
    P.S. Just visited Headstart this morning…did you know that their students are not allowed to have any screentime at all in the classroom? I will ask next time I am there what research they have based this decision on.

    1. Kathy K

      Right. I think we have been going through very rapid change in the quantity and nature of technology around us. We are rather in a flood. We haven’t gotten our bearings. We haven’t yet learned to discriminate in the use of technology and be clear about what is appropriate and what is effective and what is not. High tech isn’t always best and that is okay.

      Yes. We are a screen-free refuge, a real-time, real-people experience-everything kids need. I am proud of that. Screens have nothing to add to story times. There isn’t one pixel of added value from screens.

  11. Beth

    I guess I don’t understand the difference in reading say Go Away Big Green Monster from a book or using the app to put it on the big screen for a little variety. I can read Barnyard Dance to my nephew from the book or from the iPad, he’s still looking at a flat surface either way and it’s up to me to make the experience a good one.

    1. Kathy Kleckner

      Hi Beth,

      As we see, a book is a particular physical, tactile experience the is given to adult participation for holding, turning pages and of course, reading.

      The screen is made of light and great speed in the changes of what the child sees. I think it is much more given to child using alone, easily touching the screen “to make it go”. There is a lot of visual stimulation compared to the book, there is a lot of speed as to the changes of images viewed by the child. And there is much less physical movement too, I think. It may not seem like a lot but I think having the body engaged, reaching to turn pages, really adds to learning for a child.

      There is research that shows that a brain, especially the developing brain, can be over-stimulated. I recently discovered the work of Dr. Dimitri Christakis from the ALSC listserv (thanks to Judy Nelson, Chair of ALSC/PLA Every Child Ready to Read Committee) and I think his work is very serious and important.

      I hope you can take 15 minutes to view his fascinating presentation:


      1. Brian

        In my opinion, Dr. Christakis’ experiments with the mice are absurd; scientific garbage. Something so blatantly flawed should raise questions about the accuracy and reliability of his other research work. I hope ECRR is based on better research than this. Ironically, this is a good example of what a culture educated by Television and the Corporate Media now accepts as “Science”. We have lost the ability of critical thinking, to question what we are told by authority figures. We see a smiling face, with a prestigious job title and degree, delivering a slick presentation, and if his message confirms what we want to believe, we are sold.

        I agree with Dr. Christakis message, but I cannot support his methods.

  12. Phyllis

    Beth, you are sharing that app with him., so there probably is not much differenc, in reality most parents will hand the child the iPad or whatever device and lets the app be the child’s experience of that book. I am trying to emphasize how important the shared story experience is and I agree with Kathy that not one pixel of value is added by having a digital component in our storytimes. I love the fact that I can go to an elementary school with 300 kids and tell “Tikki Tikki Tembo” or “Sody Sallyratus” and then kids at Wal-Mart run up to me and say “You’re the Tikki Tikki Tembo lady!” and they want me to repeat the name there in the shampoo aisle. We’ve shared that story and made that connection. As wonderful as technology is, let’s not lose sight of the warm human connection that is made when we share stories with children!

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