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Concern for Screentime and Very Young Children in Regards to Virtual Programming

Virtual programming has been the norm for most of the past year for most if not all public libraries. Librarians have expressed concern about how this might impact very young children (toddlers and younger) and their families. 

We know that the American Academy of Pediatrics historically discouraged media exposure for children under two but have since eased up with the increased use of Facetime, Zoom and other media communication methods. Asked about this, Sarah R. Lytle, Ph.D., Director of Outreach and Education at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington replied: “As you know, the more interactive, the better for younger children. That can mean a caregiver interacting with children around the screen or the child interacting with another adult ‘through’ the screen (i.e., video chat). There is some new research that preschoolers comprehend stories read via video chat just as they do when they hear the story from someone in person – I know this is older than your audience, but I think it’s still relevant. Our recommendations during the pandemic have been to focus on the interaction and the quality of the screentime rather than the time itself – and parents should do what they need to do to take care of themselves, too, so they can be the best parent to their child.” She also stated that researchers are starting to understand more that it is about the quality of the experience and not necessarily the time. The concept of screentime is changing. Check the I-LABS website for more detailed information and the resource list below offers two of their handouts you can use.

So, what do we do as librarians with our concerns & those for the very young we serve? Continue to encourage literacy practices (such as the Every Child Ready to Read II program – Read, Sing, Talk, Write and Play) through our programs, newsletters, blog posts, etc. Offer virtual programs and keep in mind to “Engage-Inform-Integrate” while planning and presenting. Below are some tips and check the resources list for more.

ENGAGE – during a virtual program encourage interaction between adult and child, get them up and moving, do lots of fingergames and expressive readings of stories. Demonstrate to the adult not only how to do these things but also be a role model, encouraging them that they can do these things as well. 

INFORM – share one or two bits of “literacy education” that explains the benefits of storytime in their child’s development and learning. Dads are often amazed that fingergames help babies learn parts of their body, that children use all their senses to learn about the world around them and  how much the brain develops the first three years! 

INTEGRATE – Think of your program as an introduction to family activities that can be done at home. Offer at least one simple way they can incorporate a fingergame during daily activities (for example, diaper changes, transitions from playtime to bedtime, singing a march while taking a walk). Use a paper plate with a smiley face to sing “Mr. Sun” or snuggle close together for a “story break” during the day. 

In this strange new world, we find ourselves needing to “re-create” ourselves and our services. Librarians care and we always will. So, keep going, use the resources available and reach out to our colleagues. Below are resources and if you prefer, feel free to reach out to me at (I’ve just retired so happy to assist if needed!)


ALSC – Virtual Storytime Service Guide online

Early and Family Literacy Committee (ALSC)

“Sharing the EEFL’s Research and Links” Children & Libraries, Winter 2020. (Vol.18, No.4)

Ernst, Linda L. Baby Rhyming Time.  2008.  New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) – Research center at the University of Washington is an interdisciplinary center dedicated to discovering the fundamental principles of human learning, with a special emphasis on early learning and brain development. Their website offers research librarians may find useful and offers handouts such as those below for distribution as is (note: they are not to be edited or personalized).

Ask I-LABS – screen time (handout)

I-LABS at Home – caring across the distance (handout)

Payne, Rachel and Jessica Ralli. 2020. “Virtual Preschool: Making the Most of Remote Class Visits and Programming/ First Steps.” School Library Journal: October 14, 2020.

This post meets the Commitment to Client Group competency.

Linda Ernst is a member of the ALSC Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee and author of Baby Rhyming Time and Essential Lapsit Guide

One comment

  1. Emily Mroczek

    Thanks for this post. This is the mindset I’ve had but it’s nice to see something written about it and have resources to point parents to.

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