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Melissa Depper's picture

Screen Time Book Club: Chapters 7 & 8

Thanks everyone! We are rolling through the book! We are getting solid numbers of views on the discussions each week and are happy so many people are reading and thinking along with us. Thanks especially to those of you who have commented on the questions. We would love to encourage everyone again to jump in and add your two cents! None of us are "experts" here, we are just sitting down with the nitty gritty of our daily library lives and thinking through some ideas. We would love to hear what is crossing your mind as you read or re-read these chapters.

This week we are looking at Chapters 7 & 8: Could the Right DVD Teach My Child to Speak, or Better Yet, Become Bilingual? and Can Electronic Media Enrich My Child's Vocabulary?

In Chapter 7 Lisa looks at a case study of a hearing boy raised by deaf parents who mistakenly thought the best language strategy was to not use sign language, and as a result, the language he did learn was largely mediated by TV shows, and of course, was problematic. Lisa writes, "Developmental psychologists and cognitive scientists are starting to discover just how much a person requires real, person-to-person contact to learn language." She talks about a parent who was learning language-prompting techniques to use with her toddler from an educational DVD, and how the impact of that is not from the child watching the DVD, but from the *mom* learning and then interacting in new ways with her child.

This chapter was written in 2007, well before our current touch screen era. In the epilogue, added to the 2012 paperback, Lisa talks about a study that showed that of children who watched a live scenario, a screen scenario, and an interactive screen scenario, the children who saw the live and interactive screen episodes were most able to solve a related puzzle, indicating that touch screen experiences have different learning consequences than passive viewing experiences. I'm curious about what language learning might be like as we continue into the touch screen era. Will children such as the hearing boy in the case study have different opportunities than before? We're already seeing how kids with special needs are able to communicate in revolutionary ways with touch screen devices. Have you seen any research or studies that address interactivity in language learning apps? Are you using touch screens with special needs children in your libraries?

Also, the parents learning parenting strategies from DVDs made me think of storytime. (Yes, pretty much everything makes me think of storytime!) There's a lot of excitement in many libraries about our ability to demo age-appropriate apps in storytimes or preschool tech programs and create just this type of learning opportunity for the parents. If you have shared apps in storytime, do you also share a "tech message" or a reason you like the app you are showcasing? If so, what is the response from your adults? Are they interested? Are they grateful? Do they tune it out? How does this mirror or not any experience you have sharing early literacy messages as a part of storytimes and preschool programs?

In Chapter 8 Lisa talks about research around how and if children do add to their vocabularies by watching videos. At the end of the chapter, she writes, "Kremar and Grela's study...spotlighted two critical factors in using media to expose children to new vocabulary words. First, the media design must emulate the way language is used. The closer the product comes to simulating the way a good nursery school teachers or attentive parents talks to a young child, the better. Linear, straightforward story lines will help. Language should be simple. New words should be repeated often and used explicitly as teaching moments, with their meaning described or displayed on the screen."  I think it's clear that the best vocabulary learning comes from direct engagement and conversation with an adult, but again, this makes me curious about apps. What apps do you know meet these criteria? Have you used any of them in storytime?

Ack, this is getting really long and I still want to ask if anyone has had experience with the LENA device?  It is designed to record conversations between a caregiver and a toddler, then uses the data to help the caregivers boost their language interactions with their child. The city of Providence is in the middle of a huge project using it.

PS: I have utterly no experience in being bilingual and have very little experience working with bilingual or ESL families. Does anyone with this strength want to talk about second language learning and digital experiences?

OK Melissa is finally over and out!!! :) Your turn!

Andrea Vernola's picture

Great questions, Mel! 

Regarding touch screen technology and kids with special needs...I haven't seen any research on this but I have heard lots of anecdotal stories from parents online or in person about how devices have played a roll in helping their child grow in communication skills. I think the role that handheld devices may play in education for children with special needs is another critical reason why children's librarians need to be informed about how to use this technology and be willing to learn how to make media recommendations in this area. 

Regarding tech tips in storytime...I have only done a few digital storytimes which were basically regular storytimes but with digital elements added in. The parents knew that it would be slightly different than our usual storytimes. I did use some tech tips each time but they really weren't concerned with them. Not grateful or interested. On the contrary, they are usually interested and grateful for literacy tips in our regular storytimes. So I'm not sure if it's my delivery or the crowd or some unknown factor. For each digital storytime, there were a handful of our storytime regulars but also a new group of parents/children who don't usually come to storytime so that was interesting. I appreciated a chance to get to know a new crowd in a new way and think the digital storytimes were still beneficial and a positive experience at the library.

Regarding apps that promote vocabulary and direct engagement with caregivers....I think one example might be an app like SoundTouch (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sound-touch/id348094440?mt=8). This app shows different pictures when you touch the cartoon image. My 3 year old has loved it since she was two and I have also used it in storytime. What I like about using it with my child is that we talk about the different images, increasing our conversations and her vocabulary. It's not much different than how we use flash cards or even when we are just looking through a book talking about the pictures. We try to make the sounds and see if it sounds the same as the recording and we talk about each picture. The app might show a duck as a baby, as a group of ducklings and/or various breeds. There are animals, musical instruments, transportation, etc. Lots of themes and images to explore.

I've also used this particular app and others like it in storytime with great success. We might guess animal sounds and then look at some pictures and describe what we see. Or we have talked about what different transportation vehicles do or how different musical instruments sound--low, high, brass, wind, etc. There are other apps like this but this was the first one that came to mind for something that allows for lots of adult interaction and therefore learning. Of course, not everyone will use it this way and some kids will just be by themselves looking at photos. I can't say that's the worst thing they could be doing but we know more learning would happen if the adult were working with them.

Regarding LENA...that is really cool. I had never heard of this and the project in Providence is awesome.

Both of these chapters, filled me with encouragement and pride in the work that we do as children's librarians. It is so important to be encouraging parents to be talking to their kids to grow their vocabulary and help them become ready to learn to read. We model this in storytime and encourage parents to keep at it. What they do makes a huge difference and we know this and are lucky to get to to play the role of support! 

Kathy Kleckner's picture

Hi All,

Well, we have no research in these chapters or anywhere in the book regarding apps.  I personally believe that because apps are so engaging and easy for very young children to use they will, on the whole, be used by children alone.  There is a lot we do not know.  I am not comfortable going foward, guiding parents, based on assumptions.  We are caring, responsible adults in the lives of children and I think that means we avoid assumptions.

I think the main point of these two chapters is that technology is at its best when it most closely mimics what is actually best, humans.  I don't know why we want that but that is probably the subject of another book. If we as librarians do talk about screen content and provide parent education, I think we should point out how it is inferior to human interaction with regard to language acquisition and may also be harmful in emotional and social terms as well.  We should be reasonably complete and balanced in the information we provide, no?  I think that successfully supporting parents in talking to their chidren is a big challenge in and of itself.  Absolutely, we can take great pride if we are helping kids in this way.  However, what little research I have seen on app use is that it depresses talking (except for Skype).

Melissa Depper's picture

Hi Kathy!

No, there's no research in the chapters about apps because they pre-date that technology. That's why I pointed to the interactivity research Lisa mentioned in the epilogue, which is relevant because of the interactivity of the touch screen.

I understand that it's uncomfortable sometimes to step into the unknown; but I think what we can remind ourselves is that we know a lot, collectively, already. And some of what we know is that the best apps do mimic and foster the real-life interactions. That's a great "content" aspect of the 3 Cs Lisa talks about: content, context, and child, and a great, easy way for us to be able to help parents quickly assess the tech they are already using. I think that's the biggest issue I have with the wait-and-see approach--no matter what we know now or might learn later, families are already using the technology that exists. We can either say, "Don't do this at all," which is realistically only going to be taken up by a small number of families, or we can say, "Here's what we know so far." Most families live in the middle.

So does mine--I know packaged & processed food is not good on a regular basis, but believe me my kids ate their share of boxed mac and cheese when they were little. The stuff I knew about nutrition helped me navigate which boxes and how often they had it, but it didn't keep it off the table completely. This is the type of real-world parenting from my own experience I keep in mind when thinking about how to help families in the library.

Coincidentally, just this morning this article was published on Kidscreen:

In the Absence of Research: On Babies, Toddlers, and Screen Time by David Kleeman

Thanks! Melissa



Melissa Depper
Librarian, Child and Family Library Services
Arapahoe Library District (CO)

Kathy Kleckner's picture


I don't see that Lisa Guernsey has written anything in Chapters 7 or 8 or in the Epilogue that supports librarians recommending any screen content to children.  We have no information saying that new tech is as good or better than what we have done or used before its arrival and there are risks involved with it.

I think saying "Don't do this at all" to parents is neither appropriate, realistic nor professional.  I feel the same way about recommending app use to children and parents.  Fortunately,  we don't have to do either.

Please consider our recent history and this topic.  We have known since the 90s, through a substantial amount of research, that there are television shows with educational value.  And I don't know of a single library that rolled a television into the children's room and arranged for children and adults to view those television programs.  We have also known that adults and children talking about television programs is helpful to children learning.  And we never modeled television watching for children and families.  We (easily) could have done these things.  Why didn't we?

I think it is because, as a profession, we were clear and committed to focusing on what we knew was highly effective for literacy development and entirely healthy for children and families.  I think our predecessors of the television era have been proven correct in abstaining from promoting that which is unproven or inferior.  The choices they made have been invaluable to building the credibility of librarians (us) in the communities we serve to this day.

I think information to parents is important and I don't think we should be entirely mute or entirely passive about the topic.  I think there is work to be done to develop effective, fact-based (real-world) education for parents that must include information about:

-problems screen time can cause for sleep and other concerns related to individual children

-possible effects of how and how much caregivers are using screen time and other contextual matters

-importance of limiting time on screens regardless of screen content

-no screen time is necessary to literacy or any aspect of child development

-in-app purchasing problems, geo-location, etc.

Do you think all such information as this must be included in a conversation about screen time?  Why would we leave any of this out?  But noting the problems amounts to a warning label, doesn't it?

I don't think items requiring a warning label meet a standard of excellence or are worthy of our recommendation.  But certainly we must help parents be fully informed as to what is known, unknown and the choices available to them for literacy/child development. 

I think being careful about the difference between promoting screen time and being a resource for parents as consumers of screen time is key.