AkLA and New Media in Storytime!

I’m in Anchorage at the Alaska Library Association’s annual conference, AkLA, this week! I’m presenting workshops on new media with Cen Campbell from Little eLit, talking about teen services with other Alaskan librarians, and catching up on what’s happening with young people and libraries around the state. Questions about how to use new media in storytime, how to evaluate new media, recommended apps, and how to find apps for free have all come up. I thought I would post the information on evaluating  book and play apps that I share with families at my library so you could see, use, and comment on it. What do you provide parents in your library to help them choose and use new media with their children?

For those of you who attended our workshop and session, stay tuned to the AkLA conference site for links to discussed reports, a list of the apps we used, and our slides (to be posted on the Little eLit site).

Choosing Digital Media

  • Make intentional decisions about digital media with your kids
  • Explore newly downloaded apps on your own before exploring them together with your pre-reader
  • Look for apps and other media that help you and your child write, read, play, sing and talk TOGETHER (the 5 early literacy practices for your pre-reader)
  • Consider the 3 C’s: Context, Content, Child (discussed in Screen Time by Lisa Guernsey)

Book Apps
Look for book apps that have:

  • Meaningful interactive elements that add to the story and are not only for interactivity’s sake (Interactive elements shouldn’t distract from the story)
  • A great story with high quality images
  • Plain, highly-readable font
  • Read-to-me and read-to-myself options
  • Settings for turning on/off music and other sound effects

Play Apps
Look for apps that are:

  • Fun to play over and over again
  • Offer open-ended play
  • Encourage creativity
  • Strengthen one or more of the early literacy practices
  • Age appropriate

And have:

  • Intuitive way-finding
  • Clean, uncluttered display

In-app Purchases and In-app Ads

  • Is the app free of in-app purchases or in-app ads? If not, are they easily ignored and hard to get to?
  • Does the app developer state it will NOT collect data about you or your child within the app?

Use the settings within each app or the device’s general settings to:

  • Disable in-app purchases
  • Require password for in-app purchases

Review Sources

Developers to Check Out

  • Night & Day Studios
  • Toca Boca
  • Loud Crow Studios
  • Auryn
  • Spinify
  • Oceanhouse Media
  • Software Smoothie

Digital Media and Kids Resources

  • Fred Rogers Center http://www.fredrogerscenter.org
  • Sesame Street Workshop http://www.sesameworkshop.org
  • Common Sense Media http://www.commonsensemedia.org
  • Moms with Apps http://momswithapps.com
  • American Association of Pediatricians’ Media Use Position Statementhttp://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/132/5/958
  • Screen Time : How Electronic Media-From Baby Videos to Educational Software-Affects Your Young Child by Lisa Guernsey (Basic Books, 2012)
  • Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance: Poverty, Literacy, and the Development of Information Capital by Susan B. Neuman  and Donna C. Celano (Teachers College Press, 2012)

  • Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John G. Palfrey (Basic Books, 2010)
  • The Parent App: Understanding Families in the Digital Age by Lynn Schofield Clark (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Elementary: Augmented Reality Tech Lab

Back in October, Anne Hicks and I wrote about our digital program experiences as part of the Little eLit October Tech Challenge. While I focused on a digital storytime for preschool and early elementary aged kids, Anne shared the details of her Augmented Reality Tween Tech Lab for 8-12 year olds. I absolutely loved the program idea and proceeded to plan a similar lab at my library. Don’t you just love the internet, professional networks, and the sharing that ensues?

fablevision_digital_learning_day_2014_bannerEarly this month, I hosted my Augmented Reality Tech Lab afterschool on Digital Learning DayFive people came to the event (four kids and one dad), which turned out to be the perfect size for the first lab. The number sounds small, but assessing the success of the program involved more than counting the number of attendees. Every one of these kids ages 10 & 11 (and the adult) were highly engaged for the entire hour.  They met the goals set out for the lab which included:

  • They learned something new (most of them didn’t know what augmented reality was nor had they used any of these apps before).
  • They were able to talk about how else augmented reality could be or is used.
  • They shared the devices, played and worked together, and helped each other figure out any quirks or challenges.

I introduced the program by telling the attendees that the program was a lab in which we would experiment with some new tools to see what we could do with them while having fun. I hope to have the resources to offer more tech labs for this age group after school and during the summer, so offering this program was an experiment for me, too.

Based on Anne’s suggestions, I followed my intro with a short video about augmented reality and then demonstrated each of the apps detailed here. After each demo, kids had the opportunity to try the app out for about 10 minutes. At the end of the program, kids could go back and use any of the apps we had tried. Kids enthusiastically explored all of the apps as we went along and said they liked all of them, even the PBS apps which they initially thought would be too young for them.

Tools for the program:
iPads- Our library only has one iPad right now, but I also brought mine along with two other iPad minis. We had plenty for this size group. I encouraged attendees to bring their personal iPads if they had one, which one family dad did, but they forgot to bring their Apple ID. (I sent him the app names after the program attended.)

Apple TV, a large monitor, and wifi- To make it easy for the group to see the apps as I talked about them, I mirrored my iPad on to the large TV in our meeting room. Our city’s IT director made this possible using an Apple TV and a wifi network which he set up in this room specifically for this event with a separate router from the wifi that is available to the general public in the library. Because we don’t have great wifi, this essentially prioritizes the devices in the program, making downloading the apps faster and watching videos without buffering possible.  We have used this set up before and it works nicely.

colAR mix appcolAR Mix (Puteko Limited, 2013): This app uses coloring sheets as markers. Before the program, I printed out several copies of the free coloring sheets availableon the app developers’ website. Once kids colored in the pages with the provided colored pencils, the app brings them to life. The kids colored about half of their sheets in the ten minutes, but they got to see the effect. This would be a good app to use with more time and reminds me of the Squiggle Fish app I used in storytime last summer.

ARSoccer app

ARSoccer-Augmented Reality Soccer Game (Laan Consulting Corp, 2010): This app is available for iPad or iPhone and is a funapp to get kids moving while exploring what augmented reality can do beyond the static coloring sheets. It’s hysterical to see kids holding an iPad while kicking their feet up in the air! It looked so funny that an adult patron stopped in to see what we were doing and the kids got him to try it. ($1.99)

ARBasketball-Augmented Reality Game (Augmented Pixels Co Ltd, 2013) This free app for iPhone and iPad appealed to the sports fans in the group, but didn’t get any laughs nor did it provide a full body ARBasketball appworkout. I downloaded the marker from developers’ website and some of the kids mentioned that the marker looked similar to a QR code. This app got kids thinking about angle and force as they shot virtual basketballs into the virtual hoop triggered by the real marker that we placed in front of the player on a table or floor. This game offers multi-player options, but we avoided the social media connections and used the single player version, taking turns.

guinness records appGuinness World Records 2014 – Augmented Reality Lite (Guinness World Records, 2013) This free app for iPad and iPhone works with the 2014 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s a little glitchy, but you initiate the app by hovering over the cover and then you can look at 3D versions of or videos about wacky record holders in the book. This was a nice transmedia book tie-in not only for the kids at the program, but also for kids who hang at the library after school. (I brought out my iPad and some of these apps when some similar aged kids were getting a little wiggly the other day.)

These last two apps use augmented reality to create educational games for games.

CyberChase Shape Quest! (PBS Kids, 2013) When I brought this free app (for iPhone and iPad) up on the screen, the kids got aPBS Cyber Chase app little nervous because it seems targeted at a younger audience. But, the kids actually liked this because of the AR interface. This is a geometry based that inspires kids to use their problem solving skills to master puzzles and games. This app is more complex than the sports apps and would be fun to explore for longer with time.

Fetch app

FETCH! LUNCH RUSH (PBS Kids, 2011) This free app uses basic math problems to play a multi-player game that involves making sure there is enough sushi for Fetch’s moviecrew. To play this app, I spread the markers that I downloaded around the room. As we played, kids were presented with a basic addition problem and had to move around the room to find the marker with the right answer. They hovered over the marker with what they thought was the correct answer and a stack of sushi appeared in the app. If it was correct, the timed turn was over and another player was given  problem. (For iPhone and iPad)

Want to know more about Augmented Reality? Check out these quick resources:
How Stuff Works: Augmented Reality
Wikipedia: Augmented Reality
Google Glass as potential Augmented Reality headset

Image Credits:
colAR Mix: iTunes
ARSoccer: iTunes
ARBasketball: iTunes
Guiness World Records: iTunes
Cyber Chase Shape Quest!: iTunes
Fetch Lunch Rush: iTunes

STEAM-y Storytime 2: Under the Sea, Matey!

Wow! STEAM-y Storytime 2 was part fabulous, part controlled chaos. With almost 70 kids and caregivers, we managed to read, sing, experiment, and create!

A storytime friend returned to the library to read this week. I provided him with a few pirate and sea books that he brought to life between songs on his guitar. This volunteer is a great addition and I love introducing storytellers to the library families.

Under the Sea books...

Lots of rhyming in this week’s books! All were kid-pleasers.

sheep on a ship

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Sheep on a Ship by Nancy Shaw and Margot Apple (Houghton Mifflin, 1989).

Pirate Princess by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Jill McElmurry (Harper Collins, 2012).

The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2008).

Under the Sea activities…

I was a little worried when I looked out on the crowd before me and explained what was happening at the three activity stations we were offering. There were a lot of kids! I quickly described the stations and how caregivers could help their little ones explore. Not to worry. With the help of great caregivers, the kids dove right in discovered new ideas and tools at the multiple stations. Storytime lasted longer than the usual hour, but I was happy to let kids experiment. Here is what we did for the latter part of storytime:

Sink and Float

sink float Sink and Float is a classic preschool activity, but it was a first for storytime at our library, perhaps because of the water that ended up all around the station! Clean was pretty easy though, thanks to plastic table covers.Photo Jun 05, 4 27 48 PM

I had four tubs of water with a variety of objects and a laminated sink-float chart alongside. Caregivers were instructed to help kids predict if each object would sink or float and why. They placed the object on the chart under sink or float based on their decision. Then they tested their prediction.

The best moment at this station was watching a little one’s face when we made an aluminum foil boat that floats and placed an object that sunk on top of it…and it floated. His mind was blown!

Squiggle Fish

This station was a hit! It allowed kids to do what they do best: create and explore across media. Using fish drawn on 1/4 page white cardstock and the Squiggle Fish app on an iPad, we turned over twenty-five fish into a digital sea swimming with creatures!

squiggle fish2

The trick with this app is having kids draw and color fish on the white paper and outline the fish with a thick black pen. I had kids write their names inside the black outline so we could easily identify the fish on-screen.

Once the fish were finished, I held the iPad over the drawings and the picture of the fish, minus the white background, was digitized and animated on screen. We had everything from a family of fish to an octopus. While the finished sea of creatures isn’t shareable (maybe in an update?), I took screenshots of different views of our sea and posted one on our library’s Facebook page for families to download.

Are you looking for other apps to integrate into storytime? Check out the field-tested apps for toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary age kids pinned on Little eLit’s Pinterest boards. Each pin includes technical information and suggested storytime use.

Fish in the Sea

fish craft At the last minute I added this simple craft station, fortunately. This one was most popular with younger kids and allowed almost every kid to find something that captured their interest. I found the idea on Pinterest. The minimal materials made it affordable and easy to put together.

A sheet of cardstock folded on each of the short edges and down the middle was cut horizontally (to the side folds). Small fish were cut out of 1/8 page scrap construction paper and stapled on to the slats. I had several fish already cut out as samples, but kids and caregivers cut out many more. Some paper was cut in wavy lines making the scene look even more sea-like. This craft was perfect because it was self-explanatory and the teen volunteer and I could focus on the other two stations.

images: Macmillan, Nerdy Chicks Rule

Affirmative! Robots in Storytime

Today I chose to use a game app in storytime. Yes, I used my iPad…during Screen Free Week. I didn’t do it by accident or in spite of the Kids ipad photoevent. Awhile back before I remembered about the week, I came across another librarian’s storytime plan that was perfect in its own right, but it had the added bonus of a recommended app well-suited to my preschool storytime audience and setting. I put the theme on the schedule for this week and kept on planning. I could have reconfigured the schedule when I realized the significance of the week, but I made a conscious choice to go ahead with it because I think how, and not just how much, we use apps with kids needs attention. How better to model that usage than by including one in storytime?

How did it go? The kids and I talked, read stories, told stories, sang songs, played with the feltboard, built digital robots with the app, then built paper robots, cleaned up, and then played with LEGOs. We had a blast and those amazing kids demonstrated their wide array of early literacy skills and their ability to smoothly migrate from one medium to the next without obvious hesitation.

First off I have to thank Anne Hicks of Anne’s Library Life. Not only did she post her great robot storytime plan for the rest of us to see, but she answered my questions about her experience using an iPad only vs. using an iPad mirrored on a big screen in her library.

My children’s library is lovely, but not particularly suited for using a big screen to mirror what’s on my iPad. Behind the story area is a corner of book shelves leaving no wall space for a safe place to place a monitor without it being precariously set on a cart with cords extending across the floor, just waiting for feet to trip over. The room is also full of windows and we really don’t like to darken them. With such dark winters, we’ll take all of the light we can get in Alaska.

The other reason I wanted to use my iPad only in the storytime, is the fact that this was not advertised as a digital storytime. We do have another meeting room with a large monitor that I’ve used to share an enhanced e-book as part of a special program, but my ultimate plan in storytime is to reflect the intertwined reality that exists in our mixed media lives. Since this was the first time I used interactive digital media in a weekly storytime (instead of a regular e-book), I also didn’t want the screen to be the focus. I felt that using the iPad only (without the monitor) was a more subtle and normalized way to show families how digital technology can be successfully integrated into the activities we all love already. The iPad is one more tool that extends our exploration and fun.


While families arrived, I sang with the kids who came on time. Sometimes we sing Open Shut Them, a popular storytime starter, or a themed song using shakers or other instruments. (I look forward to trying out the rhyme cube Ann and other librarians mention on their blogs!)

robotsEach week, I display books that I am going to include in storytime, as well as a few others, in front of the group. (I often bring out more books than I am going to read during storytime so kids can see related books to read in the library or take home with them.) I have kids use the images and words or letters on the book covers to try and figure out what we are going to talk about. With books like Robots by Mark Bergin (Franklin Watts 2001) it was pretty easy this week. While this book is older, it showed some basic images that were helpful. We used these images to talk about what differentiates a robot from a person. And then we decided to pretend to be robots! With legs, arms, bodies, and heads, we fit the bill.

Once everyone was settled, I installed on/off buttons on every little robot. We practiced our robot movements, our robots sounds, and even learned the robot word for yes, “Affirmative,” which features prominently in the next book, Boy + Bot. Before each book we turned on our listening buttons. We didn’t make them quiet buttons because questions and comments are strongly encouraged in my “interactive” storytimes.boyandbot

Boy + Bot by Ame Dickman with illustrations by Dan Yaccarino (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) was the perfect book for this storytime. The simple text and friendship theme is easily understood and loved by the preschool crowd. The boy and robot meet, become quick friends, and then appreciate how each works after a slight mishap with the robots power button and the boy’s nighttime sleep, both new concepts to the other.

We usually spend some time practicing counting when we use the felt board with activities like this one. I point to each robot as kids interject the number of robots. Kids are usually very enthusiastic about contributing to the counting. (In the storytime at a local childcare center I brought these robots and kids named each of the robots also.)

5 Little Robots FeltFelt Board

Five Noisy Robots
5 noisy robots (make sound effects!) in the toy shop,
Shiny and tall with antennae on the top (hands/arms above head and then hold fingers up as antennae above head).
Along came a girl with a penny one day (walk fingers and then show a penny to the kids).
Bought a noisy robot (make sound effects!) and took it away.
(continue with 4, 3, 2, 1 noisy robots)
Credit: Ann’s Library Life

When all of the robots were purchased, I asked the kids how many were left. Some proclaimed “zero” while others said “none.” We talked about how zero was the number that represented none and then we made the shape of a circle with the fingers of both hands touching and talked about how the number zero, the letter O, and the circle were all the same shape. We then had to make big circles with our arms overhead, the fingers on one hand, and our bodies, of course.

Robot Zombie FrankensteinRobot Zombie Frankenstein by Annette Simon (Candlewick Press, 2012) was the final book I shared. This is a great book to share at storytime, but I have found that reading it definitely needs some prefacing. The elements of friendship, playful competition, and repetition are subtle and preschoolers may need help appreciating them (dialogic reading is key here). I preface the story by telling kids it is a story about two friends who are having a contest. As the story progresses, kids love to guess what costumes the robots will come up with next. Some preschoolers were even able to remember the long list of personas the robots dressed up as throughout the competition.


I’m a little robot, short and strong,
Here are my handles, just turn me on. (put fists on hips for handles, then push your sticker “on/off button”)
When I get all warmed up, watch me go.
Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. (roll forearms and hands around each other fast and slow)
Credit: Ann’s Library Life


Robot Lab by Toca Boca (iOS version)robotlab, $2.99
The object of the app is to take junkyard parts and make a robot that can fly. Legs, arms, bodies, and heads are chosen from three options for each piece displayed at the bottom of the screen and dragged to the flashing shape of the robot part to be added. Then the robot is flown by dragging the robot with your finger (directed by up, down, left, and right arrows) through a maze to an overhead magnet. Once the robot is connected to the magnet, it goes through the tester. It comes out the other side and receives the “approved” stamp. There is no sound and no in app advertising. We talked about shapes, colors, directions, body parts, and took turns picking which piece to add. We made two robots before moving on.

I tested out both this app and Bot Garage based on the book Lots of Bots!: A Pop-up Counting Book, but I thought this one worked better for my storytime. The Robot Lab’s simpler screen (image of cardboard box plus three body part choices at a time and the flashing outline of the body part to be added) allowed the kids to focus on one aspect of the new media at a time. We started by adding legs, and were then guided to add the parts one section at a time moving up the body of the robot. They weren’t trying to understand a busy background at the same time as making a choice for which color or shape of part to add. It was easy to see what the object of the game was, especially important when using the smaller screen of an iPad (vs. on a monitor) with a group.


Paper Robot CraftFor this storytime’s craft we built paper robots. The kids were thrilled to create these little bots inspired by Rebecca at Sturdy for Common Things. I substituted a few pieces and steps because I couldn’t find glitter paper or enough brass fasteners in town for the whole group. Ah, small town living. The changes worked out just fine!

metallic (or glittery) cardstock- I cut each 8 1/2 x 11″ piece of card stock into 3 sections and then cut each strip (approximately 8″h x 3 1/3″w) to make a one piece robot with a thinner head and wider body, leaving rectangles used for arms (shorter) and legs (longer) from the bottom for each robot.
brass fasteners (to make movable arms/legs)
foam papers cut into shapes
googly eyes
pipe cleaners for antennas
small hole punch- I let kids/parents punch the holes where arms would be attached with fasteners and on the head for the pipe cleaner antennas.

For kids who still wanted to play together at the library, I offered up my basket of large LEGOs® at the end of storytime. A small group of parents and kids sat and talked together while building robots, trucks, trains, and walls.

What would I do differently with this storytime? I would include more tips for parents about joint media engagement, early literacy, and using apps. I focus on the kids and modeling successful practices during storytime, but I am looking for more strategies for informing parents about the skills, practices, and research without taking away from the storytime experience. Have any tips? I would love to hear them.

Update 6/18: Check out a 2018 Robot Storytime with more ideas!

Photo of children with the iPad is courtesy of Barrett Web Coordinator, used according to a Creative Commons license.