By Lisbeth Boutang
Below is my report on a session that I attended at the Minnesota
Library Association’s Annual Conference that was held in St. Cloud, MN, Nov. 10
and 11. The paper is the written part of my obligation for receiving
scholarship funds to attend the Conference. The entire conference was rich with
information and exchanges. Thank you for providing the funding that allowed me
to take advantage of this valuable professional opportunity. Once again, ALS rocks!
Session 41
Screen Time and Early Literacy
Development
(review)
presented by Kathy Kleckner, Children’s Librarian, Dakota County Libraries.
“In just a few years, tablet and app technology sales have
exploded into multi-billion-dollar markets,” writes Kleckner in the session
synopsis of her presentation, appearing in the MLA Conference program. Indeed, it
is the spoils of an all-too-familiar consumer reflex to acquire the latest
technologies in media devices. The hidden costs of those impulses have yet to
emerge as purchasing preempts—by years—critical research on the use of these
pervasive devices and their effects on children and adults.
“Toddlers and preschoolers represent the largest group of app
users among children,” the preview continues.  “How is this new and increased screen time
affecting children age
0-5 and the families we serve?  What does
research tell us about screen time, tablets, apps, and early literacy
development and child development?”
The equation Kleckner presents in her talk is:  Minus + 0 = No. The negative effects of
screen time for preschoolers plus its zero proven value equals a firm no in
recommending these devices for our youngest learners.
Instead, the three crucial ingredients for early literacy
success that she recommends are:
·      Face-to-face
interaction with other human beings.
·      Opportunities
for children to manipulate and explore their worlds.
·      Open-ended
free play. Young imaginations are muscles which thrive on experiential
learning.
While the long-term effects of electronic devices on early
learners are unavailable, a lot is already known:
  • Preschool-age children consume 32 hours of TV weekly.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use by children younger than age 2 and recommends limiting older children’s screen time to no more than one or two hours a day.
  • Too much screen time has been linked to childhood obesity, irregular sleep, behavioral problems, impaired academic performance, violence, and less time for play.

Perception plays a vital role in society’s endorsement of new
things. The more parents believe media is educational, the more they will use
it, says Kleckner. In truth, children weaned on screens do not learn as well,
and the dangers of “distraction” make a quick case to set limits on screen time:
Fifty percent of parents now own electronic tablets and 80 percent own “Smart”
phones. Opportunities for distraction and injuries from using these devices—especially
among toddlers and teens—are on the rise.
The power of the Every
Child Ready to Read @ Your Library
initiative is its emphasis on engagement—writing,
singing, talking, reading, playing—real world learning that encourages social
interaction and creative play, reminds Kleckner, and I agree. Imagine the fun
parents and young children experience creating and improvising with sock
puppets. There’s an app for that. Imagine the wonder-filled ritual of a tea
party. Alas, there’s an app for that too, which, to say the least, truncates
the experience onto a cramped, two-dimensional screen.
Imagine now, it’s time for bed, and your child wants to hear a
story. There’s an app for that! Screen time before bed? Don’t get me started. These
alternative sources for real world play and engagement disturb me on so many
levels I do not know where to begin.
When I discovered Goodnight
Moon
—a beloved bedtime classic—was now available in an app, something
inside of me crushed like a tin can, only that tin can was the memory of my
mother telling me vibrant tales while she ironed the wash. Granted a device of
sorts (the iron) separated my mother and me, but it had nothing to do with the
telling of the story. In fact, she never hesitated to set the iron upright if
she needed to punctuate the tale with a sweeping gesture. We had a grand time,
and the ironing got done. Will such parent-child moments be eclipsed by
multi-billion dollar industries that don’t wait for experts to study the
effects of these products on the users? 
Sound familiar?
Kleckner’s presentation recommended several books on the
subject, including: Children’s books like Doug
Unplugged
by Dan Yaccarino, Chloe
by Peter McCarty, Boy and Bot by Ame
Dyckman, as well as adult nonfiction titles like Screen Time: How Electronic MediaFrom
Baby Videos to Educational Software
Affects Your Young Child by Lisa Guernsey, The
Big
Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age
by Catherine
Steiner-Adair,
 and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our
Brains 
by Nicholas Carr. Most of these
titles the Cloquet Public Library already holds. The others I am acquiring.
Kleckner’s
research, in my mind, underscores a significant fact: What adults do affects
the well being of children—whether you are a parent, mentor, media
specialist, grandmother, teacher, celebrity, etc. Adults must be willing to
examine their use and/or abuse of electronic devices and how they may be using
them unwittingly or intentionally as educational or communication tools with the
earliest of learners. Our use of electronic devices certainly influences the
model we are setting for children today and generations to come.
Our
staff had a recent discussion regarding electronic tablets, including their
potential relevance in story time. Personally I had never considered their use
in story time and cringed at the prospect of being encouraged to do so. That
worry is certainly quenched. In fact, I find the opportunity of reinforcing the
precepts of Every Child Ready to Read during story times more and more
inspiring as I reflect on this session. The prospect of workshops for parents
and childcare providers introducing and reinforcing these practices is again on
my program schedule. Before MLA, I checked out the updated and expanded 2nd
edition of Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library. It’s time to get my
own copy. I also plan on using the information I learned to write a column for
our local paper.
Another presentation that
dovetailed beautifully with this one was “Arts and Creativity for Children @
Your Library: Best Practices” by Leah Hughes, Director of Education,
Bloomington Theatre and Art Center. The content of this year’s conference was
exceptional—as a pertinent reference point and as a starting point to continue
my studies as a children’s librarian.
P.S.     I capped off my conference experience with author Mary
Sharratt’s session, “The Illuminating Wisdom of Hildegard von Bingen,” and now
I’m reading her book. What a rich array of learning and exchanges! Thank you so
much.