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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Early Literacy Skills and Technology

Researchers, psychologists, librarians, and parents all seem to agree that it is never too early to start reading to your child. Even in utero reading could have benefits in building aural connections between the child and the parents’ voices. All agree, the earlier we start, the better.

But is there a time when it is too early to utilize technology in reading?


I am always interested in the possibilities and challenges that technology offers to the modern library. Technology and media has already drastically transformed our adult and teen library spaces. I wonder how/if technology can benefit early literacy programs in the library. Obviously we can utilize library web pages to offer resources for parents and to market our programs, but are there advantages or disadvantages to introducing technological tools into storytelling and early childhood programs? Do these tools inhibit the shared reading environment?

Studies have found a significant correlation between when shared reading begins for a child and language scores at the age of four and that 9 out of 10 of those children who begin schooling as poor readers in 1st grade will still be a poor reader in 4th grade.  We also know that children aged 4-6 living in a high-TV household, are far less capable of reading (34% vs 56%).[1]  But at the same time, all I ever hear from parents is how the iPad is the most important new learning tool for young children, replete with a wealth of educational applications. Now I don’t mean to imply that television and an educational iPad application are the same experience. The iPad inherently demands a more shared experience than television does, but I don’t believe an iPad demands the level of sharing that book-reading, or group storytime can offer. 

Furthermore, having shared reading time between child and caregiver is essential, but as Every Child Ready to Read emphasizes, it is also important how you read with a child to emphasize early literary skills. For young children sensory experience is so important to how they learn. Whether that’s tactile, aural, visible, or even oral, these are all experiences that young children can have with a physical book, and with the physical space of children’s libraries. And young children also improve memory retention when they are emotionally involved, something that can be hard to replicate through technology. Ultimately, if we can use technology while maintaining the social, loving, dialogic, parent-child relationship that lies at the core of shared reading they can be a benefit, but these elements can NOT get lost in the sweep of this digital era.

That said, don’t we also have a responsibility to prepare our children for that digital world? Such goals are becoming essential to curricular goals as children grow older. What age or level of development do you think is right to introduce such tools? How are you using today's tech tools--computers, electronic games, tablet devices—in your early literacy program, if at all? I am very curious about the role of technology in early childhood development and would love to hear some of your experiences!

[1] Statistics cited in Saroj Nadkarni Ghoting and Pamela Martin-Díaz, Early Literacy Storytimes @ Your Library: Partnering with Caregivers for Success  p6-10; Also see Maryanne Wolf, and Catherine J. Stoodley. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. Ch. 4, pp. 81-107


  1. This is such a hard topic. Unfortunately, most parents (me included) introduce screen time (tv, computer, ipad, iphone) at a fairly early age. Unless I completely ban myself from these tools (especially my iPhone) it is impossible to keep it from my 9 month old daughter. She sees mommy on the iPhone, so she wants it too. It try my best to keep her from it, and do not plan on allowing her television shows or movie until she is 2 years old.

    When will I use these tools for educational purposes? Well, I can already tell that she will want to use my iPad sooner rather than later. It is nice that there are educational games to play versus only movies or games. I want her to understand how to use it and play the games. Yet, I do not plan on allowing her to play on it all day. The iPad is going to be a reward much like the television will be. She will be allowed to use it for a set period of time and no more. I want her also to play outside, read books, play with toys, interact with other children - etc.

    I suppose it is all about balance. Technology is good but should not be the sole way we educate small children.

  2. Thanks for the on-the-ground take. I think you are right, it has to be a balance. Its a complicated dilemma, though. I'm still trying to work out if these things are inherently contradictory or can be complimentary going forward. Thanks for the insight.