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Digital Littles Mobile Lab

The Indianapolis Public Library

Innovation Summary

The Indianapolis Public Library uses the Digital Littles Mobile Lab to present technology-enriched storytimes to preschool children. Each program incorporates a traditional story with an interactive digital experience. Because it is mobile, the Library has been able to overcome transportation barriers that prevent at-risk children from participating in library services.

Innovation Leader: Chris Cairo, Director of Project Development, ccairo@imcpl.org

Problem Statement

In 2002, Indianapolis Public Schools screened its incoming kindergarteners with the Developmental Tasks for Kindergarten Readiness exam and found that of the 3,158 children tested, 44 percent were underprepared for school. Technology has a unique capability to enhance preschool children’s school readiness, especially as it relates to social development. A common assumption is that the preschool age group cannot work with technology in a meaningful or appropriate way. According to a 2012 position statement from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, young children need opportunities to develop the hands-on technology skills associated with early digital literacy. Exposing children to positive technology experiences from an early age is a crucial first step in preparing them for a safe, productive, and fulfilling relationship with technology as they grow. Childcare facilities are a strategic audience for the Library. According to the United Way of Central Indiana’s 2008 Community Assessment, more than 50 percent of Indianapolis children come from homes where both parents work. Unfortunately, there are a few obstacles that stand in the way of daycare leaders providing age-appropriate, digital learning activities for the preschool children in their care. First, because technology evolves so rapidly, many struggle to keep pace with new technology and how it could be integrated into an effective learning experience for preschoolers. Early childhood educators and childcare providers need training and practical examples of how to use technology with small children in a developmentally appropriate way. A second obstacle is the cost of technology. Not all daycares can afford to purchase digital tools. Another challenge the Library faces is the inability of childcare facilities, especially home daycares, to travel to library branches.

Innovation

The Library created the Digital Littles Mobile Lab to offer technology-enriched storytimes to preschool children, both at the Library and at neighborhood daycare facilities. The lab consists of laptop computers with developmentally appropriate multi-media software, audio recorders and digital cameras, digital musical and drawing tools, robotics, books, toys and more. Each Digital Littles program module involves a traditional library storytime followed by a hands-on technology experience appropriate for the 3 to 5-year-old age group, meaning it is highly interactive with almost no screen time. For example, one Digital Littles program module is called Symphony of Sound. After reading “Drummer Hoff” by Barbara Emberley and “17 Kings and 42 Elephants” by Margaret Mahy, children practice changing rhythms and tempo by clapping their hands and playing percussion instruments. They use digital recording devices to record their music and listen to their creation on the computer. The combination of traditional literacy techniques and interactive digital activities is an innovative approach unique to The Indianapolis Public Library. At the end of each session, daycare leaders receive a USB drive with their classes’ digital work products and a follow-up handout summarizing the program. The handout also lists related activities, both digital and non-digital, for daycares to try on their own after their Digital Littles experience. By designing these programs to be portable and training all children’s staff on how to facilitate them, the Library can take activities to any childcare setting, large or small. All Digital Littles programs align with the Foundations to the Indiana Academic Standards for Young Children and with the NAEYC’s best practices for using technology with young children, as laid out in its 2012 position statement.

Progress

The Library has been able to successfully implement the Digital Littles Mobile Lab at branches system-wide. It is a program that can be easily replicated with staff training. Since the Digital Littles Mobile Lab began in January 2011, the Library has served 162 preschool or daycare groups. Of the 2,625 adults and children who have participated in a Digital Littles program, 1,885 or 72 percent were reached directly at their location. In post-program surveys, 97 percent of childcare providers said they believed their students were exposed to new technology. Eighty-five percent said they will be more likely to use technology in their facilities as a result of participating in Digital Littles. One hundred percent said their children enjoyed the program and that they observed positive reactions when their children used the technology. Similarly, 100 percent said they would recommend Digital Littles to others. The next phase of Digital Littles is to have a dedicated lab at each library branch that can also be taken out into the community.