Early Lit
AWE stations in your library, Si o No?
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
by: Emily Scherrer, Reforma Staff Columnist

Section: La Opinion

October 2013

Emily Scherrer is the Youth Services Manager for the Yuma County Library District in Yuma, Arizona. When she is not stating her opinion, she can be found hiking in the mountains or reading books while eating cucumber sandwiches. Emily is a Reformista with the Central Arizona Chapter & at large. Read more on Goodreads.

Collaboration is king—or so I’m thinking, when a collaboration between my Library District, Arizona’s First Things First and PBS 8 resulted in the District receiving 11 bilingual AWE Early Literacy Stations.The idea started at a meet and greet; the new director for First Things First popped into my office to discuss what we thought Yuma needed most. It took about five minutes before I lifted up a pamphlet that had been sitting at the back of my desk and said, “What about these?” In this case, I was lucky to be across from someone who saw the same needs in the community as I did. “Let’s see if we can do it,” was the reply. And we did.
As a children's librarian, I find it naive to suggest that early literacy can only happen in the triangle of space between a parent, child, and a book.

That conversation happened approximately one year ago. This Thursday, August 29th, the Main Library will be hosting an open house to celebrate the arrival of the new stations and to introduce them to the public. There will be demonstrations, tours of the Youth Services area hosted by our Middle Grade TAG group and—last but not least--tasty refreshments. It’s been a long time coming, but the time is here. We are ready to celebrate.

It had never occurred to me that early literacy in computer format had its adversaries. It wasn’t until I arrived in Chicago for ALA 2013 that I heard the first whisper of it. My heart sank. Is early literacy ONLY a relationship between a parent, child and book? And if that’s the case, what if my collaboration, and ultimate grand donation, becomes the ruination of my community? I was totally stunned; confused. It never occurred to me that early literacy could have “bad form.”

In a flash, I thought about my childhood and my experiences with early literacy. If it’s true that early literacy teachings must come from a parent and a physical book—than I was clearly lacking in my own upbringing. I was raised by two working parents who never once had the time to take me to a story time, much less strap me in their lap to read several board books and explore early literacy techniques together. We considered ourselves lucky to be able to go through a drive-thru for dinner together, and reading a book before bedtime was considered a luxury, not something we did every night.
How can it be that early literacy stations—in whatever format they come in—are a bad thing? For children like me, who didn’t have the option of a parent, child and book, early literacy stations might have been exactly the type of tool a latch-key kid like myself needed growing up.

I understand the idea behind the argument that technology shouldn’t be a component of early literacy—but that argument is based on feelings on not solid facts. While some research has shown that children under the age of 2 shouldn’t be exposed to technology (television, Ipads, and so forth), there are other reports stating directly the opposite. I like to think of early literacy and technology as the coffee of the library world; some days doctors say it’s wise to drink a cup and another totes it as a disaster in the making. Most likely, technology used in early literacy, just like coffee, is probably fine in moderation.

In addition, any parents with young children know how difficult it is to keep young children away from technologies, especially when older sibling are around utilizing the very same tools toddlers are supposed to stay away from.
Recently I was able to attend an informative webinar with Dr. Chip Donahue, PhD, of the Erikson Institute. While there may not be conclusive answers to the technology and young children question yet, there isn’t direct evidence supporting that it’s harmful. In addition, utilizing these tools in a positive way—for instance reading together on an Ipad, or utilizing an early literacy stations with a parent or guardian, just may in fact not only teach a child to read, but how to use technology to educate themselves rather than just for amusement purposes.

As a children’s librarian, I find it naïve to suggest that early literacy can only happen in the triangle of space between a parent, child, and a book. That’s too black and white for me, and certainly not applicable to my life in any form. I learned to read early, and was always at the top of my class. Not because my parents encouraged me or used their fingers along a book while a read—but because I loved to read, listened to stories on my earphones, and enjoyed tall tales spun by my grandparents. For me, my early literacy experience was a mixture of text, sound, and performance. My experience wasn’t a triangle, it was a circle.

Ideally, all children would be able to attend story time with a parent and learn to read in a room hosted by a librarian full of technique, training and passion. Realistically, this is not the case for many of us. As such, it is better to educate our children on how to integrate technology into their education, rather than dismiss it as needless or harmful, so that they can explore early learning on their own time.

Technology is here to stay. As librarians, we are wiser to embrace the changes and teach responsibility of early learning tools rather than deject them and make ourselves irrelevant to our patrons and communities.

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