Monday, December 28, 2015

POP! Parents of Preschoolers: Screen Time

I've been writing a bit about the revamped caregiver engagement programming that we've been offering at my library. It's called POP! Parents of Preschoolers, and it's a bimonthly program for parents of young children to a) grow their support network with other parents of young children, b) build new skills and confidence in parenting topics, and c) see the library as a place that supports their role as parents.

In November, I facilitated a POP! program on the topic of Screen Time--specifically new media (like tablets and smartphones), although we did talk about television, too. After a bit of social time in which the attending parents and I chatted about their kids, what the kids like to do, and questions about media, I shared some information from experts followed by some recommendations for screen time and their preschool-age children. We also ended the last fifteen minutes of the program with a hands-on exploration of some exemplary apps. Here's what we discussed.

Expert Recommendations

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, co-engagement counts when it comes to media use. That means using media along with your child, for example in the same ways that you would read a book together. Additionally, parents should be aware that screen-free playtime is important, too, and make time to engage in that type of open play.

According to Lisa Guernsey, author of Screen Time and Tap Click Read, parents should consider the 3 Cs when considering media use: Content, Context, and the Child. Content refers to the specific type of media and what it includes. Context refers to how, when, and why the media is being used--for example, because a child wants to look at pictures of zoo animals or because a child appears bored. The child refers to the parent's knowing their child and their needs best, and making media decisions with their child in mind.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center, the media use should be active, hands-on, engaging, and empowering.

When using media with a young child (age 2-5)...

Choose high-quality apps. This means avoiding distracting noises and actions, glitchy performance, and in-app purchases. A good rule of thumb for quality is whether you, the adult, can stand to use it with your child for five minutes or more.

Use media together. Children learn through interaction, so the process of reading, playing, and creating together allows them to learn new concepts, new words, and how media work.

Build relationships using media. Commemorate family outings, videochat long-distance relatives, and work together to strengthen bonds.

Don't be too hard on yourself. There are lots of messages out there about children and screen time. Remember that you know your child best, and that occasional screen time that isn't ideal isn't the end of the world.

Tips for Reading, Playing, and Creating Together with New Media

Ask questions when you read a digital story. For example, ask, "What do you think will happen next?"

Reread a favorite digital story together and tell it yourself.

Practice saying new words and learn their meanings while you read digital stories.

Explore new experiences using media, including ones you couldn't ordinarily have in your everyday life (like looking at pictures of desert animals if you live in a temperate area, etc.).

Videochat faraway friends.

Record your child telling a story or talking about a creation.

Make a photo show of pictures from a family outing.


This program, at its core, is an example of media mentorship: it equips parents with expert information about young children and screen time, effectively allowing them to make the best possible decisions about screen time for their children and their family. I emphasized that every family and every child is different, so what screen time looks like at one house may not resemble what it looks like at another. And that's fine--what's important is that parents feel confident in making choices they feel are right for them and their families. And based on the post-program surveys, the parents who attended POP! Parents of Preschoolers: Screen Time did feel more confident in doing so following the program.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Incentivizing Caregiver Engagement Programs

I wrote recently about the revamped caregiver engagement programs here at my library, called POP! Parents of Preschoolers. This redesigned program is aimed at parents of children of a particular age--that is, ages 2 to 5--and it also has the goal of getting a core group of parents attending and engaged at multiple programs in the series. Getting repeat attendance can be a bit of a tough cookie, as I'm sure you've seen in some of your programs. Thus, when we were in the early planning stages for POP!, I had a bunch of conversations with colleagues in the youth department and marketing team to figure out ways to incentivize repeat participation. Here's what we're doing.

1. We're hosting all of the programs on the same day of the week and in the same 6:30-7:30 p.m. time slot. This scheduling consistency is to help caregivers to know ahead of time when, approximately, the programs will be happening. We still specify the date of each program, but this bit of consistency means interested parents know to keep Tuesday nights flexible, if not totally open.

2. We're letting attendees at one program preregister for the next program. That is, at the end of our October program, we offered to sign up attending parents for the November program on the spot. This strategy cuts down on chances parents might forget to register due to the million little distractions that pop up in life with little ones. And it's a bonus--we're signing up these parents before general registration is open. We normally don't allow advance registration, but since our priority is repeat attendance, we're making the exception for this program.

3. We're offering a simultaneous storytime for kids whose parents are attending POP! Evening childcare can be a huge hurdle for families with young children, and we're trying to help jump it by offering an extended storytime program, led by a librarian, in the youth program room (which is adjacent to the space in which the parents have their program). Tiny ones--kids under age 2--can stay with their caregivers in the POP! program, but anyone else is invited to join in storytime. They've been great programs so far.

4. We've created a takeaway--part parent information, part game--that parents can build from program to program. The takeaway is a branded card case with a set of cards for each program. The cards have two sides. The parent side has a tip or fact relevant to the program topic; for example, one tip from the Reading to Succeed program encourages using "grown-up" words with a child.

The kids' side of the cards have colored shapes, each with a thick black outline, two of each. When we hand out the new set of cards at each program, we emphasize to the parents that the shapes can be used in age-appropriate games: kids can match shapes, they can match colors, they can make patterns, they can count, they can trace the shapes, etc.

The POP! deck is a mobile preschool game with umpteen uses, and if parents use them they are also getting the tips and facts reinforced as they see them again and again. Parents have indicated that they like the cards and are excited about getting more at additional programs, so the incentive seems to be working. The deck concept is appealing for lots of staff, too, and I've got a few colleagues who are interested in adapting it for their own programs both in the library and off-site.

So there you have it: what we're doing to incentivize caregivers participating in our POP! Parents of Preschoolers program series. How do you incentivize repeat attendance?