“Dah,” says a very tiny girl as she touches the screen of the library’s new Early Literacy Station. The elephant trumpets. “Dah!” she says more enthusiastically, pressing the picture of the bird, and watching it flap its wings. She may not be able to talk yet, but she is already learning some fundamentals that will help her to become a lifelong learner.
Later in the afternoon, a 7-year-old boy sits with his dad at the ELS Station exploring “The World of Goo.” Using the tiny mouse and colorful keyboard, he helps the curious little goo creatures cross over a crevasse by creating a bridge of goo. While this sounds like a purely mindless video game, the increasingly challenging activity is actually teaching him valuable elements of physics and problem solving.
Marin County Free Library has purchased Early Literacy Stations for all branches (except Inverness), and since we first turned them on, they have been visited by a steady stream of children. The Station is a safe, standalone computer that is designed to attract and educate toddlers through early elementary school ages. Each child who sits down can choose from over 50 educational and interactive games, stories, music and art programs, all of which are available in English or Spanish. Many of the activities contain disguised learning: Dora the Explorer, Reader Rabbit and Thomas the Train engage children while they teach colors, shapes, numbers and other basic concepts.
Animated books, such as award-winning Stellaluna, let children listen to a story while watching it come to life. Other programs cover writing, typing, science and math.
While most kids, even the ones that can’t talk yet, are quite capable of figuring out these programs by themselves, parents are encouraged to sit with their children at the Station and share their learning experience. These are activities most families won’t have at home, and children will gain more from their time in front of the computer if a caregiver participates with them. Just like reading aloud, sitting with a child during their computer time can be a bonding experience, and can create an early pathway for discussing your child’s computer activity.
The goal of the Early Literacy Station is to inspire every child to become a lifelong learner, and this is directly in keeping with Marin County Free Library’s goals. Early Literacy Stations are used in more than 35% of the public libraries across the United States and Canada. Elementary schools, Head Start centers, afterschool programs and child-care facilities are also adding Early Literacy Stations to their educational offerings. In Marin county, where many kindergartens already expect a certain level of technological literacy, it’s important that the Library make an investment in this resource. If you’ve got kids of your own, or can borrow one for an afternoon, come by and see for yourself.