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eTots: A Public Library iPad Program for Preschoolers

Cindy Wall, the Head of Children’s Services at the Southington Library & Museum in Southington, CT,  contributed the following post.

It’s my supervisor’s fault. Really. She purchased an iPad, downloaded The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore, and brought the tablet to work. When I saw those Flying Books swirling around the screen, ideas began twirling around my mind. If I was amazed—and delighted—by the app’s interactivity, how would children react?

I owned an iPhone and had purchased apps, but I’d never considered designing a program around this software until I viewed an app on the iPad. Now that was totally different experience. Tapping money designated for “something special” and funds from a technology endowment, I purchased a number of iPads. My first program incorporating tablets was a story time for one- and two-year-olds and their caregivers. I called it eBabies.

That pilot class taught me a few things; most importantly, that one-year-olds lacked the attention span for this type of program. I also learned that the silly, high-energy songs I love to incorporate in a traditional story time setting did not set the right tone for an iPad session.

Back to the drawing board. I changed the name of the program to eTots and registered two- and three-year-olds and their caregivers. Out came carpet squares (each child had one to sit on during the program) and in went songs that featured clapping, knee slapping, toe tapping, but not parading or jumping.

When eTots begins, the 12 pairs of children and caregivers choose a carpet square to sit on. Next to each spot is a sheet containing the lyrics for the songs we’ll be singing. The program opens with a welcome tune, sung to each child as he or she receives a nametag. Then, as a group, we sing a few songs that emphasize motion, but won’t get the children too rambunctious.

As I hand out the iPads, we recite an iPad poem based on the nursery rhyme “One, Two Buckle My Shoe.” As we read the book app together, I alert everyone to any interactivity on the screen, to make sure no one misses these features. When the reading is finished, we open another app–generally an educational or entertaining title, and I offer the adults a few pointers on using it. After that everyone is free to explore whatever they like. (I leave the apps from previous programs on the iPads.)

When the children begin to look restless, we pause to sing the goodbye song. Some people will leave then, while others remain to continue exploring on the iPad. At this point, I walk around the circle making sure everyone knows how to work the apps they’re interested in. Favorite book apps from this first year of programming have been Pat the Bunny, Moo, Baa, La, La, La, and Another Monster at the End of This Book. Popular (nonbook) apps have been Easy-Bake Treats (the free, hands-down favorite of both girls and boys), Fish School, and My First Songs.

eTots is offered monthly and there’s a waiting list to enroll. Meanwhile, I’m working on a number of other ideas for future iPad programs. A colleague and I are planning a Titanic Adventure for tweens and I’ll be using an app to help children ages six to eight write and illustrate their own books. I see the possibilities and opportunities for creative programming with iPads as endless.Cindy Wall, Southington Library & Museum, Southington, CT


  1. So you purchased 12 iPads and apps for use once a month? Are the iPads available for check out at other times?

  2. I use the iPads for several programs. There are more programs in development, but eTots is the first which has gone beyond the pilot stage. I’m trying out use of the iPads with different age groups and for different functions. This summer, my colleague and I are presenting a Titanic Adventure for tweens, using iPads. We are also using the iPads in a program for 6 & 7 year olds about the planets. In the fall, I’m piloting a writing program for 7-10 year olds. I’ve recently received a grant with a local youth program to teach their facilitators how to use iPads and run an iPad program. We will be loaning them our iPads. I’m always thinking about new ways to use the iPads in my programming.

  3. Vicki Kouchnerkavich says:

    My 19 month old grandson loves my iPad when I come to visit. Some of his favorite apps are: Boats by Byron Barton, Head Shoulders Knees & Toes by Rosemary Wells, & of course Sandra Boynton’s “The Going to Bed Book”. He also has The Going to Bed Book in board book format and it’s interesting to watch him touch the pages of it, thinking something will be moving! What are some of the music apps you use for this program?

  4. I’d love to see your grandson tapping his board book. That would be so cute! How smart is it that he knows that it is the same story and that something should be happening? We sing a lot of songs from CDs, but have used two music apps, Baby Piano HD Lite (the free version) and My First Songs Lite (also free). Baby HD Piano Lite offers music notes and animal sounds. It’s quite cute and will even record what you’ve played. My First Songs Lite has a rhythm game and features classic songs. I found the free version worked for my class, but if your grandson uses the iPad a lot, you might want to invest in the paid version. Give the free versions a try first and see if he likes them. Good luck!