Like most parents, Morgan Stidger worried about what her child watched or played on her phone and computer. But then she learned about a program at the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library that could help.
While at a toddler playtime, she was told about a digital learning site called Speakaboos, offered free with her library card.
“My son took to it very quickly and easily. It is easy to use and I don’t mind him playing it because it helps with his speech delay,” Stidger said. “My son has had intense speech therapy for two years but as soon as he started using Speakaboos, he was attempting to sing along with the songs.”
While many parents are anxious about their child’s relationship with technology and what quality entertainment they are exposed to, the Metropolitan Library System has a slew of free digital learning resources designed to support learning and literacy.
Katherine Hickey, the children’s librarian at the Metropolitan Library System, said a simple library card can open a whole world of entertaining digital sites that also support learning and child development.
“We have services for the early childhood crowd as well as the elementary age and middle school kids,” she said. “I think the library is still perceived as a repository of books, so if someone isn’t frequenting the library on a regular basis, I think it could be really easy to overlook all of our digital services.”
Hickey shared some of the best learning services offered to families and children available at the library, all free with a family’s library card.
Speakaboos is a library of more than 200 interactive stories and songs designed to make reading your child’s favorite activity. Designed for readers between the ages of 2 and 6, Speakaboos introduces children to vocabulary through popular characters like “Thomas the Train” or “Dora the Explorer.”
“Kids can do this with their parent or they can do it by themselves. I’ve had parents tell me this is what they give their kid when they’re in quiet time in their room because they know it supports their learning and they’re having fun,” said Hickey. “So you can have the app read a book to you, sing to you or you can play great interactive games. It has a read and play option where Speakaboos can read the book to you, but has words so you can read along.”
Speakaboos was developed by a team of educational researchers to meet the developmental goals of kids, Hickey said. Speakaboos can be accessed at www.metrolibrary.org/speakaboos.
Parents should follow the instructions because if they go directly to the app store, the service will not be free.
Stidger said both she and her child have grown in vocabulary, thanks to the Speakaboos program.
“Everyone I have told about the free resources doesn’t know about it, but they seem excited for some useful screen time,” Stidger said. “I would urge parents to try it for themselves and see how they like it. My kids really like to play on my phone while I workout and I feel better about them playing Speakaboos than watching mindless shows.”
Little Pim is another free digital resource offered at the library that teaches small children different languages.
“It’s sort of like Rosetta Stone for kids. I liked this one because it really is for the small kids,” Hickey said. “A lot of times when people think about learning a language, they think of kids that are in already in school but very young kids can use this service.”
The adult version of Little Pim is called Mango, but Little Pim was developed using the Entertainment Immersion Method based on how children naturally acquire language.
Fun videos are segmented into five-minute episodes to accommodate a young child’s attention span.
The program engages a child’s love of play and learning through repetition. Simple sentences are broken down into easy-to-understand parts and are reinforced through repetition by native speakers.
“Learning a language can be a bonding activity between parent and child. And studies have shown that the most important predictor for lifelong success for children is having a close relationship with your caregiver,” Hickey said. “So whether you’re learning a language or going to the park or coming to the library or doing anything, the more quality time you spend with your kids more successful they’re going to be. So it’s really an investment in them.”
Britannica for Kids
“For elementary-aged kids, what we have to offer at this level is homework help,” Hickey said. “We do offer subscriptions to databases that schools don’t necessarily have a subscription too. This is where we can really offer something special to the kids to supplement what they’re doing in school.”
For children doing reports or essays, Britannica for Kids is an online encyclopedia written just for children in fun colors and a layout that is easy to navigate.
“I don’t know if you’re like me and you had a big set of Britannica encyclopedias growing up. That’s all online now and so we have the Britannica library for children and we also have it for young adults, so it’s an encyclopedia that’s written at the reading level of kids,” Hickey said.
All the learning databases available at the library can be accessed through metrolibrary.org/research.
“So basically, it’s everything you would find if you had to come to the library and researched it yourself,” said Hickey. “One of my favorite little tricks is that you can click the little check mark and it’ll pull up the formatted citation.”
Viewpoints in Context
Opposing Viewpoints in Context is a digital learning site that helps children think through complex social issues by presenting both sides of an argument. From capital punishment to immigration to women in combat, this cross-curricular research database supports science, social studies, current events and language arts classes.
The informed and differing views help learners develop critical-thinking skills and draw their own conclusions and is a great resources for children in debate classes or writing critical essays.
“The program provides a summary and presents a list of articles from different viewpoints that argue different things,” Hickey said. “It’s really helpful if kids are arguing one point and they really want to understand what the other side believes. It’s super easy to read because it’s meant for a younger audience.
Perfect for students who have to write essays or learn about different countries and cultures, Culturegrams goes beyond basic facts and figures on more than 200 countries, with up-to-date reports detailing daily life and culture, history, customs and lifestyle from an insider’s perspective.
“This is really helpful to teach a global perspective. So a lot of kids come into the library and they have to do a report on a certain country and this is where we always start,” Hickey said. “You can click on whatever country you want to learn about and it’ll present a profile of that country with a description of the culture, of the economy, of social issues and all the basic information like the flag and the population.”
The kids’ edition of Culturegrams has a collection of more than 185 country reports, complete with images, an historical timeline, fun facts and sections on history, population, “life as a kid” and more.
National Geographic for Kids
National Geographic for Kids not only has beautiful videos and pictures but reference level content as well.
“If your child is writing about a country or about a culture, this is another great resource. But what I really like is that it has all of the magazines and the books you can read online,” Hickey said. “So if it’s 10 p.m. and your kid won’t go to bed and says ‘I want to read another book about dinosaurs’ and you’ve already gone through your entire collection, you can come here and find a book about dinosaurs and pull it up on your tablet and read it.”
The program has all of National Geographic’s award-winning magazines, books, apps, games, toys, videos and events on its website, and is the only kids brand with a world-class scientific organization at its core.
Hickey said that while many of the learning resources open to families are usually subscription based, the Metropolitan Library allows access for free.
“The library is a public asset and exists to support the information needs of the people in its community. So really the people of Oklahoma City have already paid for this through their taxes,” Hickey said. “We want to be good stewards of their taxpayer dollars and provide really high quality resources.
The role of the library is to ensure that everyone, regardless of their economic status, has the potential to learn what they want to learn about.”
For more information about all resources for kids, visit www.metrolibrary.org/children. All the programs are available at metrolibrary.org/databases, listed alphabetically.