If you have an Apple mobile device and small kids, you probably a) look for well-made apps that are both educational and fun; and b) like to get good deals on those apps. Digital Storytime was created with both those needs in mind, and is turning into a must-bookmark site for busy parents like me. I was able to snag a few minutes of time with Carisa Kluver, Digital Storytime‘s creator/founder, who cheerfully agreed to answer my nosy questions!
1. As both an educator and a parent, you come at the concept of digital literacy from two valid perspectives. Tell us a little bit about your background. When did you realize that the iPad could be used as a digital bookshelf for your kids?
I spent the past 20 years working with children, youth and families in a variety of roles. I have a BA in Anthropology and an MSW, spending most of my career teaching health education to adolescents & training teachers, often for after-school programs to prevent teen pregnancy. I still do contract work occasionally, training teachers for a comprehensive sexuality education curricula series called Our Whole Lives. Before I left the workforce to have my little boy 5 years ago, I had settled into research work on teen pregnancy prevention and was even published in an academic journal. [That article took 6 years to see publication, so every time I push the ‘publish’ button on the blog, I think, “Now that’s instant gratification for a writer.”]
When my 40th birthday rolled around in April 2010, my plans to celebrate in Vegas seemed a bit beyond our budget, so I ‘splurged’ on a 16GB wifi iPad instead. Within a month I was downloading kids books. I was a little stunned at how revolutionary the change in my own reading routine was with my own child. I am a lover of print kids books and never liked digital books on computers. My nieces & nephews make jokes about how I only send them books for every gifting opportunity–so much so that they would be stunned to get anything else from me. I never thought I’d be willing to transition from print to digital–let alone so quickly.
2. Digital Storytime is quickly becoming the site of choice for parents who want information and reviews of storybook apps for the iPad. What made you want to create the site?
Long before the idea for our site, I loved finding good iPad kids books. But the shopping experience was dreadful. The kids books aren’t even separated out from the erotica in the app store. I also couldn’t afford my growing book app habit without serious bargain shopping. By October I had amassed over 100 book apps by watching sale promotions very closely. That’s when the idea to start my own site hit me. I was also talking to our local children’s librarian about the book apps and trying to describe them. She just looked confused and had never heard of these books. When I explained that they have no ISBN numbers, she was even more mystified.
At the same time, I was getting a crash course in marketing. I was trying to help out my husband’s Android kids game, Dash & Ditto’s Playground, and in the process I spent a lot of time on app review sites for both Android & iOS kids apps. I wanted a way to really search and sort through information and tried to find something like that for kids books for the iPad. Of course such a site simply didn’t exist. My husband needed a database project for a class he was taking in php, so I gave him a project … a big one. 😉
3. I love how each app is rated on six different metrics (Animation, Audio Quality, Interactivity, Re-Readability, Extras and Bedtime)–I find this very helpful when I evaluate apps for my own kids. Have other parents responded to the site? What sort of feedback have you been getting?
I have gotten wonderful feedback from almost everyone – from parents & educators to authors/illustrators and even developers themselves. Parents in particular have said the site is a ‘godsend’ even. It makes me blush a little. 🙂
We are also in the process of several big makeovers for the pages on our site. The response to the first page to change, the deal page, was great. We really appreciate the specific feedback … things like the different colors for free and paid apps on the buttons came from a reader suggestion.
We actually have two more categories I rate books on, Originality & Educational, that will debut with our site makeover later this month (May).
4. The Daily Deal page is a fantastic, time-saving resource for those of us who have limited funds (and who doesn’t?). Educational and book apps show up there whenever the price drops below their regular retail price (including FREE)! How did you get the idea for this great feature?
My friends know me for being notoriously frugal. My deal-finding abilities in the non-digital world are legendary. In order to start the review site I needed lots of good books to choose from to fill the site quickly with reviews. I didn’t get promo codes for books at first, so I was industrious about finding free deals and watching for price drops on chart topping books. I even started following lots of developers on twitter to hear about deals more quickly. Once I started getting promo codes, I decided to turn this bargain hunting into the deal page to share my finds. At first, I just figured a couple good friends would download stuff … but it turns out the things I wanted in a site were things lots of parents & educators wanted too.
5. There is some controversy about the use of screens for reading with children instead of traditional printed books. As an educator and a parent, what are your thoughts on moving storytime into the digital age?
This is a complicated issue. I do have concerns about screen time. That’s why I added the blog, The Digital Media Diet. Everything is about balance, mindfulness and being present as a parent (both literally and figuratively). I also think all screens (and content) are not created equally. I use my child’s behavior as feedback … if he is zombie-like and whiny after getting to play with an app, I can tell it is the kind of screen time that needs to be a treat, not the digital meal.
I expect there will be some growing pains as our society adjusts to digital kids books. I don’t get the controversy though. I guess I just don’t think we can do anything to stop this trend. The transition seems to be happening faster than anyone expected, though. The costs of printing (in financial and environmental terms) are simply too great in comparison to the ease of digital publishing and downloading. And that’s even without the extra features that make picture books come alive. Once you’ve walked through this particular door, you can’t go back. (IMHO)
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A big thanks to Carisa for helping me out with the blog today! If you’ve never visited Digital Storytime, the Daily Deal page or the Digital Media Diet blog, head on over there and check it out! You can Like them on Facebook too.