As we all know, storytime is both sacred and ancient. There’s nothing more intimate, timeless and universal than a parent (or grandparent) and a child reading a story together. Storytime is something that precedes almost everything else in our history, including the written word.
So don’t worry. Nothing will ever take storytime away from us. But just as storytelling changed with the advent of the written word and again with the printing press, modern technology is looking to put its mark on the ancient art. Whether that’s good or bad is really up to you, but either way, storytime is changing.
Webcams Make the World Small
If someone in your family happens to travel a lot or is gone long stretches — for work or the armed services — it’s tough. If your kids are little, it’s even tougher. We’re lucky though. We just so happen to live in an era where our young ones will have never seen a world that didn’t have webcams.
For an amazingly interactive storytime experience, one of your options is Penguin Digital’s Storytime Hangout app for Google+.
So far there’s only one story available, but since this only came out in May, it’s safe to say there are more in the works. With this app, you and your kids can invite far-off family members and experience the “Three Billy Goats Gruff” story together. Facial recognition superimposes the character’s faces over yours, so different family members can take on different roles in the story.
Similarly, the Kindoma Storytime app for the iPad allows family members to experience any number of stories together. Like a Skype call, your images will appear in the corners so you can be face to face as you interact with the stories that come with the app.
With Recording Devices, it’s Like You’re Right There
There is no substitute for being there to read a story with your young one, but sometimes it’s just not possible. For those times when kids are with the babysitter or when one parent is away, there are readers available with which you can record yourself reading a page. When the reader detects that it’s time for that page, it triggers the recording.
You could also try this in reverse: what military mom or dad wouldn’t love getting a book with their child’s voice reading each page?
One of the options available is the Sparkup. With this device, kids can put their favorite pre-recorded books into the binder-like reader, and the reader will follow along as the pages are flipped.
Another device, the Franklin Anybook DRP 4000, is more like a wand. Put a sticker on the page, scan it, read it and later the wand can be waved over the sticker to retrieve your voice reading that page. I can see other uses for this too. Anything you can put a sticker on can be given a voice message, which could make for a fun scavenger hunt game or even help with recipes in the kitchen.
Augmented Reality Makes Books Come Alive
Want to keep books relevent for your little digital natives? One very interesting new option is augmented reality – pairing books with other media (like gaming consoles) to make the reading experience more exciting and immersive. Typically, this involves layering a magical world over the real one using cameras and other digital tech.
One such augmented reality experiment is J.K. Rowling’s Book of Spells (a.k.a Wonderbook: Book of Spells) . In conjunction with Sony, the Harry Potter author created a title for the PS3 that used the Playstation Move technology and an accompanying book to help kids cast spells using words and movement. The augmented reality book (or gimmicky PS3 game, depending on your perspective) received mixed reviews, but got people thinking about how our kids could be experiencing storytime.
Another type of augmented reality are enhanced books such as those produced by Books ar Alive. The books can be read on their own, but when the code on each page is read by a smartphone or tablet, kids can see character animations or play mini-games.
One could argue that giving kids tech to enhance reading will only further ruin the sanctity of the written page, but on the flip side, it could also be argued that this tech is trying to preserve storytime as an important part of parenting and encourage kids to love reading.
Either way, I’m jealous. When I was a kid, this was a high-tech book: