How Using Apps in Storytime Can Be a Good Thing

Mom, grandma, and child playing with an ipad.

There’s a new monthly evening storytime at the Madison Public Library in Madison, WI called The Supper Club. Families are invited to bring their dinner to the library or have one delivered from one of our nearby partner restaurants. They can then enjoy eating, picnic-style, while I share stories and activities. But I don’t use traditional storytime books. I use apps!

Why would a library offer an app-based storytime?

Many families are already using apps with their children, but they are frustrated when trying to find a high-quality storytime app. The market is stuffed full of apps that are mediocre or just plain terrible. Parents aren’t sure what criteria to use when choosing apps and or whether it’s even okay to use apps with their kids. Moreover, many families are reluctant to spend money on apps if they don’t know whether they and their children will like them. While there are a handful of outstanding free apps, the vast majority of high-quality apps come with a price tag.

I have been educating myself for a few years about using apps with children, and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with families and to serve as their media mentor. A media mentor is someone who is comfortable with new media and familiar with the literature and expert recommendations on the topic of children and new media. Media mentors share this knowledge with the families they serve in order to support families in creating a media plan that is realistic for their family.

Making Storytime App-tasticDuring The Supper Club, I introduce families to my favorite apps and explain why I love them. Just like in my traditional storytime, I model ways to interact with both the media and the child to create a meaningful connection, and I share short tips about ways to extend the learning experiences beyond the screen and into the physical world. One of my favorite aspects of The Supper Club is that I am able to provide families with an instructive, critical and fun tour of each app, giving them the information they need to choose for themselves whether a particular app is worth the investment.

What kind of apps do you use?

The easiest apps to use in storytime are book apps because, like big books or flannel boards, they’re just another format for stories. I also like to use creativity apps (storytelling, visual arts, building, etc.) for collaborative group activities, toy apps that encourage open-ended play and game or maze apps. I try to use a mix of apps that present well in storytime and apps that are favorites for home play (they aren’t always the same thing).

What does an app storytime look like?

At my library, we have a ceiling-mounted projector; I connect my iPad® to it and project the apps on a large screen. I usually have the lights off or turned down low. I stand to the side of the screen and do a quick introduction to the app as it is loading.

If I’m presenting a book app, I read the book aloud to the group, turning pages or tapping the screen for interactive elements as needed. I try to watch the big screen more than my iPad screen so that I’m seeing what my audience is seeing and can trouble shoot if the two screens aren’t showing the same thing (“Whoops! Got disconnected there!  Hang on …”). Just like when I’m reading paper copies of books, I pause and ask the children questions about the story or encourage them to participate in repeating elements.

If I’m showing a creativity app, I might ask the children to help me make decisions (“Which food should we feed the monster?”), or if I’m using a game or maze app, I’ll play with it for a few minutes — talking through my actions — to give the parents an idea of what the gameplay is like so that they can make a decision about whether the app would be a good fit for their child.

Where can I learn more about becoming a media mentor? offers a great list of resources or join the Little eLit Google Group to participate in peer discussions, ask questions and keep up-to-date on the latest research regarding young children, new media, and libraries

Check out my abbreviated list of apps that I used in The Supper Club or view my full list of recommended apps for parents and kids.


Carissa Christner

Carissa Christner

Carissa is a Youth Services Librarian in Madison, WI. She and her 4-year-old son love to test out new apps together, read books and sometimes wrestle. She blogs about her library adventures at