COLUMN: Powering down, imagining up at the library

"...how do we encourage memory-building while recognizing that screens are here to stay?"

’Fess up: at some point you believed that your stuffed animals — Teddy, Elephant, Bunny — came alive at night and had their own stuffy parties while you slept. The movie Toy Story was not so farfetched, but it’s only celluloid — and Buzz Lightyear has nothing on the Nelson Public Library.

Last Monday’s stuffy sleepover was a matter of wee imaginations on the loose. An enthusiastic group of three to five-year-olds arrived at the library in their pajamas, stuffies in tow. They shared a storytime and then tucked their stuffies in for a library sleepover, with Summer Reading Club leaders Kazia and Sydney as responsible babysitters — and then the fun began.

Whispering under the covers, raiding the fridge, playing tag in the dark — there’s nothing those stuffies didn’t get up to! Kazia and Sydney had camera in hand to document stuffy midnight fun-in-the-library, and gave the kids a booklet of photos when they came to pick up their fuzzy friends in the morning. It was all part of a perfect final-week wind-up to a summer of hijinks, in which kids aged 3 to 12 built a whole lot of fun in the Summer Reading Club theme of “Build it!”

What’s great about the club’s activities is that they are old-fashioned screen-less fun. Kids of all ages teamed up to build cool things with Lego, and in a twist on the Minecraft computer game, Minecraft Mania took it to real life. They made things with cardboard and duct tape, played mini-golf (in the library!) did yoga, and went on field trips to Touchstones Nelson and other fun places.

Just as we remember imagining our toys coming to life, most of us remember playing in the street, riding our bikes, building forts. Safe to say that our kids’ memories as adults won’t be about the time they spent at a computer. So how do we encourage memory-building while recognizing that screens are here to stay?

New research from the University of California found that our kids’ increasing screen time may be inhibiting their ability to recognize emotions. Excessive screen time has been linked to obesity and social issues.

According to Screen Smart Canada, the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends no more than two hours per day for children; toddlers two years and under should have none. For more information and advice go to screensmart.ca (yes, I get the irony).

This is not to say that computers are evil —they’re not. Computers are an increasingly essential — and useful! — tool in our day-to-day lives. We use them for research, education, social interaction, and everyday communication. We book airline tickets, access legal forms, keep in touch with friends, and even research information on the effects of screen time on ourselves and children.

From time to time we get comments from parents regarding the two computer stations in the children’s section (Internet-connected, with net nanny) and the two iPads for young children (educational games). Some would prefer to see them gone, and yet it’s the library’s position that computer literacy is essential. And so we strike a balance: computer time is limited, non-screen fun is plentiful. (Parents, of course, are free to practice “no” when kids ask for the iPads.)

The library will always be a place of good old fashioned book-reading and face-to-face fun. This year’s Summer Reading Club wrapped up on Wednesday with a year-end party, good fun and not a screen in sight. A million thanks to Kazia and Sydney for their enthusiasm, energy, and creativity from dance parties to stuffy sleepovers and all the imaginary fun they generate.

Storytimes begin again in the fall, where ambulatory and non-ambulatory friends are always welcome. See you at the library!

 

Anne DeGrace is the adult services coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information go to nelsonlibrary.ca.