Kid Magnets: Little Ones Love AWE and Hatch Early Learning Programs

These literacy-themed computer terminals feature digital games, storytelling programs, and more.

Hatch terminals attract young learners and parents.

At the Betty Foster Public ­Library (BFPPL) in Ponder, TX, the two AWE Early Literacy Stations are so popular with patrons that Tina Hager calls them “kid magnets.” Packed with games, storytelling programs, videos, and songs, the computer stations usually have children engaged all 25 hours a week that the library is open.

Parents bring children—especially ages two to four—to the stations for stories, lessons in ABC’s, and other literacy activities. The kids take turns or play together.

Favorites for the early learner set include Giggles Toddler ABC’s and 1,2,3’s; Sesame Street Learn, Play, and Grow Preschool; and Bailey’s Book House, according to Hager, the library director.

“That’s the first place [kids] go, short of the kids’ area with books and the maker space,” Hager says of the AWE stations. “Adults sit there with their kids and talk about what they’re learning.”

Lessons as game play

Self-contained terminals, AWE Early Learning Stations are designed to supplement early literacy programs for kids ages two to eight.

The stations may do more than support early learning skills. The company says its stations bumped circulation of kids’ titles in the Greenwood-Leflore (MS) Library System 33 percent during its 2012–13 fiscal year. Meadowview Elementary School in Atlanta saw a 55 percent increase in literacy scores in its four kindergarten classes in 2013–14 after installing stations in classrooms.

The stations offer more than 70 titles, available in English, bilingual Spanish, and bilingual French, with an average cost of $3,150 for the stations and $2,750 for tablets, says Lauren Wink, AWE’s marketing manager and blended learning specialist. Pricing includes a three-year warranty and two upgrades for new content, and varies based on how many a library buys and other factors. Hager says she’ll pay $500 to extend the warranty on each of her two stations and to update content.

The Cleveland Public Library (CPL) maintains 54 stations, bought in 2014 for about $137,000. At first, kids and their parents didn’t know how to use them, says CPL youth services manager Annisha Jeffries. Library staff explained that kids didn’t need library cards to sign up, and that the stations had games as well as learning tools.

“One thing I like about AWE Early Literacy Stations is that there are games for science and math, the alphabet, storytelling, and art,” says Jeffries. “Kids don’t know they’re learning around STEM.”

While CPL once kept a timer next to the stations, kids now take turns without that reminder. Sesame Street is a favorite, with Elmo and Big Bird often featured. Dora the Explorer also appears.

Hatch Early Learning

Elaine Betting, public services coordinator, youth services and outreach at the Lorain (OH) Public Library System, inherited 15–20 AWE stations when she was hired. Unlike Hager and Jeffries, though, she never warmed to them.

Betting says the machines in all six branches constantly needed tending. Problems occurred so often, she says, that instructions on how to reboot the stations and unfreeze games are included in librarians’ training manual. The initial investment was about $2,400 each.

The main branch still has three or four AWE machines, but now the ­library is also offering Hatch Early Learning touch-screen computer terminals, which can be maintained by librarians and don’t require a maintenance fee. Early learners in particular love Hatch’s Reader Rabbit, Nickelodeon Super Game Pack, along with Sorting Adventures game from Lakeshore Learning and eBooks—the one with butterflies is a particular hit, Betting says.

When the AWE machines malfunctioned, sometimes the library had to return them, Betting says. “They would send us replacements, but while things crossed in the mail, we’d have nothing.”

Hager, meanwhile, doesn’t mind paying $1,000 for warranties and updates to her two AWE terminals at BFPPL. She wants the latest content.

Hager is such a proponent of AWE that she’s thinking of launching a virtual scavenger hunt to get the kids—and parents—even more engaged. She imagines a bookmark listing all the activities on the stations that kids can explore and then mark off as they complete them.

“I’d have them complete all the ­activities or categories, and hold a prize drawing for those who finish,” she says. “People would be incentivized to look at every single thing that AWE has to ­offer.”

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