Manhasset library offers digital learning device for children

Max Zahn

Parents wrestling with the choice of whether to let their young children use tablets or laptop computers may find solace at the Manhasset Public Library, where a new initiative offers electronic learning devices that disallow gaming or internet use.

“A lot of people are more apt to tell their kids, ‘use this while I make dinner or watch TV,’” said Maria Mignano, a librarian at the Manhasset Public Library.

The devices, called Launchpads, resemble tablet computers in size and weight but offer limited functionality.

A digital technology company called Findaway, the maker of the devices, vets and selects applications, or apps, available to users. Neither the internet nor a camera can be accessed on a Launchpad.

“It’s a learning tool,” said Maggie Gough, the director of the Manhasset Public Library. “We’re putting learning tools in hands of younger people who will benefit from them.”

The library currently circulates 30 Launchpads, which it acquired in August for $99 to $250 per device. The devices as a whole serve children ages 3 to 12, but each device is tailored to a narrower age range.

“I had one mom come in who has a 4-year-old, a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old,” Mignano said. “Each was able to have a Launchpad geared toward their age and developmentally where they were.”

Each device also has its own subject focus, such as math, English or engineering, Mignano said.

Mignano discovered the devices last year at an event held by the Nassau Library System, a consortium of 54 member libraries in the county.

The Launchpads can be checked out for 14 days. In December, the 30 devices were checked out a total of 44 times.

“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the feedback has been ‘wow, these are the greatest thing,’” Mignano said.

“This is sort of a win-win,” Mignano added. “Kids are surrounded by so much technology, they’re comfortable with it. And it’s a new device for them to play on. Parents see that the kids are not playing around on the internet.”

In order to meet demand, the library plans to order an additional 70 devices by the summer.

Despite the popularity of the devices, they will not unseat print books as the primary reading tool for children, Mignano said.

“This is supplemental,” she said. “I don’t see it replacing books. Maybe it will make kids want to read more.”

Mignano said she was initially concerned about children damaging the devices but it hasn’t been a problem.

“They are pretty indestructible,” she said.

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