The complexity and content of language that young children hear influence their oral language skills. Oral language skills, in addition to being a foundational part of school readiness (Office of Head Start, 2015), can contribute to later reading skills (Dickinson, Golinkoff, & Hirsh-Pasek, 2010). We know that children can hear high-quality language from the books shared during storytimes (Massaro, 2015), so we wondered if the conversations and songs during storytimes could also contribute to a high-quality language environment. Therefore, we analyzed the complexity and content of the utterances spoken and sung during storytimes. Additionally, we know that nonverbal supports such as gestures can facilitate children’s vocabulary learning (Grifenhagen, 2012), so we wanted to look at how librarians paired movements or props with spoken or sung words. We created transcripts from the videos recorded at 68 preschool storytime sessions. Each transcript was divided into individual utterances. When analyzing spoken language, we use the term utterance rather than sentence because spoken language differs from written language in that there are not always clear breaks between sentences. An utterance is continuous speech that begins and ends with a perceptual pause. Each utterance was given a code for whether it was sung or spoken, for which participant(s)—librarian, child, caregiver— sung or spoke the utterance, and for whether the use of a prop and/or movement by any participant accompanied the utterance. We analyzed the relative complexity of the sung and spoken utterances. We also used content analysis to compare and contrast topics and concepts used.
As we observed storytimes and later watched videos recorded during those observations, we took note of the types of digital technology used by the librarians and attendees. Digital technology could include a CD or tape player used for playing music; an iPod, mp3/mp4 player, or smartphone used for playing music; an iPad, tablet, or other handheld device manipulated by the librarian only; an iPad, tablet, or other handheld device manipulated by the children and/or caregivers; a television or projector used for playing a video; or a television or projector used for displaying information such as song lyrics or behavior expectations. We expected to see this kind of technology used in about half of the storytimes because in a 2018 survey of 262 library staff from libraries across the United States, participants reported that digital devices were used for storytimes in 45.74% of small libraries, 54.29% of medium libraries, and 69.23% of large libraries (Campana et al., 2019).