HATCHing fun and learning in young minds

During a visit to La Veta Public Library in southern Colorado last year, I noticed a colorful keyboard and big monitor sitting in the children’s area.  When Director Sandra Hackbarth told me about her great experiences with the HATCH iStartSmart touchscreen early childhood learning system, I was ready to go back to my library and buy one.

The HATCH website does not appear to list prices for the iStartSmart computer, probably because each system can be customized based on your library’s needs.  A standard system packed with Pre-K software runs around $2,600.  HATCH was able to lower the price by about $1,000 by skipping the table, printer, and installation/training, as well as some classroom software we didn’t need or want for the library.  However, we did ask them to expand the age range on the games to interest toddlers through 7 year olds.

Each computer comes with lifetime toll-free tech support.  No tech problems to date, and when we have called support with questions, they have been really responsive and helpful.  For the most part, the kids can get around the games on their own (or with a little help from a parent).  One program that was created for the classroom has a three-key combination to exit instead of the usual big, red stop sign.  We have asked the company for a workaround on that, which hopefully will be included in an update.  HATCH has excellent, research-based educational software, but the system allows libraries to add any software to the kids’ desktop.  In other words, they are there if you need anything, but you aren’t locked into their games or support.

Now for the bottom line: what do the patrons think?  Once the system was here and out of the box (basically plug and play), the kids swarmed to it and continue to do so.  One mom told me her toddler’s grasp of the alphabet took off after playing on the computer here.  The mom of a preschooler said she had to keep telling her son he couldn’t come to the library every day.  Score.

-Amy Moulton

Director, West Custer County Library

Westcliffe, Colorado