The Snap-On Smartphone Projector That Saved Storytime

The Moonlite smartphone projector.
Photo illustration by Slate.

A year ago, we moved all three of our boys into the same room—and almost put an end to nighttime book reading. Every night, as we cuddled up to read, an argument broke out. Someone’s arm was in the way. Someone else doesn’t want to share the blanket. We argued over whose bed to sit in and how to arrange ourselves so everyone could see the book’s pictures. Once I started reading, there were interruptions from all sides. Would I ever make it through a book with these three again?

I’ve read enough parenting articles to know that reading together increases vocabulary, exposes kids to new concepts, and helps them learn to read themselves. I just didn’t know how to make it work for our family at this stage of life.

When my husband received orders moving the family back to the States from Europe, we decided to spend seven nights crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary II. I needed to find activities for a dark interior stateroom. I came across the Moonlite, a handy little device that snaps onto your phone and uses your phone’s flashlight to project illustrations on the wall or ceiling. We got so much more out of this projector and app than just a few hours of fun in the dark. This little device transformed our evening reading routine.

The first night I brought it out on the boat, it was a hit. As the letters in Chicka Chicka Boom Boom toppled to the ground, the sound effect of a quiet thud played on my phone’s speaker. The boys laughed. “There’s black-eyed P!” the 3-year old shouted, pointing at the wall. They sat quietly, each able to see the images from their own bunk.

The starter packs come with just a few stories, but you can add other selections, from Curious George to Peter Rabbit. The app displays the words of the book for you to read on your phone, while your kids view the illustrations projected on a wall. Soft music plays in the background, and tapping particular words on your phone’s screen produces sound effects. Yet it is still my voice reading the story. We can take breaks to marvel and question or rearrange our bodies. It’s the perfect blend of storytime and multimedia.

I leaned heavily on the Moonlite projector at first. We used it nearly every night. With the habit of nighttime reading once again entrenched in our schedule, the boys’ tolerance for sitting still during books grew. I moved back to regular books, and the projector became a special treat, one of our rewards for an easy bedtime. It is a crowd pleaser when we have friends over for dinner and we want to do one last activity before everyone heads home for the night. The only place it has entirely replaced real books is on trips. I easily fit the projector and all the discs we own into one sandwich-sized baggie, replacing the stack of books I used to pack.

Reading together is the last moment I spend with the kids each day. I want it to be an experience we all enjoy and to set the tone for a restful evening. I’m on board with anything that makes this experience fun for the whole family.