Monday, August 10, 2015

Sensory Story Times at the Local Library

Last spring I was talking to a few parents of children with special needs and started to get a sense for how trapped some of them feel in their own houses. Even though  their children are officially welcome at any of the activities for typically developing students, they often worry about going to these programs for fear their child will have a meltdown or that they will be judged by other parents who don't understand their child's disability. Sometimes getting out of the house just isn't worth it. We do a lot to promote inclusion in the school setting, but I have no idea what goes on outside of the school system. After talking with these parents I reached out to the local libraries to see if they were interested in creating sensory-friendly story times. I had two main goals for these story times- 1)to create happy literacy opportunities for children with disabilities so that they would enjoy the library and books and 2) created an environment where their parents can relax, feel welcomed in the library, and meet other parents. I worked with four different library programs this summer to get these programs running.

Each program started with a visual schedule, which the participants took turns removing and putting in the "All Done" envelope to signify it was time to move on to the next activity. We sang songs and read 1-2 books depending on the group's level of engagement.

I chose books that had a good rhythm and repetition to engage the listeners. Books like Farmyard Beat offered an opportunity for the kids to "read" along with the repetitive text, while also to use egg shakers to the rhythm of the book. This helped engage the non-verbal kids in the text as well. (When egg shakers weren't available I made my own from oatmeal containers and elbow macaroni...  )

Pom-poms, pin wheels, and play scarves helped engage listeners. At one story time I had a little one laying on his back away from the group. Giving him the pom-pom to hold got him to shake along with the songs and story. He could participate but in his own way.

I used a lot of visual pictures as well. I'd put pictures of the characters from the story up on the board and as we read along the children could come get the character off the board and put it onto the book. Taping clip art pictures onto sticky notes worked perfectly for this. Sticky notes will stay on both the board and the book without hurting the book's pages like tape would. This helped engage students in the stories by giving them something to do while also drawing their attention to the important parts of the stories (the characters, setting, main points of the story that may otherwise be vague). When we read Click, Clack, Moo I had a Boardmaker picture of angry to help them understand that the farmer was angry.

I had animals that fit with the theme of the story for the children to hold throughout the story time. This came to be helpful for some of the more fidgety children who would otherwise want to get up and touch the book or my materials. They could fidget with the animal while still being engaged. I was able to say, "Whisper to your animal what you think would happen next," "Put your animal on your head if you want to read another book," or announce, "Where are the cows? Are you ready to write a letter to Farmer Brown?" 

One tip I learned halfway through the summer is to start the story times by telling parents not to worry if their child gets up and walks around. Once I started letting parents know up front that we understand their child may need to move, touch the book, or talk I could hear parents sighs of relief. I started to understand that even if they are bringing their child to a sensory-friendly story time the parents still felt nervous about how their child would participate.

We ended the sessions by blowing bubbles to signify it was over, and to just add to the sensory experience of it all.

One of the fun aspects of this summer was that I felt my role was to provide a fun literacy opportunity for kids. It wasn't to teach reading or teach how to sit on the rug. It was to give kids a literacy opportunity they could have fun with. If they wanted to lay on their back to read the book, or stand in the back of the room and pace I could let them. It was an opportunity for playing with literacy.

If you live in the Northern Virginia area and are interested in attending a story time I will be continuing these throughout the school year on Saturday mornings- let me know and I can get you the information!

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