Whether or not you have led a special needs program before, the fact is that you may have already led one and not even known it. If your storytimes are drop-in and you don’t have information about a child’s special need ahead of time, selecting crowd-pleasing stories could be a challenge. So, in order to be prepared, plan ahead and ask yourself these questions:
- Is the book based on children’s experiences and interests? If a child can identify with something in the story, it becomes easier for them to understand and enjoy. With this in mind, I focus my story selections around a particular theme. For example, food, animals, colors, transportation, bedtime…things that any child can relate to regardless of their special need.
- Does the book have repetition? Children with special needs often use repetition to help them become more comfortable and secure with a routine. In the same way, predictable text and repetitive lines can help children become more comfortable with listening to a story. Repetition brings the story to life, and will help entertain your audience, too!
- Are the illustrations large and uncluttered? Stories are told through pictures, so make sure that the illustrations that accompany the text are “readable.” When selecting stories, look for realistic pictures that decode the text, rather than distract from its meaning. For children with visual impairments, provide extra copies of the book so that it can be shared up close with the caregiver.
- Is the book adaptable? Puppets and flannel boards are perfect for adding variety and creating a more sensory-rich environment. If you are using a flannel board, encourage children to take a piece and put it up on the board during the story. This task encourages fine motor skills, and helps make an abstract idea more concrete. It also gives children something to get up and do–in other words, it gets those wiggles out! If you have the book on CD, consider playing the audio book in the background and silently flipping the pages for the audience as well.
Some of my favorite books to use for storytime also happen to work great for children with special needs. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin is a particular favorite of mine, and a crowd-pleaser for children with special needs for many reasons. The plot is simple and easy to follow: Pete the Cat walks down the street and sings about his brand new white shoes, as they change from red to blue to brown to wet. As the story progresses, the pages are saturated with the different colors, making it easy for children to guess what color Pete’s shoes turned next. The repetitive lines and the question and answer format are fantastic for encouraging audience participation. The best part is Pete’s song—it simply begs to be sung. Each verse is only 5 words long and can be repeated as many times as your audience wants. By the end of the story, you may just hear everyone reading and singing along with you. If you want to be inspired by Pete, his colorful shoes, and his rock and roll song, this video of the author’s performance is a must-see!
For a list of more tips for inclusive programming, check out the ABCs of Inclusive Youth Programming.