Sensory Storytime: A (brief) How-To Guide

Just wanted to send a big thank you for the sensory storytime this morning! It was terrific! … My four-year old LOVED it and I think I’m even more excited than he is as the event stirred up a lot of great ideas for activities I can do with my kids at home! Thank you thank you!!!

This wonderful feedback was given to me by a grateful mom after I did my first Sensory Storytime for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.  She and her son have attended every sensory storytime since.  I know from asking that her family had visited the library, but had never attended a storytime before this one.

Children with autism and other developmental disabilities live in your community, no matter its size.  As welcoming, friendly, and inclusive as you are, families may still refrain from bringing their children to “regular” storytimes for fear of disrupting the group and getting “the look” from other parents.  Offering a special program for these families is a powerful way to let them know they are welcome in your library.

I do a Sensory Storytime once a month on Saturday mornings for 2-5 year olds with autism and other developmental disabilities and their typically developing peers.  In many ways, it is like a “regular” storytime; we sing songs, read books, and do fingerplays.

In other ways, it is unique.  Children on the spectrum like to know what’s coming up, which is why it is imperative to use a visual schedule.  A visual schedule is a simple pictorial representation of what will take place in storytime.
As we go through the program, I remove the symbols when each activity is complete.

I provide carpet tiles for the children to sit on.  This helps them understand where they are expected to sit, and also encourages children to give each other space.

In order to truly make it a “sensory” storytime, I do activities that involve the senses, beyond just sight and sound.  I use bubbles, which are a great way for children to work on oral motor skills.  I also use stretchy Therabands (purchased online and cut into strips) and soft colorful scarves to provide sensory input.

I only do 2 books in each session, and every book is somehow interactive.  It has flaps or can be somehow manipulated by the children (Press Here was a BIG hit), or I do a felt board to go along with the story.  I never expect the children to just sit and listen; I always have some way for them to take turns and be involved in the story experience.

Repetition is very important with these kids.  It gives them a chance to become familiar and therefore more successful at interacting with the songs and fingerplays.  For this reason, I change the books each month, but keep the songs and fingerplay the same.

Here’s my Sensory Storytime schedule:

1)      Welcome song (sing hello to each child)
2)      Shirt song (I got this great idea from Barbara Klipper’s presentation at ALA)
3)      Fingerplay
4)      Book
5)      Scarf play to music (on CD player or sung by the group)
6)      Therabands (sticky bubblegum song — therabands “stick” to parts of their bodies)
7)      Book
8)      Goodbye song (sing goodbye to group)
9)      Bubbles
I created a simple feedback survey and ask parents to fill it out after storytime.  This is how I got the wonderful “thank you” at the top of this post.  It’s important for me to find out whom my storytime is reaching and if I am fulfilling my goal of bringing new families into the library or bringing families to storytime for the first time.

Do you offer a Sensory Storytime at your library? Please share what works for you!

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Our guest blogger today is Ashley Waring. Ashley is Children’s Librarian at the Reading Public Library in Reading, MA.; she can be reached at waring@noblenet.org.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

This entry was posted in Guest Blogger, Special Needs Awareness, Storytime. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Sensory Storytime: A (brief) How-To Guide

  1. Rachel says:

    Thank you for this post, Ashley. It sounds like a wonderful, and much appreciated program. I was wondering how exactly you use the bubbles, do you lets the kids take turns blowing bubbles, or give each kid (or parent) an individual bottle of bubbles to use.

  2. Ashley says:

    Hi Rachel-
    Thanks! I did buy individual size bubble containers, and we give one to each child. On the times I’ve had more kids than bubbles, we give the first kid 1 minute, then take turns. It has never been a problem; I give them plenty of warnings. “3 more blows, then we’ll trade!” etc.

  3. Renee Grassi says:

    Hi Ashley–

    Great post! We have similar passions–I have done my Sensory Storytime since 2010 and our families with children with special needs simply love it. I would love to see a Sensory Storytime at every library, wouldn’t you? :)

    Thank you for putting this valuable information out there for the ALSC community.

    • Ashley says:

      Thanks, Renee! And yes, I would! I really do think it is such an important service to offer. Glad to hear your program has been running for so long and is such a hit. :)

  4. Tricia Bohanon Twarogowski says:

    How excellent to see that Sensory Storytimes are taking off all over the country! Whenever I present on this topic, there are so many questions and comments from librarians who are either already offering the program or working with their library to establish the program. Back in 2008 when Rhythm and Rhyme was established as a monthly sensory storytime, it was difficult to find information regarding this type of specialized programming. Just four years later, there are so many colleagues from which we may learn more about the process of planning and presenting. Thank you for sharing your program summary, Ashley!

  5. Thank you for the wonderful ideas and photos to illustrate. It confirms some of the activities that I have kept after holding Sensory storytimes and art times here at Crandall for more than a year. I agree with the practice of inclusion for this group. Awareness improves for everyone and friendships develop across the spectrum.

    • Ashley Waring says:

      Thanks, Dorie. I have 2 children, one with autism and one who is neurotypical. So I definitely appreciate any program that can include both of them! I very much agree with your point about awareness and friendship. :)

  6. Judy Dirkse says:

    We are planning to offer a Sensory Storytime sometime in winter/spring 2013. Do you have any suggestions on beginning the program – i.e. most important items to purchase, favorite activities, favorite books. I am excited, but a bit overwhelmed over the challenge. Thank you for the wonderful ideas and pictures. It doesn’t seem so overwhelming now that I know there are others with experience who can help.

    • Ashley Waring says:

      Hi Judy,
      So sorry I didn’t notice your question before now! I am glad you asked it, though, because it inspired me to write up some notes from my year+ of running my sensory storytime program. Please see this blog post I wrote for a list of my favorite books (so far).

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  9. Mary Frasier says:

    Hello Ashley,

    I was inspired by your posting to add sensory elements to my storytimes. I am not sure exactly what to do with the therapy bands. Do the children stand or sit on them and then stretch them to parts of the body where they are “sticky?” Seems like there should be some feeling of resistance. How wide and long do you cut the bands?

    Thanks,

    Mary

    • Ashley Waring says:

      Hi Mary,
      I leave the bands the width they come (about 4″ across) and cut them into strips about 7″ long. The kids hold them (one end in each hand) and stretch them out to the beat of the song. A few of the kids like to sniff the bands or mouth them, but I take them home and wash them in mild soapy water then lay them on a drying rack.
      Hope this helps!
      -Ashley

  10. Maryann Ferro says:

    Hello there!
    We are just beginning to offer programs to families of special needs.
    How do you advertise the program, so that you are politically correct and reach out to the families that need this type of programming.

    • Ashley Waring says:

      Hi Maryann,
      Here is a link to the description on our website:
      http://www.readingpl.org/portfolio/sensory-storytime/
      This is the same wording we use on flyers that we post at the library and around town.
      As for advertising, when I first started the program, I did press releases for the major papers in town. I also shared flyers with the local schools, including the inclusive preschool. Other groups I reached out to were Early Intervention, the town SEPAC (special education parent advisory council), and local OT/Speech therapists offices.
      Good luck with your programming! I hope you find it warmly welcomed by the community.

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