Sensory Storytime: Tips and Tricks for a Successful Program

Have you been considering offering sensory storytimes at your library or doing outreach to a school serving children with developmental delays? Maybe the reason you’ve hesitated is because you feel unprepared. I get it: Sensory storytime can seem intimidating, with its own particular structure and style. But this is an incredibly important area of service for any library to undertake, reaching children who often otherwise feel unwelcome in a storytime space.

Sensory Storytime on a Shoestring

What does it take to do a sensory storytime? Not a whole lot! Our award season for our committee’s annual ALSC/Candlewick Press “Light the Way” Grant is closing, and we typically see many hyped-up proposals for sensory storytime programs. This is not to say that we don’t take such proposals seriously, because we do, but we think that people feel like they need a ton of money and resources to pull off a successful sensory storytime when in fact all you need is a little bit of planning and a wee bit of money. After all, a sensory storytime should aim to be inclusive. To that end, if you’re using a visual schedule, a varied format that incorporates multimodal sensory integration, and repetition, then you are probably appealing to children with varying sensory processing abilities and thus, already doing a sensory storytime, just not in name. Don’t wait for the…

Transforming Sensory Storytime Lemons into Sensory Kit Lemonade

In November 2014, my assistant director asked me if I’d ever heard of a special needs storytime. I responded, perhaps overenthusiastically, with the notes and links I had been gathering for 6 months. We decided we wanted to start a Sensory Storytime at our largest branch. We knew we had families with children on the spectrum in our community; some came to the library, some didn’t. We read all the resources we could get our hands on (including these excellent resources here, here, and here). We asked some of our key donors to help buy sensory toys as a part of our annual end-of-year appeal. We observed a sensory storytime at a library on the other side of Michigan in January. That spring, we steadily cultivated relationships with (semi) nearby parent support groups, local therapy clinics, the local university’s collaborative autism center, county public health, and teachers who worked in…

Sensory Storytime Progression

In early 2012 I decided I wanted to create a Sensory Storytime at my branch. After watching a few webinars, making contact with the Autism Society of Central Virginia, and talking with local teachers I began to design my program. I decided it would run in three week sessions on Saturdays and that I would offer it quarterly. It was designed for children on the spectrum ages of 3-6 years. I checked out our copy of The Out-Of-Sync Child Has Fun by Kranowitz and selected a variety of activities that I thought would work. Our Friends bought us awesome play items including no spill toddler bubbles. Our first Sensory Storytime was in October 2012. I was blown away by the response! The most phenomenal part for me was watching parents talk with each other while their children played after storytime. They were all dealing with similar struggles and it was…

Begin Your Sensory Storytime Today!

Many librarians that I have talked to are reluctant to start a sensory story time. Familiar refrains that I’ve heard go something like this:  I don’t know the first thing about children with special abilities; I don’t have specialized training; I don’t want to do the wrong thing and upset a child who already has special needs; I didn’t go to library school to do sensory storytimes; don’t I need a really big grant in order to secure materials for something like this? Much has been written about how to begin a sensory storytime. We won’t cover that here.  There’s plenty of stuff out there for you research, plus we’ve included some references below.  However, you should know that you’re probably already equipped to do a sensory storytime right now!  Joshua Farnum, the play, and active learning specialist at Chicago Public Library has started a string of successful sensory storytimes…

Sensory Storytime On the Road

Over the past few months, my library has partnered with a local resource center that provides early intervention and lifelong support to individuals with a variety of developmental disabilities, including cerebral palsy and autism spectrum disorders.  The resource center originally reached out to us looking for a librarian to read a few stories to their clients. I knew a sensory storytime would be a great fit, but in their experience, visits to offsite locations were rarely successful.  Any activity we planned would have to take place at their location.  So I took my sensory storytime on the road, and got a chance to really put my skills to the test. I’m fairly new to sensory storytimes.  Before this, I had incorporated concepts into my regular programming, and made real efforts to make those programs universally designed, but I certainly wasn’t actively promoting this. Partnering with the resource center gave me…

Sensory Storytime Resources on the ALSC Pinterest Account

As ALSC blogger Renee Grassi reminded us earlier this month, April is National Autism Awareness Month. For libraries, months that observe, celebrate, or raise awareness for a group of people or an issue should serve as annual checks for our services: “It’s National Autism Awareness Month; I should make sure that our library services to children with special needs and their families are excellent all year long.” If you find yourself currently evaluating your programs for children with special needs of any type–in particular for young children and their families–I’m pleased to share that members of the Library Service to Special Population Children and their Caregivers (LSSPCC) Committee have been amassing and curating resources on a Sensory Storytime board on ALSC’s Pinterest account. They’re creating an excellent resource for libraries just setting out to offer sensory storytimes as well as for those of you in a place to evaluate and…

Sensory Storytime Tips

I’ve been doing my Sensory Storytime for 3 years now. I posted a brief “how-to” guide here a few years ago, and still get contacted frequently by people who are looking to start a storytime and want some help. I am so happy that librarians continue to want to reach this audience and serve these families in their communities. In the interest of providing more useful advice to people looking to get started, I’m going to list out some of my “top tips” here, stuff I’ve learned during my 3 years doing this program. You’ll see that the prep that goes into a Sensory Storytime is really similar in many ways to the prep you’d do for a “typical” storytime. (For even more great tips, check out Renee Grassi’s recent post. It is full of helpful info for those getting started or those who have tried and want to change…