Call to Action

Programming for Children with Special Needs, Part Four

by Tricia Bohanon Twarogowski

Last week in Part Three, I shared program plans from past Rhythm and Rhyme storytimes for children with special needs and their families. As a result of the partnership between the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County (PLCMC) and the Autism Society of North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County Chapter, training videos have been produced by PLCMC and are posted on the Library’s “Online Learning” webpage. This week I encourage you to view a video segment which contains in its entirety a Rhythm and Rhyme program held April 11, 2009 at Matthews Branch Library.

While watching the program, please note some things previously mentioned as aspects of this type of programming:

  • The program begins with a welcome, announcements and a review of the daily schedule. Not only do I mention in the announcements that the program is not exclusionary, but I extend an invitation to all for an upcoming concert. As I review the schedule, I first introduce the presenters. I use as few words as possible when reviewing the schedule.
  • We move around the room quite a bit to interact with the children, careful not to be “in their space.” It is also important to not touch the children, even reassuringly, as this may be upsetting to some participants.
  • The parents are very involved. They support not only their child’s efforts but also those of the other participants. You will hear them share affirmative statements such as “good job,” “yay!” or “great!” during the class. By the middle of The Deep Blue Sea my reading turns into a group reading!
  • We, as presenters, are relaxed and exhibit a sense of humor throughout the program. We smile a lot during the class–partially because we both truly enjoy the experience but also to be welcoming and reassuring.
  • We may paraphrase a book as Joanne does during What Makes a Rainbow?
  • When we pass out props (butterflies, bean bags, scarves) the parents sometimes enjoy receiving one as well. The parents gauge when the child returns the item–for some parents this may be something they are working on with the child outside of class so it is their lesson to teach rather than ours. If the parents do not wish to upset or insist that the child return the item, we just keep on collecting from the ones who do. We don’t push the participants to do motions in these prop songs but instead welcome their participation.
  • The children may not be sitting down and they may not participate in ways in which we are accustomed with our other classes. We remain flexible, committed to our program plan and pleasant throughout. At times the noise level may be heightened, but this is okay. We do not ask the children to sit down because we don’t have expectations that they do so and we do not pass judgment regarding behaviors exhibited in class.
  • If a participant in the program touches the book or flannel, we are flexible and let the parents decide when they will address the behavior with their child.
  • When utilizing double visuals, one must be in tune with their partner as I am with Joanne during the reading of The Deep Blue Sea. This flannel contained many intricate flannel pieces and pacing the book accordingly was necessary.

The second video featured on this PLCMC “Online Learning” webpage shows the Rhythm and Rhyme program in action:

After this taping, we changed how we set up materials for the class. For just $15 at IKEA, I purchased a canvas toy box to hold the items. This was in line with a focus group comment suggesting if the items are hidden rather than displayed, it is less distracting. Now our counter is devoid of anything other than the iPod player and I simply arrange the items in order within the box for ease of program flow.

Next week I will wrap up this blog series by sharing potential collaborations and future possibilities for this programming.

Below are the links for the other four articles of Tricia Bohanon Twarogowski’s Programming for Children with Special Needs series:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five


  1. Courtney Klueh

    I’d really love to see the video, but the link is broken. I can’t find it by just doing a search. Can you send me a new link, please? I have a class of special needs children who come to the library each week. I’d love to be able to plan for them better, so they have a great experience at my library.

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