“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw.
If you’ve already read the latest issue of Children & Libraries, then you are probably just as motivated and inspired as I am by all the ideas about PLAY. If you haven’t, you should.*** The second edition of Every Child Ready to Read has brought the focus on this all-too-important topic, separating “Play” out as its own distinct pre-literacy activity. That means for those of us coordinate children’s programs, we have now assumed the role of “facilitator of play.” But let’s be honest, many of us have probably already taken this on before. Many of our programs may already have playtime built into our storytime programs. The new edition of ECRR makes it official. I, for one, am excited to have another reason to continue playing and encouraging families to play, too.
At my previous library, I coordinated Sensory Storytime program, a one hour long program for children with special needs, and it was developed to give playtime its own special focus. Children ages four to eight came to the library on a Saturday afternoon for 30 minutes of storytime activities, and 30 minutes of structured play activities. After our storytime activities were completed, children and caregivers would receive a small picture card that matched one of the three stations in the room. This program has evolved several times incorporating different play activities offered, including play-doh, puzzles, rice table, and a craft table. Once at their station, families would then have about seven to ten minutes to experience the activities in that station. I would give a two and one minute warning before it was time to change to the next activity, and then families would receive a new card that matched one of the other stations.
I had the opportunity to observe several special education classrooms before planning this program, which helped inform my planning process for Sensory Storytime. What I saw in those classrooms was very similar. Children were grouped together at small tables around the room, and each table would involve a particular activity or lesson. Then, when the child completed the lesson, he or she checked his individual picture schedule, received a new card, and moved on to their next activity. What I took away from this learning experience was that it was crucial to make sure appropriate structure was given to playtime. Visual cues like picture cards and large group schedules, coupled with verbal and visual warnings when transition was going to occur helped support children in their play experience. For a child with special needs, play–and all the social expectations that come with it–may not be something that comes as naturally. Children with special need need structure, direction, and support with transitioning to different activities in a library program. So, setting out a pile of toys in the middle of a large room and ‘expecting’ children to ‘go and play’ may not be the right strategy with children with special needs.
One other thing I learned: not all toys are made equal. Having a program like Sensory Storytime invited children with various kinds of special needs into the library. I quickly learned that I needed to adapt activities to make them accessible to everyone, and I had to offer toys and manipulatives that could be used by children with various abilities. Some children had ability to grasp; others didn’t. Some children could manipulate a glue stick; others couldn’t. I always had to be cognizant of the expectation I was setting up for children whenever I put out toys or an activity, and realized that offering variety was always best option. For those libraries who offer or are considering to offer a toy lending library, or just want to consider purchasing more accessible toys, check out AblePlay. AblePlay is a toy rating system and website that provides a wealth of information on toys for children with special needs. It was created so that parents and professionals alike could make informed decisions about purchasing produces for children with disabilities. What impressed me the most about this website was its searching and limiting capabilities. You can actually search products and limit the results that best targeted for children autism, learning disabilities, or another disability category. It’s also a great resource if you simply want to share it with families.
What is your library doing to show families that it’s okay to play?
***Children & Libraries is a scholarly journal for continuing education of of librarians working with children, and a fantastic resource available to all ALSC members.