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 their approach.)
1) Think Like a Teacher
The way I see it, families bring their children to storytime to have fun, but librarians always have the motive of educating while we entertain. A Sensory Storytime crowd is no different, but the skills they are learning might be a bit different or broader than the early literacy skills we weave into our typical storytimes. For my Sensory Storytime, when choosing activities or books, I always ask myself “How can I turn this into a way for kids to practice their language skills? (both receptive and expressive) How can it help them practice social skills like eye contact or executive functioning skills?”
- Example 1: When I read The Deep Blue Sea by Audrey Wood, I pass out squares of colored felt. While I read the book, they need to wait for me to read the name of their color before they can come up and put it on the felt board (impulse control, receptive language, following directions…).
- Example 2: I hand out yellow, pink, and blue egg shakers. Then we sing a song and shake our eggs. I’ll put laminated colored ovals on my felt board that are yellow, pink, and blue and explain that while we’re singing, they can only shake their egg when they see their color on the board. (Receptive language, following directions, impulse control, motor planning…)
2) Think Like a Special Education Teacher:
When preparing materials for Sensory Storytime, I also ask myself questions like “How can I incorporate visual supports? How can I involve sensory input?” Visual supports are key for children with language challenges because it helps them know what to expect and scaffolds their language learning. You can see a picture of my visual schedule at my other post. Sensory input can come in many forms: tactile, visual, auditory, vestibular, proprioceptive… (If you’re interested in learning more, I like The Out of Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz). Some kids are sensory seekers, some are sensory avoiders, and some are both, so you’ll see a range of responses to your sensory toys.
- Example 1: When I read If You’re a Monster and You Know It by Rebecca and Ed Emberley, I put up a visual for each movement I want the kids to do. A typical child will know to watch me and try to copy my movement. For my Sensory Storytime kids, a visual can help remind them of what the movement is going to be so they can focus more attention on the motor planning aspect of actually doing the movement.
- Example 2: When we read Tanka Tanka Skunk by Steve Webb, I hand out rhythm sticks. The kids clap their sticks together to match the rhythm of the book, as well as the tone (quiet when the animals are sleeping, loud when they wake up). The sticks give excellent sensory input (both auditory and proprioceptive). As I mentioned above, each child has a different sensory profile, so I noticed one little boy marching and beating the sticks really hard (and enjoying himself very much!) while another child seemed a bit nervous about the sound the sticks were going to make. Even the motor planning of holding the two sticks and clicking them together can be great practice for many children.
3) Be Flexible & Friendly
I’m sure this goes without saying, but go into the storytime room with way more books and activities then you’ll have time to do. Since my storytime is drop-in, I never know who I’m going to get, and I often need to switch my activities to cater to the ages and abilities in the room. The example above about matching the egg to the color on the board, for instance, may work well for kindergartners and up, but if I get a room full of young preschoolers and their toddler siblings, I won’t do it.
By being friendly and engaging, you can help create a trusting environment where parents can share more about their children. One mom shared with me that her son prefers nonfiction books, so I created visuals to go along with Who Lives Here? by Nicola Davies. And again, since my program is a drop-in, I had this book and these visuals with me and ready to go every month in case this family came to storytime.
4) Try Out Some Technology
iPads can be very motivating to all children, including those with special needs. One of my favorite apps I’ve used with this group is Cookie Doodle by Shoe the Goose. I have the children take turns coming up to interact with the app, which is based on making cookie dough, then baking, decorating, and eating cookies. Before the child gets to touch the iPad, I ask a simple question like, “What color icing will you use?” or “What shape cookie do you want?” The promise of using the iPad can be a strong motivator for kids to have a short social interaction with me!
Are you offering a Sensory Storytime or other program for children or teens with special needs? What top tips would you offer to someone getting started?
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