Ask a Storytime Ninja: Special Needs Programs


I am in the process of developing a regular program (storytime?) for special needs children.  If you have a separate program for special needs children, what format do you use?  How do you address the wide range of ages and abilities that can fall under “special needs”?  Also, what do you suggest for making sure that special needs children feel comfortable coming to any of your programs?  I would love any guidance whatsoever including books/resources about serving special needs children, as well as specific recommendations for books, activities, crafts, toys, etc.  Thank you so much!


Lisa (@lmulvenna) says:
I have done these sporadically to see if there is a community need.  We’re just not there yet, but they are a lot of fun to do.  Start by checking out this ALSC blog series-  While it is a couple of years old, it is excellent and is written by one of the forerunners in the special needs programming community.  Two other librarians who I like to follow (as they are experts) are Barbara Klipper at The Ferguson Library and Jen Taggert at Bloomfield Township Public Library.   After doing a lot of research, this is one storytime that I did based on Trish’s blog post-

In terms of coming to regular programs, they are always welcome.  The two things that seem to startle most special needs children the most are bright lights and loud noises.  Then again, those things startle all children.  I also announce before programs something like “If your child is not enjoying today’s program, feel free to leave during the middle and try again another day.”

Sara Hathaway (@hathawse) says:
If you haven’t heard of it already,  the SNAILS blog (Special Needs and Inclusive Library Services) is an amazing starting point with a number of fantastic resources linked on its resources page.  SNAILS is an amazing group out of the Chicago area that is passionate about inclusive library services and a source of regular inspiration for me.  Also, if you haven’t already reserved or purchased a copy, check out Including Families of Children with Special Needs: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians, Revised Edition revised by the incredible Carrie Scott Banks.
There are a number of strategies that can be used in any storytime to make them more inclusive: using sign language throughout the program, offering a tactile experience related to the concepts being discussed, offering multiple modes for group participation instead limiting to verbal participation, keeping the pacing slow and even, and using lots of repetition, etc.  These strategies are beneficial for all children, regardless of their abilities, and are important factors in any storytime since a range of special populations, both visible and invisible, exists in every community.
If you have a bit of budget, below are two specific tools that I have found useful in making all my storytime programs accessible and inclusive:

  • Plastibands – Latex free bands for wrist puppets, etc.  — fantastic alternative to using props on sticks and modifying props so that all children can participate and interact with the prop(s)
  • Big Mack Communicator — a portable recording device for use with children who are non-verbal and have limited movement with their hands.  It’s a great device for storytime because you can quickly record a repetitive phrase and a child can push the large button and participate along with verbal children.

Tabin says:
Frequently I work with special needs classes. The teachers asked that I approach their classes the same way I would approach any other class. I find this works very well. I alternate quiet books/activities with high energy books/activities. I use a lot of music, shaky eggs, finger plays, pop-up books and puppets. I take the cues from the kids and toss the plan when necessary, like on Friday when I went into one classroom right after the Chick-Fil-A cow offered free ice cream. (We did more dancing than reading.)

For library storytimes: if anyone isn’t participating I make general encouragements and leave it up to their parent or caregiver to know what is best for them. I have an information table at the back of the room and mix in materials for those who are differently-abled. This allows them to browse while maintaining their privacy. I also let people know they can ask questions after programs and e-mail them resources as necessary.

Kendra (@klmpeace) says:

Here are the resources I used in planning special needs storytime in my library:
ALSC blog: search the blog for “special needs” and there are tons of great resources. When I was planning I used the posts by Tricia Bohanon Twarogowski that Lisa linked to as well. Here’s one activity that went over really well in mine.

Multnomah County’s Sensory Storytime: I asked about theirs and learned that it’s very laid back and low key, the presenter is flexible and not bothered by disruptions or melt downs (they will happen). Is anyone in your area doing one of these that you could observe?

My mom: she is a special education coordinator and had lots of great tips for me. Make a connection with a local special education teacher to get some ideas and tips. Talk to any groups in the area, who might even be interested in attending, about what would be helpful for their children. Flexibility and patience were the two things my mom emphasized. That and clear communication with the parents in the room.

Learn about Ask a Storytime Ninja and ways to participate here.

About Kendra

Children's Librarian in the Northwest. Lover of toddlers, twitter, and TV (T's, too, apparently!).

Posted on January 28, 2014, in Ask a Storytime Ninja. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I taught pre-K special ed for four years before coming to the library and I think these are all great ideas. One suggestion I have for you is to use a visual schedule. There are lots of great ideas on Pinterest, but really you would need just simple photos or clip art depicting what you will be doing (story, fingerplay, song, etc) and a way to indicate that you are finished that activity (have a flap to cover that image or have it on velcro so it can be removed).
    Since someone suggest the Big Mack device… it’s always great to use a child’s voice of a similar age to the child you are using the device with so it sounds like it could realistically be their voice speaking.

  1. Pingback: Introducing…Book Buddies! (birthday theme) | LibrErin

  2. Pingback: We'll Link to That: Spring 2014 | Jbrary

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: