Why Your Child with Special Needs Should Be In Storytime and How to Make it a Success

Library programming has changed A LOT in the past decade.  A LOT.  We have gone from traditional story time reading with a paste together craft to interactive story times filled with music, movement, open-ended arts and crafts that encourage individual thought and creativity.  We have gone from book groups with preformed questions lead by the librarian to programs that tie literature into hands-on, thought provoking activities that engage the inner thinker in each kiddo.  We are no longer a community of “shushers” telling patrons to read quietly, but rather we are encouraging conversation and engagement with other children and parents at the library.

The best part of this change in thinking and direction is that it means programming now fits ALL abilities and needs instead of just the needs of children who can sit still and quietly for a story hour.  Still, the fear and misconceptions are out there, especially among our parents who have children with special needs.  I have extended the invite to Storytime for Littles (our baby/toddler story time) as well as Exploratorium (our school-age, STEAM-based programming) just to catch that hesitation followed by a hasty “Well, my child has autism, so I’m not sure they would sit for it,” or “My child has ADHD and I would hate for them to get too wound up.”

I know that response.  That hesitation.  I had it when my child was young.  I have a son who is autistic.  He also has severe ADHD and a sensory processing disorder.  Taking him into settings where I had no control over smells, sounds, and tactile experiences was nerve-wracking.  It could trigger a meltdown and the judging eyes of other mothers falling on us or upset children who felt we disrupted them.  From personal experience I can say, he needed those experiences.  Can I say every experience was a success for us?  No.  What I can say is that every experience gave him a frame of reference for adapting to different social settings (we run at the playground, we walk in the museum). It gave him exposure to new activities and topics, even if it was short-lived on a rough day (seeing new animals at the zoo to talk about versus the pets at home and animals in our neighborhood).  The opportunity to practice social skills at different programs was a major driving reason behind many outings.  Playing with new friends and meeting new people was not always easy, but he did learn how to greet people without being prompted and practice manners with people other than family which helped as he went off to school where I wasn’t there to guide his social interactions. All of this lead to a huge opportunity that is good for any child: the opportunity to gain pride and confidence in himself in any setting.

 

So what are some tips and tricks to enjoying story time if your child has special needs?

  • Talk to your child about it ahead of time, regardless of their age.  If they are too young to understand, you are providing them with new words to build a frame of reference for what story time and the library are.  If they are old enough, talking to them about what to expect at the program or what behavior you expect from them helps them feel more prepared going into the situation and sets them up for success.
  • Once in story time, let your child explore within reason.  Obviously we encourage them to stay with you and do the activities, be it listening to stories or dancing and moving to song, but we are used to “wanderers” who walk around the room, come up and point to the pictures in the books we are reading to the group, help with the felt board stories, and the list goes on.  They are still getting a lot out of being in the room, hearing the story and taking in the setting.
  • If you want your child to practice sitting during times we have the group sitting to listen to a story but they are struggling to stay still, ask us for a fidget!  We have an arsenal of fidgets and weighted toys that will help satisfy your child’s sensory output needs and use their energy while they are still sitting with the group.  And trust me, though at first glance they may seem distracted, they are actually more mentally engaged than they would be otherwise, absorbing every detail.
  • If it is a rough day and your child is overwhelmed, feel free to step out of the room.  Parents frequently are in and out during story time, and this is nothing that disrupts the program.  Feel free to come back in once your child feels ready to rejoin the fun and give it another go!
  • If it is really overwhelming adjusting to a story time or program, start small.  Sit in the program for as long as your child will tolerate.  Maybe it is 5 minutes, maybe it is 15.  Once they show signs that they are done, leave story time.  You can either take a break and come back in after a few minutes when they are ready to give it another go or just come back the next week and try again.  Slowly overtime as your child adjusts, the time they will be able to stay in the program will grow. Do this as many times or for as long as necessary!  The library staff understands completely and supports you 100%!  Often there is a concern that we will be disrupted or find that coming and going rude but the truth is we WANT you to do this if it helps your child.  We want you and your child in our program even if it is only for a part of it, even on a rough day!  And truth be told, parents and children come and go frequently during programs for lots of reasons so you are not alone!
  • If the program has different centers to explore, don’t make your child do every one if he or she doesn’t want to.  Let them guide their experience!  If they want to make three straw rockets instead of going to the area where they actually launch them and measure them, that is okay with us provided the supplies are there.  It is an opportunity to interact with different children who come to that station and use social skills!
  • Let the library staff in the room know if you need help!  Tell us how we can support you!  Whether it is asking us to hand you a cherished object that soothes your child while you are holding them to calm them down, whether it is giving you and your child a special sign if storytime is about to get loud because loud noises upset them and it gives you time to cover their ears, or even if it is helping provide a transition between activities so they aren’t upset when you need them to move to a new center or go home, we are there to support you as well as your child!

Miss Marta

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Captain Underpants Party @ MPL

 

The Captain Underpants books already were flying off our shelves thanks to summer reading, but with the movie out, we knew we had to celebrate so we hosted a Captain Underpants Party!  We hosted a fun mix of games and crafts to keep our active superhero patrons busy.  This event was an hour and a half and patrons could come and go as they pleased so having activities that were open-ended and adaptable to almost any age was the goal.  From the feedback we got from our 150 guests, the things we planned achieved these goals!  The best part?  These are things you could easily recreate if you are having a party, whether it is for 5 guests or 150!  Read on to see what we put together.

 

Professor Poopypants Name Changer

As people came into the event, we had them start by finding out there Captain Underpants name using Professor Poopypants’ Name Changer.  This was a downloadable from the Scholastic site.

Because we wanted a more colorful sign, we just typed recreated it in Canva which worked very well.  Kids quickly wrote their new name on a name tag and off they went to the next station.

 

Superhero Masks

Since capes prove tricky in regards to expense (and sometimes liability), we opted to have a mask station where are patrons could create a mask to go with their new Captain Underpants identity!

 

Hypno-Ring Station

Personally, I’ve always loved when George and Harold hypnotize Mr. Krupp for the first time.  The image of him on the desk pretending to be a chicken before he becomes Captain Underpants just cracks me up!  That said, we knew we had to have a station with the Hypno-Ring.  We created a giant hypnotic swirl on paper and attached to what is usually a ship’s wheel decor piece from our summer reading.  We then thought up some super silly actions for kids to act out.  We created slips for each task, cut them apart and threw them in our handy dandy cauldron.  To get “hypnotized”  kids had to stare into the swirl while pulling an action to act out from the cauldron.  Honestly, I was worried some of the older kids would play the too-cool card and walk past this station but it turned out I was worried for nothing.  We had some super silly actors of all ages at this station pretending to be a hot dog about to be eaten, an angry chicken, a cat taking a bath, and more!

Toilet Paper Stacking Challenge

This station was a lot of fun and definitely easy for any age!  Kids could test to see how high they could stack the toilet paper without it falling and how fast they could stack.  We actually posted a volunteer at this station to time kids.  She also helped with our Pin the Cape Station!

Pin the Cape on Captain Underpants

 

We blew up and painted a large image of Captain Underpants himself for this version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.  Kids would put the blindfold on, spin three times, and then try to pin (er, tape, to be accurate) the cape to Captain Underpants’ neck. I’m sad to say I don’t have an after pictures of this station because this guy was covered in red capes!

 

Undie Fling

I’ll be honest, this station went best with a parent or grown-up willing to be silly! The objective?  To stand behind the long red line and fling a pair of tighty whities as far as you could.  From that line to the first shorter line was about 4 feet.  Each red line after took you another 2 feet.  A lot of kids got to see a whole new side of their grown-ups that day as they were learning to use the elastic waistband to launch the underpants!  Even if they didn’t get the concept of how to fling them with the technique we were thinking of, a lot of kids were giggling as they threw giant underwear around the library.

Turbo Toilet 2000 Turd Toss

Yeah… you read that correctly!  The Captain Underpants books are well-known for their toilet humor and we couldn’t help help but go there!  Using a toilet seat, round trashcan, card stock, and some good ole’ duct tape, we created our own version of the Turbo Toilet 2000.  We then created “turds” from scrunched up newspaper covered in wrinkled brown construction paper that was wrapped up in packaging tape so it was durable but gave a squishy feel.  Kids had a chance to see if they could get 5 turds into the toilet before their turn was done.  Hands-down, we got the BEST feedback about this station from parents and kids alike!

Jerome Horwitz School Sign

We have a magnetic pillar in our department that we have done some fun stuff with in the past, but this may have been my favorite!  We created a school sign like in the books and put out magnetic letters for kids to leave their own silly messages!  We had tried to use smaller letters but the magnets didn’t quite cut the mustard so we ended up with large foam letters instead and the kids still had fun with them!

Coloring and Activity Pages

These printables were all free on the Scholastic website.

Doodle Stations

Have you ever tried Doodle Stations before?  We throw them up at events periodically because they are a HUGE hit with patrons, young and old.  Basically we cover table tops with white craft paper or butcher paper.  We set out colored pencils and leave a note letting patrons know we want them to draw on the paper.  We get some awesome art work doing this!  Check out these examples!

 

The activities you just scrolled through are located all throughout our department.  It prevents congestion and chaos in a main meeting room and still encourages people to check out the collection.  It also meets the needs of kiddos with special needs or families with very young children.  We keep more challenging crafts or activities where materials could be messy in our Children’s Program Room.  For this event, we had three activities in our program room.  We had the fidget spinners craft we gave you in our sneak peek, a Captain Underpants Bookmark, and a Playdoh Poo station set up for kids to explore at this event.  Even the big kids LOVED the Playdoh!  And who doesn’t love a fidget spinner these days?!

Throwing this together during Summer Reading was not an easy task, but it was worth it!  Our community absolutely LOVED our Captain Underpants Party!