Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fall 2013 Meeting Recap: Sensory Storytime

Sensory Storytime Presentations

The fall meeting of SNAILS featured Sensory Storytime presentations by Renee Grassi of Glencoe Public Library and Sue Parsons of Plainfield Public Library. Renee and Sue covered:
  • the what and why of Sensory Storytime
  • three different models of Sensory Storytime
  • what we can learn from offering Sensory Storytime
Because Sensory Storytime is a relatively easy way to accommodate children with special needs at your library, we recorded the presentation for you!

In addition to the main presentation, Sue demonstrated a mini Sensory Storytime including her welcome comments, the use of her little bird, Pájaro, songs, crafts, and games. A video of her demo will be included in Sue's upcoming post, so be sure to subscribe to the blog in order to receive an alert when it is posted!

Sensory Storytime Ideas from the Group

After the formal presentation and demonstration, we used the group sharing time to talk about our favorite Sensory Storytime components. So many great ideas were shared - from sign language to smelly markers and lap pads to pumpkins. You can read about all the amazing ideas that were shared in this Google document.

iPad Apps for Sensory Storytime

Near the end of the morning, I shared four apps that I've just begun using in Sensory Storytime:

Choice Works by Bee Visual, LLC ($6.99) is Tamara Kaldor of Chicago PLAY Project's #1 recommended app. It has three boards - schedules, waiting, and feelings. If you already have an iPad, the schedule mode is an affordable substitute to Boardmaker. Although the image library is somewhat small, you can use photos from your camera roll. The waiting board has a digital timer, and the feelings board helps kids self-regulate by                          making positive choices.

Sounding Board by AbleNet (free) is a great app for augmentative communication. I've used it to make choice boards for those who are non-verbal. For example, I've taken pictures of the trees in Fall is Not Easy by Marty Kelley and recorded myself naming each tree. After reading the book, I ask the kids which tree they like best and they respond by tapping the image of the tree they prefer. 

Maybe it's because my sister moved from the suburbs out to a farm, but I love Happy Little Farmer by GiggleUp Kids ($2.99). It was the perfect app for kids to use while waiting their turn to plant a seed during our gardening storytime, and it's also a good alternative for those who don't want to get dirty.

Bugs and Buttons by Little Bit Studio, LLC ($2.99) is an app that was recommended by North Shore Pediatric Therapy during a family technology workshop we hosted at Skokie Library. It has 18 different games and activities which provide opportunity for free play and learning. I used it with our insect-themed storytime. There are three other just-as-good versions (Bugs and Buttons 2, Bugs and Bubbles, Bugs and 

Autism Webinar

Those who were able to stay for the afternoon viewed the ALA Serving Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Part I) webinar which was presented by Lesley Farmer who wrote a book by the same title. It was a good overview of Autism. We'll be viewing Part II, which includes ideas for programming for the Autism population, after the February 12, 2014 SNAILS meeting at Glenside Public Library.

Holly Jin is the Preschool Outreach & Early Literacy Librarian at Skokie Public Library.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sensory Storytime: Begin with ALSC!

If you want to begin developing a Sensory Storytime program at your library, start here at the ALSC Blog.  In fact, that's where I started.  When I first started developing Sensory Storytime at the Deerfield Public Library, I began with researching what models already existed at other libraries around the county.  At the time, there weren't that many other librarians who had been leading special needs storytimes and writing about their experiences in library literature.  Thankfully, I managed to connect myself with two pioneers in our field. 

The first blog post I remember reading was Tricia Bohanon Twarogowski's Programming for Children with Special Needs.  She put together an amazingly comprehensive programming model and wrote about her experiences in a five-part blog series.  Tricia later shared her experiences developing programming for older children in Going Beyond Sensory Storytime: Sensory School-age Programming.  Then, there was Barbara Klipper.  Her Sensory Storytime post is just a snippet of the wealth of information she has to share on the topic.  In fact, she has also authored a professional publication that is being published in the Spring of 2014 called Programming for Children and Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders. She has even led an informative webinar on this topic, called Sensory Storytime: Preschool Programming That Makes Sense for Kids with Autism.  The webinar itself was recorded, archived, and is available through the ALA Store for viewing. Both of these women have been incredible inspirations and mentors to me.  I have learned--and continue to learn--so much from the great work that they do, and am so grateful for all they have taught me about how libraries can make a difference in the lives of children with special needs.

What I love about the ALSC Blog is that there are so many contributors.  Librarians from all over, from different libraries, different backgrounds, and different experiences blog and share their contributions to librarianship with the rest of us.  I have found Ashley Waring's Sensory Storytime: A (brief) how-to guide post to be extremely useful.  One of the more early posts contributed on the ALSC Blog about this topic was Kiera Parrott's Storytimes for Autistic Children.  It's amazing to see how different the statistics are about autism in comparison to even 2008, but so much of her tips and strategies are still applicable today.

I was honored to be included in the ALSC Blogger community in 2011.  It's truly a privilege to be able to share information with the ALSC community each month about special needs related topics, but also to be able to learn from our colleagues across the country work to improve the lives of children each day.  Since I began blogging for ALSC, I've written about selecting books for special needs storytimes, using music with children with special needs, and have even recommended books for Sensory Storytimes.  More recently, I blogged about my latest partnership with the National Lekotek Center collaborating on a new model of Sensory Storytime.  For more information and links to other posts I've written over at the ALSC blog, click here

I am so happy to say that there is a wealth of information out there in "library land" about Sensory Storytime--much more than there was even a few short years ago....and this is just the ALSC Blog.  This doesn't even include all the articles that have been written in Children and Libraries, American Libraries, and YALSA publications.  It's a great time to begin developing a new program like Sensory Storytime not only because of the abundance of information that is out there, but the amount of support that exists from other librarians. What I love most about our profession is that we aren't afraid to share and help each other grow.

As we said today during our SNAILS meeting, don't be afraid to be fearless.  Just go out there and do it.  And when you start, you don't need to look any further than the ALSC blog and the ALSC community to motivate, educate, and inspire you.

Renee Grassi
Head of Children's Services
Glencoe Public Library

Monday, September 23, 2013

iPads for Children with Special Needs

Using iPads with children with special needs is a growing trend. Although there isn’t conclusive research yet on the outcomes of using iPads with children with special needs, feedback from the field is mainly positive. Teachers and librarians who are using apps with children with special needs report improvements in targeted skills. In cases where the child’s skills didn’t improve, teachers felt that the child’s skills also hadn’t decreased.  Because children have such varying abilities, skills, needs, and behaviors, the effectiveness of iPad technology will also vary with each child.  Instruction and experiences should be individualized. As you consider and/or implement iPad technology in your library collections and programs, here is some current discourse to consider:

·        The iPad can motivate children to practice a skill over and over again until they master it.

·        Apps can be used to target specific needs and can sometimes be adapted to a particular ability level.

·        The iPad is touch screen and generally easier for children to manipulate than a mouse.  Some children may need additional assistive devices.

·        A good app makes the most of visual learning, which can be particularly beneficial to some children with special needs. 

·        Good apps help children understand cause and effect.  An immediate response to a child’s action is most effective, such as a chime when a question is answered correctly. 

·        iPads allow for real-sounding text-to-speech voices that can encourage a child to speak or allow a child to communicate via technology.

·        iPads help children develop fine motor skills by touching, pointing, dragging, and practicing how hard to press.  This can be a challenging aspect of the iPad for some users.

·        Children learn most effectively from technology when the caregiver/teacher and child/student work together to construct learning.  Learning is also enhanced when apps are paired with hands-on experiences.

Some of the special needs apps we have pre-loaded on our circulating iPads at AHML include:

·        First Words International: Encourages language development.

·        Book of Me: Gives children the opportunity to make choices and can encourage certain behaviors.   

·        Model Me Going Places 2: Six sets of photos with narration help children learn expected behaviors for visits to the hairdresser, doctor, playground, grocery store, and a restaurant.

·        See.Touch.Learn.: This picture-learning app is ideal for children with autism and other special needs. Teach new words and concepts using digital flashcards.

·        TapToTalk: TapToTalk turns the iPad into a communication device.  Tap on a picture and it speaks.

What are your favorite apps to use with children with special needs?  Share your ideas here! 


The iPad as Part of the Smart Inclusion Toolkit. Teaching Exceptional Children, Vol. 45.
Price, Amy. Making a Difference with Smart Tablets. Teacher Librarian, October 2011, Vol. 39, Issue 1.
Roth, Kristi. Adapt with Apps. The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, & Dance. February 2013.
Shah, Nirvi. Special Ed. Pupils Find Learning Tool in iPad Applications. Education Week. Vol. 30, Issue 22.
Lindsay Huth is the Early Learning Specialist at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Importance of Play

All children benefit from play, but play is especially important for children with special needs.  When I first started Playgroups at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library in February 2013, I offered a session specifically for children with special needs on Wednesday mornings (a day and time I had noticed some of our families with children with special needs informally meeting on their own).  Our Monday and Thursday playgroups, held out in the Kids’ World department, were well attended (30-50 people each), but my adapted playgroup, which took place in our storyroom, a much quieter and structured space, didn’t attract any customers.  I eventually dissolved the Wednesday playgroup for children with special needs and held it in the department like the Monday and Thursday sessions.  In addition to the usual crowd, some of my families with children with special needs attended. 

Playgroups for children can be either inclusive or targeted toward a special needs population depending on your activities, the modifications, and what your customers prefer.  Either format can be built on the same principle of the importance of child-centered, open-ended play. The activities I plan for my inclusive format playgroups are often drawn from books about children with special needs, such as 101 Games and Activities for Children with Autism, Asperger’s, and Sensory Processing Disorders.  All children benefit from hands-on activities that engage the senses and inspire teachable moments. 

And playgroups are filled with teachable moments.  Through play, children learn important social skills as well as other basic skills that will help them succeed in school.  Play helps children understand the world and one another.  Playgroups aren’t just for the kids, however.  While we love to see children and their caregivers interact, we’re equally pleased to see caregivers interacting with one another, using the time to network, swap tips, and enjoy the company of other adults.

Please feel free to stop by and observe, or watch the presentation to see Playgroups in action.  I would love to hear your ideas and feedback and learn how you implement playful activities at your library!

Lindsay Huth is the Early Learning Specialist at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Inaugural Meeting Recap

Surprise! The first meeting of SNAILS was even bigger and better than we had envisioned! Approximately 35 attendees represented 30 libraries, and the crowd was abuzz with excitement about the new group and it's purpose.

After enjoying a beautiful spread of breakfast foods and much needed coffee along with a selection of small goodies (e.g. National Association for Downs Syndrome bookmarks, lists of recommended books for Sensory Storytime and teen programs, and Signing Time demo DVDs), we started off with a lively discussion about public libraries’ role in serving children with special needs. Some interesting comments that came out of the conversation were:
  • The special needs community can be viewed as one piece of each town's diversity pie. Reach out to them just as you would to other groups.
  • We have to be responsive to community need, and that need changes all the time.
  • Parents of children with developmental differences need support and time to network with other parents who face similar challenges.
  • We can act as advocates without having to be experts.
  • Volunteers can help get you started - especially retired special education teachers.
  • Partnering with special needs agencies helps make services available to families and builds community.
  • If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
  • Regardless of the success of programs, reaching out breaks barriers and builds libraries’ reputations.

After our conversation, we went around the room introducing ourselves and sharing about the outreach services at our libraries. What a wealth of experience people brought to the table! It was so encouraging to learn that most of the libraries are already offering specialized services and programs to families with special needs. We are sure to learn a lot from each other. For a summary of what was shared, please view our Member Libraries page.

Finally, Lindsay Huth, Early Learning Specialist at Arlington Heights Memorial Library took the floor to share about the amazing, library-wide Autism Awareness Month she coordinated last April. Through Lindsay's efforts, AHML hosted the eye-catching Stories of Autism exhibit which features portraits and stories of children and young adults with Autism. All library staff were encouraged to wear Autism Awareness bracelets and stickers. Over the course of the month, the library offered four programs for kids: a "Busy Brains Children’s Museum" which featured nine science stations hosted by the Library's Teen Advisory Board; a book discussion of Rules by Cynthia Lord; "Rainbow (Animal Assisted Therapy ) Time;" and a "Special Needs Apps for iPads" technology petting zoo. Adults and teens were invited to attend the "Human Library: Exploring Autism" panel presentation, a book discussion of House Rules by Jodi Picoult, and a presentation by local high school personnel entitled "Debunking Teen Autism Myths."

Lindsay finished her SNAILS presentation with an overview of the library's inclusive "Kids' Playgroup" which is a drop-in program held three times per week out on the Kids World floor. She usually sets up five open play stations which are all based on the Alliance for Childhood's 12 Key Types of Play. For more information about Kids' Playgroup, look for Lindsay's upcoming blog post.

The next meeting of SNAILS will be on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 9:30am. We'll be meeting at Skokie Public Library for a morning discussion, guest speaker, and sharing time with the option of a group lunch and an afternoon viewing of ALA's online class, Library Service for Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Hope to see you there!

Friday, June 14, 2013

NEW Networking Group: "SNAILS: Special Needs and Inclusive Library Services"

Are you interested in better serving youth with special needs?  Join youth services librarians Holly Jin and Renee Grassi for the first meeting of the newly formed SNAILS Networking Group.  This group will meet in person on a quarterly basis and will connect virtually via blog posts between meetings.  We will discuss...

  • programming ideas for birth through young adult (age 22)
  • outreach services to youth with disabilities
  • training opportunities for library staff
  • strategies for partnerships with local agencies 
  • assistive technologies and special collections to serve patrons with special needs
  • resources to learn more about accessibility

Youth Services Librarians and YS Staff, Young Adult Librarians and YA Staff, and LTA and MLS students are invited to our meetings. Dates for future meetings are:

  • Wednesday, November 13 at the Skokie Public Library
  • Wednesday, February 12 at the Glenside Public Library
  • Wednesday, May 7 at the Vernon Area Public Library

We hope to see you there!