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!