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RAR: Inclusive sensory storytime program builds literacy skills

Storytime at the library can become a happy lifelong memory, but it’s not for every child.

So there’s also sensory storytime, a hands-on opportunity for children with autism, and those who have more than the usual trouble sitting still, are shy or don’t fit in well with a large group.

“The idea came partly from what we learned from talking with other libraries, and we sat down and decided to try it,” said Julie Iannacone, associate director of neighbourhood and youth services with the Vancouver Public Library, which introduced sensory storytime in 2014.

“It comes from our wish to be inclusive, so everyone is welcome.”

For parents of children who don’t deal well with complex environments, who squirm more than normal, or go on laughing or cheering long after the others have quieted, for example, it’s easy to feel like you’re being judged by other parents.

Or even by the librarian.

“Anecdotally, we hear parents say that they’re not comfortable, that they feel maybe their children don’t behave the way other parents feel is appropriate,” Iannacone said. “Whatever the reason, a large group setting is not a fit for them.”

There’s a saying among educators, be they teachers or librarians, that goes something like this: If children aren’t learning the way they’re being taught, then they should be taught the way they learn.

“There isn’t one way to do things, we do know that kids learn in different ways” Iannacone said. “We’re really trying to get to know a family, and figure out the best way to support them and connect with them.”

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Heidi Leung reads a book with daughter Maddy as part of the sensory storytime program.

Heidi Leung and David Chong couldn’t thank the VPL enough. They’ve been bringing three-year-old daughter Maddy to sensual storytime and feel it’s made a difference.

Shy and prone to separation anxiety, Maddy took to the felt board like it was a long-lost friend.

“Initially she used to come to the bigger group at storytime,” Chong said. “But we noticed she didn’t participate much. With sensory storytime’s smaller group, it wasn’t such a shock to her, she was able to naturally participate more.”

Repetition is important: The same song, the same routine, the same story. Materials include felt and things squishy and stretchy.

“We start with an age-appropriate story,” Iannacone said. “We tell it again, but with felt pieces this time. Then the felt pieces are available during play time (following storytime).

“We try to figure out as many ways to repeat a story without boring the kids.”

One American expert in childhood learning compares sensory storytime to the difference between being in the audience for a magic show and being the volunteer on stage.

“All the volunteer’s senses are engaged as she squints under the bright stage lights, smells the magician’s spicy cologne, sees and touches the dark velvety emptiness of the hat, hears the roar of the audience when a fluffy white rabbit jumps out …”

Little Maddy has just begun preschool, which, Chong said, had gone “surprisingly well, and I think some of that has to do with sensory storytime.”

Maddy also loves it when her mom and dad read to her and her 20-month-old brother Micah.

“From the start she’s been drawn to books,” Chong said. “This one (Maddy) will make us read well before bedtime, after dinner we’re already starting.

“And still she’ll get us to squeeze in a book or two once she’s been tucked in at bedtime.”

Anyone who feels their child would be better off at sensory storytime is welcome to approach the library and set up a consultation, Iannacone said. 

“You need no doctor’s note, no proof or diagnosis,” she said. “And having your child in the program introduces you to other parents facing the same issues you are.”

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

twitter.com/gordmcintyre


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http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/raise-a-reader-inclusive-sensory-storytime-program-builds-literacy-skills-through-books-and-hands-on-play