Storytimes for Preschool Children with Special Need

every child ready to read

Every Child Ready to Read in Michigan - August & September 2017

In This Issue:

This Month's Wisdom...

"Children are not things to be molded, but people to be unfolded."  

 ~Jess Lair, author



Storytimes at Your Library for Preschool Children with Special Needs


The Americans with Disabilities Act, which took effect in early 1992, required facilities and services regularly used by the public to be accessible to the more than 43 million Americans who were physically or mentally disabled. It took some time after, but eventually children’s librarians started thinking about how they could program for children with disabilities or special needs. Whether they are children with learning or developmental disabilities, hearing-impaired children, or blind or physically disabled children – our storytimes should be inclusive. This can be difficult for those of us who have had little or no experience in working with children with special needs. Where to begin?

Here are some ideas to start:

1.       Assess the need in your community. Do you know of children who might want to attend your programs, but are not already, because of their special needs? What are their special needs? Talk to their parents or caregivers as to how your storytime programs could be more inclusive for their child.

2.       Is there any organization that offers disability awareness training in your community that you can attend?

3.       Can you partner with your local school district? Is there a teacher who would be willing or able to assist you?

4.       Are there knowledgeable professionals from a local organization, support groups, or a parent who would be willing to assist with the storytime program?

Many libraries have begun to add sensory storytimes, particularly beneficial for autistic children. Here are some general ideas to consider for sensory storytime programs:

  •  Try to make sure your room has few distractions. Have well-defined seating spaces (which could mean carpet squares that will establish boundaries). Some carpet squares could possibly be placed off to a side for children unable to join the group.
  • Have a visual schedule of activities that children can see.
  • Use a variety of materials in your storytime, from sensory books that children can later explore, to big books, pop-up books, and flannel or magnetic board stories. If possible, have multiple copies of a sensory book you are sharing so that the child and parent can have the same experience.
  •  Make sure your program has a variety of sensory activities, but recognize that some children may avoid sensory experiences. Try movement activities, and lots of rhymes and songs. Use activities that involve more than sight and sound. Repetition is important!

 For more ideas on this topic, check the links below. You can also watch the Library of Michigan webinar, recorded earlier this month, Adapted Sensory Programming for All Ages & All Budgets, with librarians Jen Taggart of Bloomfield Township Public Library, Laura Hollister & Sarah Skinner of Niles District Library, and Marta-Kate Jackson of Cromaine District Library. 

Online resources on Storytimes for Children with Special Needs


Sensory Storytimes: this powerpoint is from a speech presented at a conference, but it is one of the most helpful resources on sensory storytimes, covering every aspect of the program, including planning and resources.

An article from the American Libraries magazine entitled “Storytime for the Spectrum: Libraries Add Services for Children with Autism,” by Megan Cottrell, from the Salt Lake County Utah Library System, is about a librarian who was bothered by children running around and making noise during her storytime. When she talked to the mother, she found out the children were autistic, and thus began her research on how to conduct sensory storytimes.

Sensory Storytime: a (brief) how-to guide: though this is a brief article, particularly helpful is a template of how to conduct a sensory storytime. This was posted on the ALSC Blog by Ashley Waring at Reading Public Library in Reading, MA. 

Storytime Welcomes Kids with Special Needs, is an EBSCO Novelist interview with Holly Jin, an Outreach Librarian at Skokie, IL. Public Library. Holly explains different programs she has conducted for special needs children in this article.

Holiday Library Programs?


It’s that time of year – holidays are fast approaching, at least one a month, from Halloween, to Thanksgiving, to Hanukkah to Christmas, etc. And many libraries are planning special programs that directly relate to the individual holiday. It goes beyond storytimes, as libraries began decorating for the upcoming holiday also. Maybe it is time to reconsider some of these programs.

Many of these programs are based on religious traditions that then highlight the religious beliefs of some of your regular library patrons, but not others. Even non-religious holidays such as Halloween can be controversial. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate the holiday, and there are Christian groups that feel it is associated with Satanism or Paganism. By offering programs celebrating these holidays, you are actually limiting who can attend the program. That does not mean that during the time Halloween is normally celebrated you could not offer a fall harvest program. Though some of your holiday programs might be popular for some people, there are probably other places in the community that will offer these programs, which then makes the library a welcoming institution for everyone!       ~ Sue

Here are some links for more information on this topic:  

In the School Library Journal article titled “Ditch Holiday Programming” by Kendra Jones, her belief is that it is important to celebrate diversity by allowing all people to participate in ALL library programs.

This Jbrary piece by Lindsey Krabbenhoft on “Jumping off the Holiday Ban-Wagon” shares her opinions on holiday programs, though she recognizes not everyone will agree with her.

An American Libraries magazine article by Abby Johnson on “Tis the Season…To Think Critically About Holiday Programming” makes the point that “Programming choices have the potential to offend and exclude, just as they have the potential to educate and enrich.”

New Books of the Month


Toad on the Road. Stephen Shaskan. Harper, 2017.  ISBN: 978-0-06-239347-0. $17.99.

Here is a book that will fit well into a preschool storytime program. A toad that is playing on the road causes all types of chaos to a bear on a bike, a croc in a car, and a vole in a van, until Mama Toad rescues him. There is rhyme (great for phonological awareness) and plenty of opportunities for children to join in on the other repeating rhymes:

“Hey, little toad, get out of the way! You could get hurt. That’s no place to play. Vamoose! Skedaddle! Without delay! What do you think your mama would say?” and also the chorus “Toad on the road. Toad on the road. Oh no! Oh no! There’s a toad on the road.” Lots of fun. 

Little Excavator. Anna Dewdney. Viking, 2017. ISBN:  978-1-101-99920-2. $17.99.

By the creator (now deceased) of the Llama Llama books comes a completely different book from this author. Little E (excavator) tries his best to work along with the big rigs at the construction site, but he either gets in the way or falls over. Construction equipment is everywhere: a bulldozer, a loader, a dump truck, a backhoe, and a crane. What makes this a great choice for early literacy skills is the rhyming text and onomatopoeia with the wonderful machine-like noises: “Pusha-pusha-smusha-smusha SMASH SMASH SMASH!”  There have been a lot of books published lately about construction vehicles --- add this one to your construction storytime (followed by Lego or Duplo play!)


Give Me Back My Book! Travis Foster and Ethan Long. Chronicle Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-6521-6040-5. $16.99

Bloo and Redd are both in love with the same book, and argue over whose book it is. While doing that, the story covers print awareness skills, discussing the fact that the book has a cover, a spine, pages that turn from right to left, a table of contents, chapters, illustrations AND LETTERS THAT FORM WORDS! When a bookworm snatches their book, Bloo and Redd decide to write their own new book together in a plot to get the original book back. 

What’s The Difference? Being Different is Amazing. Doyin Richards. Feiwel & Friends, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-250-10709-1. $17.99.

Parenting guru Doyin Richards tackles a timely subject on diversity and acceptance of others who are different from us. Doyin’s parents taught him and his brother that “skin color, religion, sexual preference, and socioeconomic status…” should never prevent them from being someone’s friend. In terms easy enough for preschoolers to understand, the author covers basic differences such as hair, eyes, and skin color.





There is no doubt that we are living during a more divisive period in our nation. Preschool teachers are reporting more bullying, teasing and harassment, possibly reflected by parents and other adult role models who are reacting to a more divided America. What can we do to help preschool children understand the importance of tolerance to those who may be different from us, or how to react to a bully? There have been several books released the last few years that can be used as bibliotherapy, or that lend themselves to a group discussion. Here are a few of my favorites:

Accepting Differences/Tolerance: 

Manushkin, Fran. Happy in Our Skin. Candlewick, 2015.

Parr, Todd. Be Who You Are. Little Brown, 2016.

Parr, Todd. Love the World. Little Brown, 2017.

Richards, Doyin. What’s the Difference? Being Different is Amazing. Feiwel and Friends, 2017. (reviewed above)


Dewdney, Anna. Llama Llama and the Bully Goat. Viking, 2013.

Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. Bully. Roaring Brook, 2013.