Last year I decided that I needed to try something new so my plan was to run a series of sensory programs in spring 2011. Working in a public library, I often see people with special needs using the building, but they don't have programming that is geared towards their needs.
Before You Start Planning
Think of this like school-before you start, do your homework. I started by looking around the web to see what other libraries are doing and came across this excellent blog post on the ALSC blog. It is a five-part post called Programming for Children with Special Needs by Tricia Bohanon Twarogowski. Around the same time, ALSC offered a webinar by Barbara Klipper at The Ferguson Library called Sensory Storytime: Preschool Programming that Makes Sense for Kids with Autism.
Next, look around your area to see if there are any libraries doing any special needs programming. We noticed that there was no special needs programming in our county, which prompted this program. I remembered seeing a colleague present on autism at a conference that I attended so I started asking her questions as they came up.
Let me start by saying that you will need a plan with this group and you will want to practice. This is not a programming group to go into blindly. This group needs to see what is going to happen in which order, whether you hang the plan at the front of the room or pass out a schedule to each child (or both).
Since I had never did this before, I borrowed the plan from Tricia's blog for her color story time. We had 3 kids attend with their parents so it was a nice audience for my first sensory story time.
Tips & Tricks
We used a program called Boardmaker to set up our schedule. This is a great program, but is expensive. I was able to download a trial of the program to see if it would fit my needs, then found the program through our Intermediate School District. I am still pushing for my library to pick up the program as it would be useful in any children's story time, but that is a work in progress.
While the kids are coloring at the end of the program, talk with the parents to see if the program fit their needs. Is there anything that they could suggest? They live with special needs children every day and maybe they have a tip or suggestion of something to make the program better.
What I Would Do Next Time
The biggest thing that I would correct next time is the marketing of the program. I made an assumption (wrong, of course) that if we advertised the program in our newsletter and in the library, that people would see it. Why would they look for it if they aren't used to having special needs programming at the library? If you want to run a sensory story time, you have to go to the people to advertise. In our county, I would need to go through our Intermediate School District's special eductaion programs.
You may also get a lot of inquiries from your regular customers to see if they can attend. I probably could have had a room of 60 2 and 3 year olds if I wanted. They thought that the idea of a sensory story time sounded cool, but they totally missed that this was not for their child. It is a good idea to know ahead of time who you are going to let into the program-is it just for special needs children, for special needs children and their families, or can anyone attend?