Saturday, February 8, 2020

Developing a Sensory Storytime for Your Library

We at Five Minute Librarian are thrilled to introduce guest-blogger Erin Collier-Plummer, Youth Services Librarian with the Seminole County (FL) Public Library. Ms. Collier-Plummer has been planning and presenting Sensory Storytimes in her library, and has graciously allows us to share her experience with you. All words below are her own.

Getting Started

Erin Collier-Plummer presents a book at Sensory Storytime.

When I arrived at the Seminole County Library system, I learned that there were only two Sensory Storytimes here, and both were located at different branches. Moreover, the branches alternated months, so interested families would have to travel between the two branches (which are not very close together) in order to attend on a monthly basis. While our Central branch houses an entire Sensory Lab (for which they won both a grant and a state library award), I felt it important to have something similar, albeit smaller and able to be contained on one library cart dedicated for this purpose. 

Resources for parents are available.
Being a librarian that works primarily with youth, as well as a mother of a child on the autistic spectrum, I sought to create a program at my own branch that would run monthly and would serve both neurodiverse and neurotypical families. To this end, I decided to learn what I could from a professional standpoint about how to develop my own Sensory Storytime. Fortunately, I found the book Programming For Children and Teens With Autism Spectrum Disorder by Barbara Klipper. Armed with the recommendations in this book and my own experience with the types of activities that had helped my son in occupational therapy, I went to work pulling together information. I also reached out to local organizations for resources and advice on what to incorporate. [Some of these resources are made available to caregivers at each Sensory Storytime]

I chose Wednesday morning to hold the storytime, since I knew many of the families in my community were interested in a more hands-on, tactile experience than I could provide at my other storytimes. My first session was held late last year, and there has been some tweaking to the format since to accommodate new ideas. Overall, I am very pleased with the way this program has evolved, and I cherish the families that attend and provide very positive feedback regarding the experience. Perhaps my favorite feedback moment was from a family who told me how welcomed they felt and how engaged her child was throughout, which she stressed was a rare thing.

What to Do

Some of the techniques I incorporate come directly from Ms. Klipper’s book, while others were based on other feedback and my own research regarding the sensory needs of children. I’m including some of the tools I’ve found most helpful:

Interactive books are always a big hit
  • Social story: I outline, in graphical format, how the storytime will proceed. Some children on the spectrum, for instance, need structure and find transitions a challenge. The social story gives them a heads-up about what to expect.
  • “Wiggle” or “bumpy” seats: these provide sensory stimulation and allow the kids to move a bit while still sitting. 
  • “Quiet” fidget toys: I use sensory beads enclosed in a plastic cover, but theraputty would work well, too. 
  • Sensory balls: I do an activity where I roll a sensory ball to each child and ask them (or their caregiver) their name, then state, “Hello, [name]” as they roll the ball back to me. This activity provides a wonderful opportunity to help everyone get more comfortable while helping to work on core muscle strength and gross motor skills. 
  • Scarves and shakers provide an opportunity to move, stretch, and sing. Everyone gets scarves and shakers, even babies and adults!
  • Interactive books: stories that allow kids to make noises, move, etc. are always a hit. 
  • Action rhymes and songs about activities of daily living: washing body parts and brushing teeth (such as singing Raffi’s “Brush Your Teeth”) are some of my favorites, but I’m always on the lookout for new ideas.
  • Activity tables: since I don’t have access to a separate room, I have commandeered a library cart and stock it with my supplies. Some of the activities I do every month include hiding plastic toys in plastic bins of kinetic sand and water marbles and allowing the kids to dig through them to find the “treasures”. These are always a huge hit, providing tactile/sensory stimulation and a lot of fun! Other activities include finger painting, gluten-free play dough, and a tissue paper craft that helps children practice their fine motor skills.
  • Mats for de-stimulation: I have small gym mats placed in a quieter corner of the room for kids who need it. 
Textured mats make drawing even more fun


Attendance has been wonderful, and I am looking to possibly expand this program to twice monthly, as scheduling permits. There is clearly a need for this type of program in my community. As a parent, I wanted to create a storytime my own child could have joyfully attended, since traditional storytimes in my area at the time were not designed to be inclusive. The program I’ve come up with is not ideal, and I am not an authority by any means. But libraries are for everyone, and we need to make sure all our children feel welcome and included!

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