Top tips from the First 5 Forever Sensory Storytime webinar

Natural fiber basket, stripey cushion, and sensory toys
Image supplied by Sunshine Coast Libraries

Last week during the Sensory Storytime webinar we heard from three different library services on the approaches they take to program and facilitate early literacy programs that are inclusive and responsive to children and families who experience sensory challenges.

These sensory challenges can include developmental delays, children that live with Autism, children with sensory processing disorders and any other children that could find the traditional structure, facilitation and involvement in library early literacy sessions difficult.

Sensory space at Brisbane City Council Library
Image supplied by Brisbane City Council

Often parents and caregivers of children with these types of sensory challenges avoid library programs or libraries altogether. They fear judgement or shaming from staff and other families in response to their child’s non-typical responses and behaviours. The programs available to families, including siblings, where non-typical behaviours are met with understanding, compassion and inclusion can be quite limited.

Staff from Brisbane, Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast council libraries provided some examples of the ways in which different public libraries are addressing this limitation, how they are collaborating with outside agencies and the strategies they are employing to support families with a variety of sensory needs.

The top take-away tips from the webinar include:

  1. Partner with local organisations already working in this space. Who can you collaborate within your community who is already supporting children with sensory challenges? What resources and learning can they offer? Are they willing to collaborate with you to plan, program and facilitate sensory sessions?
  2. Learn and adjust through trial and error. As every library space, available staff and resourcing are different, you will need to trial what is going to work best for your service and the families attending. Seek feedback from children, caregivers and staff and adjust your approach accordingly.
  3. Use a visual schedule. All children, not just those with sensory challenges will appreciate a visual schedule or overview of what will happen during your early literacy session. Invite children to be involved in tracking where you are up to in the schedule by pointing to the relevant image, moving a peg to the next activity or placing finished activity cards away. There are lots of ideas online on how you can do this and images you can use.
  4. Carefully consider the space. Look at what you can control in your facilitation space and work with that. You may not be able to control the lighting or the size of the space but you can work on other areas. Minimise distractions by decluttering, create individual spaces for children through cushions, mats or tape on the floor and select songs, books, props and activities that invite interaction and provide varied sensory approaches.
  5. Reframe what success looks like. Your idea of what a successful session looks like may be completely different to that of parents and caregivers. Seek feedback from families, talk to staff and reflect on your own practice. For many children with sensory challenges just being at the library will be a success! Any participation or interaction will be viewed as a success and each session will build confidence and comfort for children to continue to attend.
Children twirling ribbons on a stick at the library
Image supplied by Moreton Bay Regional Council

There is a wealth of information on providing library programs for those with sensory challenges to be found online. The more you research, the more you will find the right approach for your service and the families you work with.

You can view a recording of the webinar here and access the resources relating to the webinar at the First 5 Forever Dropbox. All past webinars on a range of topics are also available for you to share or re-visit.