By Kelly Youngblood
Starting in August, a monthly sensory-friendly storytime will become part of the regular family programming lineup at the Champaign Public Library.
For those who may have sat out traditional storytimes – more than a dozen are regularly scheduled each week – the sensory-friendly storytime “creates a safe and non-judgmental environment for families to have a fun, educational and social experience together,” said Champaign Public Library children services librarian Laurel Halfar.
Sensory-friendly storytime is designed for children ages 3 to 6 who are on the autism spectrum or with other special needs, and their caregivers.
“Although all of our storytimes are welcoming and inclusive, families with kids with special needs may be hesitant to attend for a variety of reasons,” says Halfar. “We wanted to offer a special storytime for these families as a way of welcoming them to the library and taking their unique needs into consideration.”
Sensory-friendly storytime will start its new schedule on August 26 at 6:30 p.m. and will occur at 6:30 p.m. the last Monday of each month through November. Check the chambanamoms.com calendar for information and times after that.
Since January, the library has offered sensory-friendly storytimes every other month on Saturday mornings; however, library staff saw a need to offer it more frequently and make it more accessible by expanding to a monthly series in the evenings.
Currently, the Champaign Public Library is the only area library to offer such a program. The series is similar to a traditional story time program with book sharing, rhymes, and songs led by a children’s librarian, but with additional sensory-enhancements.
Those enhancements include a visual schedule to manage transitions, fidget toys, turn-taking activities to foster social interaction, a flexible learning approach, and a consistent structure to ensure predictability and routine.
Participants can also expect other fun activities that include a tactile balance beam, scarves, ukulele songs, pop-up tunnels, tactile bouncy balls and bubbles. After each story time, children can engage in sensory play and socialization.
Halfar says storytime is integral for all children and their families throughout the entire community, no matter what their needs may be. “Storytimes are intended to provide an opportunity for children to experience the joys of reading and to support the development of literacy skills needed for school success. The library is for everyone!”
Sensory-friendly events are multiplying in Champaign-Urbana, with sensory-friendly swimming times, movies, and even Santa visits being offered to families.