Bainbridge Youth Services Assistant wrote this post to further elaborate on the sensory storytimes offered at the Bainbridge Branch, the next of which is offered this Friday at 10 a.m. Register here.  

For those I work with, it is no secret that I want a sensory story time in Geauga County. However, there is general confusion as to what exactly a sensory story time is, and what kind of value it might have as opposed to any ol’ storytime.

First, a little context. Most people think about senses as five distinct things-seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting. In reality, there are seven senses, two of which are a little more abstract. Your vestibular sense is an understanding of ourselves in proportion to the world around us and your proprioception is a general awareness of your own body. In total, that gives us seven senses, seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, proprioception, and our vestibular sense. We use these seven senses to understand and interact with the world around us.

A sensory storytime is designed for younger children with difficulties processing sensory information. Another word for this is children with SPDs (sensory processing disorders). In most storytimes, kids have sensory abilities most of us take for granted. For kids with SPDs, these abilities might be uniquely difficult. For example; every week in Rhythm and Rhyme, we do a parade where we use alphabet carpet squares to make a route and march around the room listening to the Beatles. When you stop to think about it, that’s a lot of sensory information to take in! Being able to process the marching, music, and directions while simultaneously paying attention to the order of letters in the alphabet is only really possible if you can understand what your sight, hearing, touch, and vestibular sense are telling you.

A sensory storytime is for kids who need the sensory development required to have a good time at most storytimes. A lot of the elements in a sensory storytime are similar to any other storytime; we still read a book, we still sing songs, and early literacy is a consistent theme. However, most of the activities are designed to take the differences in sensory interpretation into consideration. The result is a storytime rich with unique sensory experiences and limited distractions. For example, we also have a parade. But instead of an alphabet parade with carpet squares and loud music, we use a tactile path that children balance on with their parents holding their hand while I sing the ABCs in the background. The point of the activity is the same: building awareness of the ABCs and having a fun time at a parade: but the sensory experience of the parade has much less distraction and much more sensory variation.

The goal is to take groups who don’t function well at story time normally and get them comfortable with the library and the idea of working within their limitations through storytime success. The sad truth is most of the world doesn’t accommodate for SPDs. However, my hope is that through programs like sensory storytime, kids who are intimidated by a world that seems unforgiving learn some skills that help them to function in their own unique way and learn that most people really do want to understand.