Guest Post: Making Storytimes More Inclusive

Today’s guest post features an interview between two youth services librarians from Beaverton City Library. If you missed the first guest post by this team, check out their Ready, Set, Kindergarten program.

I get asked a lot about how to make storytime inclusive to people of all ages and abilities, so I am happy to share these ideas by Carson and Brenda. Take it away!

The following is an interview with Brenda Shelton conducted by Carson Mischel. Both Brenda and Carson work in Youth Services at the Beaverton City Library in Beaverton, Oregon.

Carson: The word “inclusive” is used a lot in library-land these days to describe the evolution of programs and services to make them more welcoming to different populations. What exactly are we talking about at Beaverton City Library when we talk about making our storytimes more inclusive?

Brenda: I think inclusive is a very hard word to pin down, because it can be so broad. To me, “inclusive” means that our storytimes are crafted with all children in mind. When libraries talk about “inclusion,” I think a group that is continually left out is disabled patrons. I wanted to make our storytimes universally inclusive for children regardless of disability or ability. This means that children can attend any of our storytimes and be both engaged, and capable of participating, whether they are verbal, non-verbal, sighted, deaf, neurodivergent, neurotypical, differently abled, or not. Rather than giving accommodations when they are asked for, each of our storytimes have multiple means of communication and engagement built in to benefit all learners, so that everyone has equal opportunity to engage and enjoy. They also have shared elements that serve as anchors for families that may graduate from one storytime to the next, or attend multiple storytimes in a week. I think everyone should have an equitable experience at the library without having to ask for it. I want every kid to feel like they can come to storytime and have fun and learn with their friends, in ways that work for everyone. I want to normalize everyone’s ways of learning. I don’t want to perpetuate a dichotomy of one thing as normal and the other abnormal. I think that it is our job to meet every patron where they are at, rather than perpetuating practices that may only serve certain children. While we are just starting this process and will expand over time, our current inclusive practices are:

  • A Visual Schedule guiding every storytime.
  • A shared, interactive opening song with a visual “Choice Board,” that allows the children to choose what we sing about that day.
  • Implementation of “props” for each child in one or more books during the day.
  • Encouraged use of Big Books.
  • Explicit modelling of behaviors and concepts through direct language and actions.

Carson: You have worked very hard to make all of our existing storytimes at Beaverton City Library more inclusive. Why do you believe it is important for all of our storytimes to have inclusive elements?

Brenda: I think that when you exist in any kind of identity or experience that puts in you a “minority,” you face a lot of othering in your life, whether intentional or not, that tells you that you are not welcome in places that others are. If you truly believe that “Libraries Are For Everyone,” I think that making patrons ask for “accommodations” is just another barrier, and it does communicate that they are not welcome. Instead, we should be adjusting all of our services to benefit all of our patrons inherently. It was also a goal of mine not to make a special Inclusive Storytime that was specifically aimed at neurodivergent or physically disabled kids. While I think those are great, and I would love for us to have one someday, I wanted to show that every storytime can easily benefit all children by incorporating some of the practices you would see at those specialized programs. I don’t want to send a message that disabled patrons need a special program to be valid. They don’t. We just need to shift our approach and think about the ways that we are favoring certain patrons in our libraries. We follow a Universal Design in this way, in that our storytimes aim to work for everyone together, rather than apart. I think that’s really important, especially with kids. I want them to know that no matter who they are, they are welcome at BCL, and they deserve to learn and play in the same ways as each other.

Carson: What is the purpose of using a visual schedule as part of storytime?

Brenda: Visual Schedules are often used for children on the spectrum, but they are beneficial to everyone. They are basically just a visual guide or outline for the activities in storytime. Visual Schedules help those who have trouble with transitions, as well as those who may have trouble with written language or who are non-verbal. There are many different types, but you can think of it as a card with a word and a picture representing that word—for instance “Book.” As each activity is completed, you take the card away. It’s just a great concrete way of making mapping out what is expected of everyone that day, and illustrating when it is completed. This can be helpful to soothe any kind of apprehension or anxiety around tasks and behaviors.

Carson: What are a few of your favorite books and/or visual props to share in storytime and why?

Brenda: One of my favorite books for storytime is Crunch, the Shy Dinosaur by Cirocco Dunlap. It’s an interactive book about a shy dinosaur that requires audience participation. I’ve always had great success with that book. You can easily modify it with Popsicle props with pictures of the different actions printed on them so that all of the kids can engage, as most of requests are verbal. Anything that each child can hold and use the engage in the story is great.

Another favorite was given to me by a coworker, and its super simple. Read Tap the Magic Tree and give each child a die cut tree. Then, every time they have to tap the tree, or shake it, or blow on it, they can do it with their own personal tree. It’s really just all about having multiple ways for children to engage in the story experience with you. Touching and holding props is a great way to get children physically engaged with the story through touch and action. It really grounds them in the story, and you all participate in the process together—which is the best!

Interactive, repetitive, and literal books are best!

Carson: If a library is interested in making their storytime more welcoming to children of all abilities and learning styles but don’t have the time or budget for a total re-design, what are three simple things that be changed or added to make storytime more inclusive right away?

Brenda:

  1. Create and implement a visual schedule. There are lots of examples online. Find one that works the best for you!
  2. Incorporate more visuals and methods that allow for multiple means of communication. For everything you say or do, try to think of how you can express that activity or concept with a picture, object, or action.
  3. Pick interactive books or adapt the stories you have to make them more interactive with the use of felt, die cuts, Popsicle stick props, or scarves.

Carson: Can you recommend any books or websites that offer information and resources for making storytimes more inclusive?

Brenda: My first recommendation is always to talk to your local organizations that are run for and by people who carry that identity. For autism, my first and always recommendation for this at a broader level is to check out Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). It is run by autistic people, for autistic people, unlike harmful organizations like Autism Speaks. Other resources include:

Brenda Shelton is a Youth Services Reference Assistant at Beaverton City Library in Beaverton, Oregon. She enjoys spending her weeks making DIY Crafts with tweens and teens, talking about pop culture, and being artistic. When she’s not connecting with patrons or surrounded by books, she enjoys spending time with her black cat, Blackjack, getting tattooed, and watching The X Files. If you have any questions about inclusive resources or practices, please feel free to contact her at bshelton@beavertonoregon.gov.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Making Storytimes More Inclusive

  1. I’ve been thinking about making a visual schedule for my storytimes. I have a question about its use: what if I decide that I need to skip or add something at the last-minute? (Such when you find that your Group is wigglier or younger/older than usual . . )

    1. Hi Laurie!

      Great question! I want to start by saying that it’s TOTALLY okay to shift things on your schedule. You can never foresee how everything will go. I will say there are two ways to go about this:
      1. Pull some extra cards like “dance” or “song” or “stretch” and put them to the side or keep them in your pocket. If you get to the next thing on your list and you don’t seem to think it will work, you can add these cards ahead of your next activity and go from there. I will point out some good language to use below after my second scenario.
      2. Don’t worry about extra cards and simply introduce a new fingerplay, etc. before you get to you next activity on your schedule.

      Here is how I like to do it:
      Me: “What do we have next on your schedule today?”
      Kids: “A book.”
      Me: “You’re right! It is a book…but I don’t think we feel ready for another book right now? Do you think we feel ready for another book? Let me se your hands instead. We’re going to do ‘Open, Shut Them”….you can then do a few fingerplays or a song and then direct them back to the board and let them know we all feel ready for our next activity now.

      Changing a routine is totally normal and it’s going to happen to your kids no matter what. The important part is being clear and walking them through the changes together.

      This is also true if you have to skip some things. It’s totally okay to say, “Next on our schedule we have a song and another book before our goodbye dance. However, we took a little longer on our other fun activities, so we’re going to take off the song and book today and save them for another time… What does that leave us with? A goodbye dance. Let’s stand for our goodbye dance!” The important part is including the kids in the process and being descriptive.

      Thank you so much! Let me know if there is anything else I can answer!

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