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Beyond the Bookshelves: Sensory Storytime offers opportunities for special needs children

While library storytimes provide a fun and welcoming environment where children build early literacy skills through reading, talking, singing and playing together, some children require a more structured approach.

Geneva Public Library began Sensory Storytime in the spring of 2014 for 3- to 8-year-old children on the autism spectrum. The group is limited to eight children with a caregiver, and is 15 minutes longer than other storytimes to allow children to settle in at their own pace and engage in an exploratory time.

The presenter contacts each family in advance and asks how to best meet the needs of their child. Some examples include:

• For sensitivity to bright lights, we dim the lights.

• For sensitivity to smell, we limit the use of cleaning, craft, and/or personal hygiene products.

• For sensitivity to noise, we limit unexpected noise and provide noise canceling headphones.

• For a child with sensory processing disorders who might not be able to sit on the floor or sit still during a story, we provide chairs, sit discs or carpet squares.

Each family receives a “Social Story” visual guide to view before the program that describes social interactions, situations and skills/concepts that might be unfamiliar.

Fidget toys are provided during the story to help with focus, attention, calming and active listening. Weighted shoulder and lap pads also are available.

A “Visual Schedule” helps the participants understand the routine and know when to transition from one activity to the next.

Children are often vocal and moving about during the story, and the caregiver decides whether to correct or allow the behavior.

“Sensory Storytime is valuable to our family because it allows our preschool child to participate in storytime with some flexibility and extra consideration for his needs and attention span,” said Patricia Brueschke, whose son Liam is a Sensory Storytime regular. “Siblings being welcome to attend Sensory Storytime is another wonderful aspect. We truly appreciate that our library is so welcoming to all our children.”

The next Sensory Storytime will be from 2 to 2:45 p.m. Saturday. To learn more, call Youth Services at 630-232-0893 or visit our website at

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The Librarian Recommends: Jennie Fidler, Young Adult librarian, said “Vango: Between Sky and Earth” by Timothée de Fombelle is one of her “top five books of all time and perfect for all ages.” Part fantasy, part adventure, part historical novel, the story of Vango’s flight across Europe and his adventures along the way is guaranteed to keep readers captivated.

• Paula Krapf is public relations and marketing coordinator for Geneva Public Library. Her column runs the third Thursday of each month. Contact her at

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