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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kaleidoscope Storytime: A Safe Place Where All Children Feel Welcome

Lives Change @ Fairfax County Public Library: What can we do for you?

Chantilly staff member Gail Wellock
“We are regulars….  The teacher even has a nameplate for him. My son is 23 months old but requires a walker for walking and is sensory sensitive. The other library activities are too overwhelming for him and he is miserable.... This is the only activity we've found, paid or free, that works for him with his physical limitations, interest in age appropriate activities and sensitivities.”
-        Krystal, parent of child attending Kaleidoscope storytime at the Chantilly Regional branch of Fairfax County Public Library
Everyday activities that many of us take for granted can present great challenges for parents of autistic children. Take storytime at the library, for example. The Chantilly Regional Library branch of the Fairfax County Public Library is changing that with its monthly Kaleidoscope Storytime. This adaptive program for children on the autism spectrum or who have other developmental challenges is changing lives by providing an underserved community with special activities where these children and parents feel comfortable and welcomed.

The project was spearheaded by Chantilly Youth Services Manager Steve Okrend and staff member Gail Wellock and has since been adopted by other Fairfax County Public Library branches, including Reston Regional Library. Gail’s colleague Lee Bruner had the opportunity to attend an American Library Association conference workshop in June 2011 about special programming for kids with autism and reported back to the Chantilly staff about best practices in the field. When a regional organization, Parents of Autistic Children Northern Virginia, approached the library’s Early Literacy Specialist Renee Edwards a year later about special needs programming, Gail and Steve volunteered to develop an ongoing program for children on the autism spectrum with the encouragement of Chantilly Branch Manager Daria Parnes.

To prepare for the program, the team did extensive research, met with FCPS applied behavior coaches and observed special education classrooms. They also met with the Parents of Autistic Children group to survey the members and ask for suggestions and comments. Once they began working out the details, Gail attended a full day of training provided by the Fairfax County Public Schools Office of Special Education staff.

Among the components Gail learned to include in these special storytimes are a visual schedule that tells attendees what to expect, books with patterns and repeating lines and double visuals such as a book and a puppet, a book and a flannel board or singing the book. The children enter and sit on small carpet squares that have been arranged in a circle with stuffed animals in the center.

The first monthly Kaleidoscope Storytime launched in October 2012. More than 30 people attended that inaugural event. The program was so successful that Chantilly launched a second “Peaceful Paws” program in January 2013, a read-to-the dog program designed for this special population.

Chantilly Regional Library branch has been recognized nationally for this work. In 2013, it received an award of Outstanding Achievement from the National Association of Counties. But the best reward has been the reaction of the children and parents who attend the programs. One parent told Daria how happy she was that she could finally bring her four-year-old to a library program where his behavior was seen as normal and accepted.

This is Gail and the Chantilly library staff’s ultimate goal – to create a space “where all of us in the storytime will be accepting, tolerant and understanding of all behaviors except those which hurt others. A space where children will be honored.”

-Pat Bangs, Library Administration (retired) and Ginger Hawkins, Centreville Regional Library

Have a library story to share?  Let us know in the comments or send us an email!

The post is part of an ongoing series examining the library lives of Fairfax County residents as part of a celebration of the American Library Association’s National Library Week.


Anonymous said...

What an amazing resource! We just found out about the Kaleidoscope Storytime and went with our son to Gail's class. Our son responded immediately to Gail's gentle and warm personality! He engaged in the activities and imitated instructed interactivity in ways we've never seen him do before. The storytime has just the right balance of timed transitions and varied content. Gail is phenomenal! Thank you for providing this class!

Rebecca Wolff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca Wolff said...

We will happily pass on your compliments to Gail.. So glad that this was such a positive experience for your son!