Texas Library Association Annual Conference
Friday, April 20, 2012
Literacy Leapers: A Special Needs Reading Program
Presented by Rachel Orozco and Dia D. Rhoden of the Smith Public Library in Wylie, TX.
The Literacy Leapers program is for children of all ages with special needs and lasts two hours. Family members are encouraged to attend. The program begins similar to a storytime, with a central theme and books, songs, and activities which highlight the theme. The presenter often reads a book through once then acts out the story again using the felt board. The most popular felt board story is “Little Mouse, Little Mouse”.
After the group activity is over, attendees are invited to choose between a number of stations, at which different activities are set up. At the end, the children gather again to play with the bubble machine. This is by far the most popular activity.
Each class endeavors to focus on the six early literacy skills: phonemic awareness, print awareness, vocabulary, print motivation, narrative skill, and letter knowledge. Most themes revolve around one letter of the alphabet. The presenter holds up the letter, makes the sounds associated with the letter, and then provides examples of objects that begin with that letter. Attendees are asked if they have suggestions.
For example: The Letter B
Objects that start with B: boat, banana, etc.
Book: Big Bug, Little Bug by Paul Stickland
Song: The Itsy Bitsy Lady Bug
Some sessions will include a special guest or broad theme, such as face painting, family scrapbooking, and crafts. Recently, the staff added Leapfrog Leap Pads to their rotation of stations. A popular program involved making “reading buddies”, stuffed bears that will sit with the child while he or she reads. They have their own Summer Reading Club, and children are allowed to count listening to audio books, listening to their parents read aloud, and watching picture books on DVDs.
The program is only offered during school breaks: Summer vacation and spring break. The staff found that offering the program during the regular school year over-stimulated the children; they paid less attention and had a hard time sitting still for the entire program.
Parents with special needs children tend to avoid bringing them out in public. They feel that exposing their child to the general public will bring only judgement and the child and parents will be made to feel ashamed. The library needs to be a welcoming place for parents, a respite where they can bring their child without fear of reproach. In a situation where a parent does bring their special needs child into the library, it is perfectly acceptable to allow the parent to speak for the child.
A Common disorder in attendees is Autism (Rett’s, Asperger’s, etc). Autism is more prevalent in males, though it’s not unheard of in females. Often individuals with Rett’s disease will say the same word over and over, and more than likely the word will be an inappropriate one. A way to help an individual with Rett’s is to teach them how to whisper.
Autistic children can develop attachment to certain objects and have limited interests. Ways to work around these include offering to help a child with a puzzle and to suggest other similar materials should the books on their interest be checked out.
Dyslexic children are another common group attending the program. These children need to focus on improving phonological awareness, as well as letter recognition.
When starting a special needs program, it is essential to remember that staff will need to be trained on how to react to the children visiting the library.