I first had the idea to set up ‘Inclusive Storytime’ when I attended the bookbug sessions at our local library. There were so many things that were good about these for both our children, but my daughter just needed a slower pace, a bit more repetition and, if I thought about it more, signing to reinforce key words. Traditional signs for ‘spider’ and ‘rabbit’ were confusing for her as she knows and uses Signalong. This is the main method of communication for children in Edinburgh with any kind of speech or language delay. As I spoke about these with the Head librarian, he agreed that there should be sessions available for children with Additional Support Needs and I felt strongly that they should be held in a public, local space. He has not only allowed us to use the main library, but also joins in with the sessions and has since attended training courses on Signalong. The library staff are fully supportive of making the library and it’s sessions accessible for all and, without this, it would have been difficult to have got started.
So, I now volunteer on the first Tuesday of every month at 2pm in the main library at Portobello. A lot of the structure of the session has been informed by my own teaching and work with children with complex needs. Although we use a different signing system, the principles remain the same: child-led, responsive, waiting time, focus on a manageable set of words or key signs, visual aids or props and, above all, a good relationship with the children! I am really enjoying offering this to our local community and giving children with ASN the opportunity to fully contribute to a local space. We have also found that all children can benefit from a multi-sensory approach and other girls and boys in the library have joined us once the session has started, making it truly inclusive of everyone.
A former classroom assistant from my school has offered her services and supports me during the session, other librarians have joined in with signing and have pretended to be various animals (you’ve got to be prepared to act the fool!) and we’ve even had visits from Down’s Syndrome Scotland, The Yard and the ASL service in Edinburgh. I would love as many people across Edinburgh and beyond to have a go at starting something like this themselves. I have written some ideas below from the sessions I have done, so you don’t need to be a teacher or even that great at signing as there is a Signalong text service! As long as you are willing and have the time, you can just give it a go!
So, here are a few things I have done:
- What’s in the bag? To the tune of ‘The farmer’s got a wife’ (Prompts in a bag that children pick out. If it’s the spider, sing ‘Incy Wincy Spider’).
- Hooray said the Fish: A book about different fish. We cut out paper fish, coloured them in and put them on the blue fabric. We then sang ‘Down at the bottom of the big blue sea’ and the children hid under the blue fabric.
- How to Grow a Dinosaur. We buried jelly beans then used watering cans and watered toy dinosaurs until they grew bigger.
- The Animal Bop. We pretended to be the animals and played musical instruments to the animal Bop.
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the theme of food. We used toy fruit and vegetables to tell the story then pretended to be caterpillars in a cocoon, turning into beautiful butterflies.
- What the Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson for the theme of farm animals and farm noises. We signed along to the book and it was very confusing when the horse said cluck!
With great thanks to Portobello library.