Stomp, giggle, stomp

by Holly Schaffer, Community Relations Manager

The doors to Kirk-Bear Canyon Library’s Sensory Program open at 10:30 and parents, caregivers, and young children immediately begin streaming in. They marvel and awe at the room, which is beautifully arranged and features everything from sand, Play-Doh, and water tables to a cushioned balance beam, toys, and tiles that light up when stepped on. A xylophone echoes in the background.

As I observe the people coming in, I see adults putting down their bags and heading off to the activities, holding little hands eager to start playing. “Wow, look Mom,” a young boy exclaims as he runs to the Play-Doh sandbox. A little girl, ponytail high atop her head, successfully completes the balance beam. She calls out, “I did it!!!”. Nearby, two toddlers are taking turns on the light up tiles… one foot on, one foot off as the colors illuminate underneath their feet. They giggle, they stomp, they giggle… Stomp, red; Stomp, yellow; Stomp, green. Then more giggles.

The Sensory Program launched in early 2023 by longtime Children’s Librarian Megan with the support of Library Manager Linde Furman. It has been wonderfully successful, almost always filling to capacity. To meet the needs of customers wishing to attend, Library staff created Wednesday morning sessions (check calendar for current schedule). Registration is required. 

The program is geared toward neurodiverse children ages five and under. To make sure the program was designed to benefit participants, Megan did a lot of training on working with autistic individuals and other neurodiverse people.

The children aren’t the only ones enjoying the program. Adults walk around, following their little ones, holding hands, talking, mingling, taking photos. The room is spacious and calming – no phones ringing, lights are dimmed.

I spoke to Kimmy whose daughter, Valentina—age 2—loves the program. Kimmy tells me, “Valentina enjoys all the stations, but spends most of her time on the balance beam and water activities. Also, the staff is very welcoming. We speak Spanish at home and some of the staff caught on to that and began speaking to her in Spanish. It was so awesome—to speak to her in the language she recognizes the most. It can be small words, such as ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye,’ but it made us feel seen and included.”

Library staff happily interact with all in attendance. They greet everyone as they come in, visit the various stations, sit down, ask questions, dip their hands in the sand. The room is safely set up for a truly pleasurable experience, and the little ones hop happily from station to station. They are playing, yes, but they’re also learning how to interact, negotiate space, and share toys.

I chat with another mother, Katia, who says, “One of the nice things is that parents don’t have to clean up. It might seem like a small thing, but as a parent, I know it’s not.”

As the session comes to an end, a young boy runs back and forth between the sand and water tables, while a little girl aces the balance beam on her third try. There is a large countdown clock on the wall, so adults and children aren’t startled when the program ends.

For neurodiverse children who can become overstimulated, staff created a calm down room where participants can go before heading out. The room features sunglasses for those who are light sensitive and headphones for those who are audio sensitive.

As the first program wraps up, new people begin lining up for the second program. The toys are cleaned up and everything is put back in order. As the doors open, people immediately begin streaming in. One thing is for certain, this program is a favorite.

The Sensory Program was made possible through donations made by Hughes to Friends of Kirk-Bear Canyon Public Library, a fundraising arm of the library that has received more than $117,000 from the credit union since 2018 to help underwrite the costs of a variety of literacy programs and supplies.