Creative Readers


Creative Readers

Port Washington Public Library
1 Library Drive
Port Washington, NY 11050
Phone: 516.883.4400 ext. 150

Focus: Art, Library, Literature, Music, Theater

Annual Number Participating: 72

Ages: 6–12

Annual Budget: $18,220

Partners: Port Washington Public Library; SEPTA – Special Education Parent Teacher Association: Port Washington, NY, Chapter; Storytime Theater

Funders: Port Washington Public Library; SEPTA – Special Education Parent Teacher Association: Port Washington, NY, Chapter

For Creative Readers (CR) participants, a love of literature is stimulated through the power of storytelling. Books become a multisensory experience that engages all learners through theater, art, movement, and music.

Based on Elise May’s Storytime Theater, CR is an arts and literacy inclusion program: Teaching artists perform all of the reading, while the young participants do all of the creating. The program takes place in the Port Washington Public Library (PWPL) for six-week sessions in the fall, winter, and spring. There are two sections: One serves children in kindergarten to grade 2; the second is for youth in grades 3 through 5. Each has 12 students, 12 volunteer teen “buddies,” one teaching artist, one CR assistant, one behaviorist, and one special education PTA support staff member. This approach fosters a community of inclusion, where students of all abilities spend time creating and socializing, while increasing their love of literature.

Recognizing that families with special needs don’t always feel welcome in public settings, CR partnered with the PWPL to ensure that students with disabilities feel safe to learn, bond, and express themselves freely, while interacting with children from their community who might attend schools other than theirs. Through CR training, librarians and staff learned the program’s objectives and the behaviors that its participants may present.

CR engages learners with selected reading and circle time themes and with story enactments that promote concentration, speaking and listening, eye contact, socialization, sharing, taking turns, emotional recognition, sensory awareness, and problem solving, among other skills. For example, acting out a tale about movement can improve balance and coordination, and creating props can lead to fine motor skill development.

Each teen buddy pairs with a CR student and plays a central role in nurturing that child, by supporting that student’s emotional and academic growth, as well as by being a trusted friend. Teen buddies commit to yearly training sessions that teach them how to sharpen their skills as listeners, how to maintain their focus, and why it’s important to always offer positive reinforcement to their CR student. Also charged with writing a behavioral case study of that participant throughout the year, senior teen buddies can earn high school credits, while helping to shape their CR student’s progress. Furthermore, a CR youth often emulates their teen buddy’s behavior, providing another way to develop socially and learn by doing.

Creative Readers raises the self-confidence and increases the joy of literature in children of all abilities. Volunteer teen buddies also benefit from the value of inclusion. Its positive impact influences some to pursue studies in the arts and special education. Most importantly, this program allows everyone room to grow and create their own success stories.

Ask any parent of a child with special needs—seeing volunteer buddies working and “getting through” to your child can bring you to the verge of tears. Programs like Creative Readers are unique in that not only are the children with special needs served, but they also help raise a generation of children who have empathy for those with special needs.

Paul Schmitt parent of a Creative Readers participant