Inclusive Storytime Program Shares Tools for Teaching Literacy with Librarians, All Educators
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: June 28, 2019


An instructor and supervisor in the Special Education Department at PSU is showing librarians how any educators can better read to students to increase literacy rates for all pupils, including children with disabilities.

Melissa Pebly’s work on improving skills for teaching to children, designed for preschool-aged children with disabilities, is what she wrote her dissertation on for PSU.

Pebly earned her doctorate in educational leadership (with a specialization in special and counselor education) from the PSU College of Education (COE) this June. While at the COE, she has been teaching professional development principles to public librarians to improve how they teach literacy during storytime events, which benefits all children.

Pebly said early literacy is crucial because preschool ABCs are the foundation for reading and writing. Literacy skills can help people succeed, whether reading to gain new tech skills for a job or scrolling through social media posts at home. 

“It’s been my mission to make sure that all kids have equal access to read and write,” Pebly said.

Pebly included the word “inclusive” in the twice-monthly Inclusive Storytime program at the Hillsboro Brookwood Library because all kids ages 3–5 are welcome: both students who are in special education and those who are not. The idea is to not leave anyone out.

"We are providing a welcoming environment for all children to participate by providing support for communication, behavior, and sensory needs," she said.

The inclusivity aspect of this storytime makes it different, she said, because most public library storytimes are designed for all children, including those without disabilities. That is an issue because library storytimes are an important tool to prepare students for kindergarten, which means children with disabilities can be left behind starting at a young age, Pebly explained.

“The research (Pebly has read during her studies at PSU) says that children who have a healthy start with books and literacy and reading and writing have a healthy start when they come to school,” she said.

This storytime event may be for everyone, but it is designed with children with disabilities in mind, and that is crucial. Pebly’s dissertation said that public libraries report few children with disabilities participating in the storytimes and she said that those children who do attend may experience trouble participating because of motor impairment or communication challenges.

They may also struggle if they have behavioral challenges or sensory struggles such as visual impairment, her dissertation states. But if children with disabilities cannot attend storytimes, they cannot reap the benefits in early literacy that other children do.

The study she did for her dissertation looked at providing librarians with professional development on how to meaningfully engage with children in storytime. Pebly theorized that these tools could help make it possible for more children with disabilities to attend and to stand on equal ground in gaining literacy skills while they are at the storytime events.

Pebly offered librarians instructions on using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) — an educational framework that is flexible and can accommodate students’ individual learning differences.

“Universal Design Learning is a framework that helps all students learn,” Pebly said. “It makes teachers better teachers and students better learners.”

Her work for her dissertation was one of the first studies in a public library to measure how librarians plan for and perform storytime before and after they experience this UDL professional development. She also looked at the families’ experiences during the study. She spoke with parents to determine how other libraries should consider adding inclusive storytime events.

She said being inclusive benefits everyone because every parent should be able to bring their child to storytime at the library. It helps with early literacy that can make it easier for the children in kindergarten and beyond on their first day of work.

“We’ve been trying to level the playing field,” she said.

The Inclusive Storytime events are held from 10:15 to 11:15 a.m. on the second and fourth Friday of each month at the Hillsboro Brookwood Library at 2850 NE Brookwood Parkway. The class has a maximum of 15 children, and their parents or caregivers must be present. To register for the free event, email Melissa Pebly at Upcoming events will be held June 28 and July 12. To learn more about her work, read her dissertation.

Photo: From left to right: Volunteer Katherine Niemann, who earned her master's at the COE last year, and Inclusive Storytime program creator Melissa Pebly, who just earned her doctorate at PSU, read to attendees during Inclusive Storytime at the Hillsboro Brookwood Library.

To share stories with the College of Education, contact Jillian Daley at