Fingerplays for the Emotionally Disturbed

Creative Fingerplays coverCreative Fingerplays and Action Rhymes: An Index and Guide to Their use

Submitter: I am a newly-hired youth services librarian for a public library branch that had been without a children’s librarian for nearly 3 years. While evaluating my library’s professional development collection, I came across [this book]. Most of the information in this book is fairly standard for the subject: chapters cover developmental milestones for various ages, suggested fingerplays and rhymes, and some sample craft ideas. All of these fingerplays themselves are now nicely organized and demonstrated on sites such as Jbrary. And since 1992, a number of excellent trainings like Supercharged Storytimes have been developed and made available for youth services librarians. This 30-year-old book, therefore, was unlikely to get much use at my branch. Regardless, I felt the need to browse the book and discovered the sample page I’m including here on serving “mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed children.” Um, we don’t use those terms anymore, and I’m kind of surprised they were still being used in 1992! Even my colleague at my branch who hates the idea of weeding anything agreed this title had to go.

Holly: Sometimes it’s easy to miss books like these, that still have some value. I’m sure the actual fingerplays are mostly fine. It’s these hidden sections, like the one you submitted, that can be overlooked. You can always photocopy the pieces you can still use and recycle the rest.

Creative Fingerplays


  1. I had a friend in the early 80s who worked with students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities (some in institutions), and they did NOT use the R word then. So I’m pretty sure it was even more of a no-no in 1992.

    The kid in the middle of the cover looks way too happy to be doing a weird thing in an odd position.

    1. Lurkertype: I don’t know what terms professionals used in 1992, but I do know that back then, “mentally retarded” was considered acceptable among laypersons. (If you read reviews of “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” from when it was released in 1993, several of them refer to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is being mentally retarded.) “Retard” was offensive; “mentally retarded” was considered neutral terminology, at least among everyone I knew. I was a kid in 1992 and went to a private school where 95% of the parents were highly educated professionals. “Mentally retarded” was what we were taught to say.

      1. Yes, this is how I remember it as well. I think people get confused because “retard” was always considered offensive, yet it was frequently used among children as a slang term. Same with using “retarded” in a pejorative sense. So there was always an effort afoot to get people to stop saying it. “Mentally retarded” was totally different, though, and considered the appropriate medical term back then.

        1. Thalia Menninger: Yep. Not acceptable: “God, that movie was totally retarded.” Acceptable in 1992: “She teaches math and science to mentally retarded children.” The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities was the American Association on Mental Retardation until 2006.

      2. “Retard[ed]” was the schoolyard insult of choice when I was in 6th grade. “Mentally retarded” might have been OK, I don’t remember.

  2. It’s worth remembering that those were the official medical terms, back in the day, and were considered an improvement over previous official medical terms like “moron”, “feebleminded,” and just plain “crazy.” I do believe that the language we use matters, but I’m old enough now to have seen updates to terms that were meant to be more respectful, while the underlying attitudes haven’t changed that much, which is the real problem.

    1. My father remembers having to learn (in high school) the IQ ranges that corresponded to imbecile, idiot, moron, and some others. Your assessment is accurate, people will dirty the new terms if they still see the people of them as ones they can mistreat.

  3. Is there a practice of putting content warnings on the covers of books like this? If the book is useful, that sounds like a more efficient method than trying to photocopy and bind the majority of the book.

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