Story Walks bring storytimes to the outdoors
Chrissy Crabb’s daughters couldn’t wait to find out what happened to the baby owls frightened by their mother's absence.
But instead of turning the pages of a book, they raced each other along stations of the Story Walk posted by The Library along a trail at Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art.
“It was a nice way for them to observe the woods and hike, but it made it go really quickly because there was a story involved,” says Crabb, of Elizabethville. “There was a nice little loop we could walk, so even my youngest walked most of it – very slowly, but it was a nice family activity.”
When the pandemic closed doors nationwide, Dauphin County Library System found a way to take its popular Storytimes outdoors. The Library established two Story Walks this fall, presenting one page at a time of a nature-themed book along local trails – “Owl Babies” at the Ned Smith Center in Millersburg, and “Lawrence in the Fall” along the Capital Area Greenbelt near Steelton.
Story Walks have long been popular library programs nationwide. The pandemic shutdown accelerated the trend by offering the opportunity for safe presentations of in-person, self-guided programming, says Youth Services Manager Hannah Killian.
Like Storytimes inside libraries, Story Walks encourage parents to model good reading practices, while kids answer questions or do a short activity, such as finding something yellow in the vicinity.
“We want to make sure that parents and kids are engaging with the book,” says Killlian. “That’s such a big part of what we try to do with our Storytimes.”
One page of the book selection is laminated and posted on boards staked into the ground at each station. During the Greenbelt Story Walk setup, a mother riding a bicycle and towing her young child read each panel aloud – and then waited for the last station’s installation so they could learn how the story ended.
“I guess this is a hit,” Killian remembers thinking at the time.
The Story Walk at Ned Smith Center is a hit, too, attracting enthusiasm and even first-time visitors, says Nature and Arts Educator Hunter Kauffman. The center incorporated the Story Walk in its fall scavenger hunt when kids get a passport and complete activities around the center’s trails, play areas, and exhibits.
“It’s a nice hike,” says Kauffman. “My recommendation is, go slow and enjoy the scenery. It’s a very pretty trail.”
The Crabb family of Elizabethville -- Makayla, 5; Hailey, 4; and Kaitlyn, 15 months, plus parents Chrissy and Ryne – have attended Library Storytimes since the older girls were babies, so they appreciated the chance to continue the family tradition in an outdoor setting.
Makayla and Hailey loved the questions and activities at each station, while their mom appreciated the fact that the interactive segments “catered toward different learning styles and age groups to keep them engaged.”
The Capital Greenbelt board of directors saw the Story Walk as a way “to broaden what we do with the trail and potentially open it up to new visitors,” says Maintenance Committee Chair Becky Schuchert. The Story Walk along the Cameron Parkway segment, covering about one-eighth of a mile, is paved and handicapped accessible.
The Story Walks blend early literacy with the physical activity that children need – and the sanity break that parents need.
“Especially right now, when everyone is being asked to stay away and stay inside, it’s a little mental health break,” says Killian, the mother of a young daughter. “Getting outside in nature, that’s something that saves me and my little one from going stir crazy.”
The Story Walks expand the idea of The Library to outdoor settings, says Schuchert. Plus, she adds, “it’s about appreciating what we have in Harrisburg, which is kind of an amazing thing, that you can be in an area that feels so far from the city but you’re plunked in the middle of it.”
The first Story Walks presented fall-themed books, and future Story Walks selections will reflect the seasons. The Story Walks represent an effort to demonstrate that The Library is “everywhere the community is,” says Killian.
“We’re still all connected,’’ she says. “There’s still plenty to do and plenty to see and places to go, even in this strange and sometimes long pandemic season. We just want to keep the connection going.”