Susan Huffman, branch manager of the Nelson Memorial Library, thought there was no better way to introduce families to nature and books than to walk and read at the same time.
“In taking a simple walk, you can connect with your family on so many levels. You can connect with them as far as the words on the page, connect with them as far as talking about the things that the book is talking about and the nature that is around you,” she said.
The library has partnered with the Rockfish Valley Foundation to install two children’s StoryWalks. One will be located at the children’s trail at Spruce Creek Park and the other will be placed at the Camille Trail along the Rockfish River.
StoryWalk was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont, and has grown across the country as families take the time to step outside to engage with nature.
A StoryWalk is a series of pages from a children’s book that have been put in specially designed units so as you move along on a trail you can read and engage with a story.
“This is something we’ve been wanting to do for a while,” Huffman said. “It’s a literacy activity that you have outside and by the time you got to the end of the trail, you will have finished reading the story as a family.”
The two trails for the Rockfish Valley Foundation were funded by the Grow Nelson Library Fund and a matching grant obtained by RVF.
Grow Nelson Library Fund was formed by the citizens of Nelson who wanted to raise money for a new collection, computers, media packages in all meeting room spaces and a new outreach vehicle to be used in the library.
Last summer, Grow Nelson Library raised $500,000, about $8,000 of that is being used toward the StoryWalk, Huffman said.
“There are several things that children are going to get out of it,” Huffman said. “When families go to the trail, they will be reading a story with their children, they will be talking, and all of the stories that we’re going to be using we’re going to have something to do with nature or going to have something to do with happenings at the foundation.”
Peter Agelasto, former chair of the Rockfish Valley Foundation, said the foundation wants people to get outdoors and wants families to have fun while doing it.
“We want them to learn about and appreciate the nature around them,” he said. “We have grown since our beginnings in 2005 to where we are now able to concentrate on the education element.”
RVF’s vision is “environmental literacy,” Agelasto said.
“We’re all about water, rocks, plants and animals,” he said. “Kids today need to get outdoors and eat more dirt but they like learning through technology and we’re helping them play games and learn from our content delivery.”
He said this project is the perfect collaboration with the library.
“The StoryWalk is a wonderful adjunct in that the stories told at Spruce Creek Park will connect to elementary school and preschool children. The stories told at the Rockfish trails will interact more to middle school student. But in a way, they will all connect with adults.”
He said the Storywalk has been an encouragement to put more educational posts on the trail and to bring people in to do walk talks on water, rocks, plants and animals.
At the Spruce Creek Trail the first book will be Hiking Day by Anne Rockwell and at the Camille Trail the book will be Crinkleroot’s Guide to Walking in Wild Places by Jim Arnosky. The stories will be changed every two weeks with the exception of the winter months.
The trails are frequented enough that Huffman wants to keep the books fresh so kids aren’t reading the same story over and over again.
“Also if you don’t change your story frequent enough, the sun will bleed out your story,” she said.
The stories go into story boards, made out of metal, and are posted into the ground.
The StoryWalks were installed Sept. 23.
Huffman said the story board will have questions at the bottom asking children what they remembered from the story giving families a chance to talk about the book and how nature affects them day to day.
“We know that if a family’s engaged with a child with a book that literacy level heightens,” she said. “Not only is it a wonderful activity because of the memories you’re developing with your children, but you’re helping them develop new vocabulary and helping them learn about ecology and conservation. It’s so much more than just a walk on the trail reading a story.”