By Molly Alexander
The Family Reading Partnership is celebrating their 25th anniversary with the opening of a brand new Story Walk in downtown Ithaca! On Saturday, April 30th from 10am to 11:30am families are invited to visit the Floral Ave walking path along the Cayuga inlet to celebrate with Family Reading Partnership and check out the story, A New Kind of Wild by Zara Gonzalez Hoang.
If you haven’t yet visited one of Family Reading Partnership’s Story Walks, you might be wondering what a Story Walk is. The idea was inspired by the StoryWalk® project out of Montpelier, Vermont and has spread to all fifty states and abroad to thirteen countries. Story Walks are a great way for young children to engage with the world around them and they offer an alternative to traditional book reading settings for those who prefer a more active learning style. Picture books are transformed into an interactive outdoor experience by laminating pages and mounting them on posts which are spread out along a trail or path.
“There is a wealth of research pointing to the importance of physical movement to learning in early childhood. While we often think of reading as a quiet, calm, and still activity, it is our hope that the Story Walks will encourage families to view books as interactive experiences that can happen anywhere” says Amber Smith, executive director of Family Reading Partnership.
Tompkins County is home to seven free, public, read-aloud adventures encouraging families to get outside and enjoy books together. Each Story Walk location hosts a new book every three months, for a total of 28 books each year. “We are fortunate to have a wonderful volunteer corps who assist us in maintaining and updating the Story Walks” says Smith.
The Story Walk program began in 2018 and has grown quickly. The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. Smith says, “We have been working with the City of Ithaca for over a year to find a suitable place to install a Story Walk in the downtown corridor, and we are thrilled to have just recently received approval for the Floral Avenue site. Its paved path will be our most accessible and will allow families to watch the rowers and geese while enjoying a story together.”
The Story Walks are designed to appeal to families with young children, from infants through
the early elementary years. However, Smith says, “Family Reading Partnership often hears from adults who love them just as much without kiddos in tow!” The Walks themselves are typically between 1/8 and 1/2 mile, just right for little legs, and stretch through woods, along school playgrounds, and beside waterways to provide families a pleasant outdoor experience while they enjoy a story together.
“Story Walks are a great way for young kids to engage with the world around them while also doing something active!” says Beverly Wallenstein, Family Reading Partnership’s program and outreach coordinator. “Our Story Walks are often nature themed, helping kids create connections to the outdoors in a new way. Being outside and connecting both with nature and with a great book can truly be a magical experience!”
Family Reading Partnership’s Story Walks are spread throughout Tompkins County. At the Story Walk in Danby, at Dotson Park, families have the opportunity to climb grassy mounds and slide to the bottom, explore creeks and bogs, and watch birds beside the natural playground as they enjoy a book. The Dryden Story Walk is located at the Jim Schug Trail, along a small creek, only a block away from the public library.
The Newfield and Enfield Story Walks are on the elementary school grounds, and these locations are great for incorporating more physical activity as children can also use the playgrounds and ballfields when visiting outside of regular school hours. The Lansing Story Walk is on the Lansing Center Trail, a meandering, flat path that leads through woods, fields, and marshes. The Story Walk begins at Scoops Ice Cream, which adds an element of fun for all!
The Groton Story Walk is located on the Groton Trail System behind Memorial Park. This trail is wooded, hilly, and crosses small creeks. It’s a true hiking experience and offers some real exercise! The park adjacent to the trail offers the Groton public pool, playground, and picnicking sites where families can make a whole day of fun.
The Floral Avenue location in downtown Ithaca will be the most accessible for city residents and for folks using strollers, wheelchairs, or walkers. The first book, A New Kind of Wild by Zara Gonzalez Hoang, is the author-illustrator’s debut inspired by the stories her father told her about moving from Puerto Rico to New York as a child. It is a moving exploration of the value of friendship and imagination, and the true meaning of home.
Limited parking is available along Floral Avenue, and extra parking can be accessed at Park Road off of Cliff Street, or at Cass Park. In the case of rain, the launch event will be pushed to Sunday, May 1st. Various kid-friendly activities will be available, and every child will go home with a brand new book! The Floral Avenue Story Walk is sponsored in part by Odyssey Bookstore, and Family Reading Partnership is looking for a co-sponsor. For more information, contact Beverly Wallenstein at Beverly@familyreading.org.
(This article can also be found in today’s publication of Tompkins Weekly)