Reading's become an outdoor activity with Darien's Storywalks

Erika Walston, early literacy and outreach coordinator, shares one of several creative take-home projects she's helped develop for patrons in the time of COVID.

Erika Walston, early literacy and outreach coordinator, shares one of several creative take-home projects she's helped develop for patrons in the time of COVID.

Jarret Liotta / Hearst Connecticut Media

DARIEN — The magic of imagination just got a little more intriguing with the creation of Storywalks at the Darien Nature Center.

The Darien Library has partnered with the center and last month constructed a second semi-guided literary experience for children and families on the back trails, with a new one planned later this month.

“There are many different ways to do a Storywalk,” Erika Walston, early literacy and outreach coordinator at the library, said, “but the basics are you take two copies of a book, remove the pages, and display the pages along with different prompts to encourage reading and physical activity.”

The Storywalk Project is credited in concept to Anne Ferguson, a librarian from Montpelier, Vt., who copyrighted the program about 10 years ago. Following the start of the pandemic, some area libraries made them available outdoors for patrons.

“The two I’ve done with the nature center focused on stories about the outdoors,” Walston said, with Tracks in the Snow by Wong Herbert Lee having been featured in the winter, and The Hike by Alison Farrell, the current story, put in place to coincide with Earth Day for a spring activity.

“What makes the StoryWalk a good collaborative project between the Nature Center and the library is that it speaks to both of our missions,” Emily Ciffone, program director at the center, said. “Through literacy, we are bringing people of all ages outdoors and providing them with ways to engage with the environment.”

Physical creation of the Storywalk, which required semi-permanent posts on which to hang weather-resistant pages, came through the generous gratis work of Paul Cardone, father of the library’s Samantha Cardone, children’s program coordinator.

“We are grateful to my dad,” she said, crediting him with the creation of both the temporary structures and new, permanent ones that will be used when the next Storywalk is undertaken later this month.

“The children’s library will be able to use these standees on location and at the Darien Nature Center to share stories with the Darien community for many years to come,” Walston said, with the next surprise story to kick off the summer reading program on June 21.

“He really is a brilliant woodworker,” she said.

Ciffone said that the response from the community to the Storywalk has been extremely positive, with parents in particular appreciating a chance to have the whole family engage in an outdoor activity.

“Working with the library has always been a natural and easy process,” she said of the collaboration.

“We think this is a great outdoor activity for families to participate in together while practicing early literacy skills,” Cardone said.

“I love Storywalks,” Walston said, “especially those in the woods, because they're a great family activity and being outside can be an amazing mood booster.”