A (story) walk in the park

Ohio Kiwanians help kids step up their literacy skills.

By Lydia Johnson

Escaping to the park with a good book is a time-honored, fair-weather pastime. But thanks to an Ohio Kiwanis club, families now can get active while (literally) following a good story.

In May 2020, the StoryWalk debuted in Columbus, Ohio, at Ray Buck Park. Every two to three weeks, a different children’s picture book is displayed in sections along a walking/biking trail. Sturdy stands introduce the project and chronologically show pages of each story, chosen by children’s librarians. 

Created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vermont, and developed in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition and the Kellogg Hubbard Library, the StoryWalk project promotes literacy and encourages physical activity. Interactive components at each stop help participants practice counting, color recognition and sight words.

“I thought it was just a really fun, interactive idea,” says Eileen McNeil.

As director of public services at the Grandview Heights Public Library in Columbus, she coordinated bringing the walk to town and collaborating with the city, the library foundation and the Parks and Recreation Department.

Located near a playground and baseball and soccer fields, the Grandview Public Library’s StoryWalk is conveniently situated for both kids and adults, and it attracted the attention of the Northwest Columbus Kiwanis Club’s members, who eagerly supported the project.

“It’s a great activity for families,” says Tracy Hahn, the club’s president. “Instead of just going to play, they actually go and get to read a book together as they walk along the path of the park.”

The club owns and manages a local Bureau of Motor Vehicles registrar’s office, which funds members’ philanthropic efforts. Every summer, the club sponsors a featured band for the Grandview Public Library’s “Music on the Lawn” concert series. The series was canceled this year due to COVID-19, so the club donated US$1,500 to the StoryWalk project.

Club funding offsets the cost of children’s books; each display requires two copies of the same book. 

Featured books change every two to three weeks during the summer months while the park is in frequent use. Topics can be seasonal or focus on any subject that is relevant to the community.

The walk has been a hit with locals.

“We’ve had really positive feedback — especially at this time when a lot of things are still closed,” says McNeil. “It’s sweet, fun, engaging. You’ve got to see it.”

This story originally appeared in the October/November 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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