What is a StoryWalk?
A StoryWalk is a movement building and literacy project that places an illustrated children’s book, taken apart and displayed page by page, along a walking route in your community. Anne Ferguson, the genius behind the StoryWalk concept, sums it up well with these phrases, which she asks to be published when creating your own StoryWalk: “The StoryWalk® project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. Storywalk® is a registered service mark owned by Ms. Ferguson.
When Anne Ferguson was working with the Vermont Department of Health, she created the StoryWalk® Project to convince families to get out and be active while getting involved in literacy. She was looking for something that would force adults to be active alongside children, without any financial limitations that left some families behind. StoryWalk was born.
What does it actually look like? The creator literally takes a book apart and displays it on the outside, one page at a time, in the correct order. Ms Ferguson shares tips for her favorite supplies in the StoryWalk FAQ, but I’ve seen StoryWalks display in different ways. From pages attached to fences to fancy podium-style boxes with plexiglass lids, the possibilities are vast, but the bottom line is the same: people are encouraged to keep walking to find the next page in the book. There is literacy, there is nature, there is movement. Win, win, win.
Where do you place a StoryWalk?
The original goal of the StoryWalk project was to have stories placed outdoors in nature. Public walking trails are a natural and obvious starting point, but the project has expanded to include urban environments such as main street shops and school playgrounds. Considering that the goal is to get families out, any safe route that allows the pages to be space apart can be used. In my town, I spotted books spaced along the walking path that circles a local pond and around the circumference of our town-owned working apple orchard.
There are of course practical considerations to take into account. Spaces that are hit hard by the elements (very strong winds, for example) are not ideal. Anne Ferguson Hilariously Shares These Tips To Avoid Human Damage In Her History of walking: “Vandals are a recurring challenge. They seem threatened by the story of Gossie, a duckling who misplaced his red rubber boots. Various approaches have been used to solve this problem, some with more success than others. Velcro® makes it easy to remove pages before dark and post them again in the morning. Vandals prefer the cover of darkness.“
How to do a StoryWalk?
Creating a StoryWalk is deceptively simple, but there are certain details that make all the difference in success rates. Copyright laws allow you to use existing books that you have purchased, but you cannot enlarge or modify the text in any way, so the decision is to carefully disassemble the book itself. . Once you have your pages, they should be supported by something stiff (card stock is a favorite) and, most importantly, laminated. Anne Ferguson, on her StoryWalk FAQ page, gives amazing details on how she prepares the books for display. A wide margin of laminate and extremely durable velcro seem to be key elements.
Which books are good for a StoryWalk?
There is a lot to consider when choosing a title. It is important to have attractive illustrations and pages that do not include too much text. An intrigue-driven story that will motivate families to find the next page is extremely helpful. Different communities and even areas within your community may have different literacy needs, including the languages spoken and the messages conveyed.
There are a few instances in the Northeastern United States of StoryWalk Libraries, where community organizations can borrow titles already prepared for StoryWalk. The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care has five resource centers with StoryWalk books available. Anne Ferguson herself has a collection of books available to borrow for up to two weeks, which are left across the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpellier, Vermont.
Looking to set up a StoryWalk in your community?
- Start with your basics. Who is going to pay for this? Who will be in charge of routine maintenance? Once you have these details, it will be easier to involve others. The best places to look for partners include your local public library or recreation department. The Boston Children’s Museum has an amazing and in-depth brochure that includes step-by-step instructions on sponsoring a StoryWalk, as well as research on early literacy and the benefits of StoryWalks, which might be helpful in preparing your pitch. Check out the brochure called Take a Hike! Develop Literacy Skills Through StoryWalk, here.
- Then choose the location. This is where conversations with local officials and stakeholders can really help. Will it be in the middle of nature or along a busy sidewalk? Target audience, time of year, and community support will all play into this decision.
- Now decide on your display method. If you are on a walking trail, you can opt for stakes and Velcro. If you are in an urban space, store windows might be the solution. Your budget, location, and ability to engage in routine maintenance will help you decide which display method will work best.
- Finally, you choose a title! Keep things in mind such as the languages spoken by people who take this route, manageable text length, and attractive illustrations. You can decide to outsource and borrow an already prepared title from one of the StoryWalk book libraries, or create your own using a book specially chosen for your community.
Hope you found some tips to help you understand StoryWalks better, and maybe even been inspired to sponsor one of your own!