A new program in Elgin makes it possible for kids to enjoy the outdoors and read a book at the same time.
The Elgin Partnership for Early Learning (EPEL) and Alignment Collaborative for Education hosted their first StoryWalk on Thursday at Lords Park. The StoryWalk features a picture book broken down by pages and mounted on metal frames along a path. Kids walk from page to page to read the story. The book is offered in English on one side and Spanish on the other.
“The thing I like about a StoryWalk is that it’s an innovative way to explore literature and not just your regular book,” said Amber Peters, executive director of EPEL. “It gets you out in nature, which I think is important for kids because you learn through being outside and in the community.”
EPEL is a nonprofit organization working to ensure children have access to quality early care and education in Elgin and the surrounding neighborhoods. It partners with other area stakeholders to provide resources, early childhood initiatives, information, and support for families and providers for children under 5 years of age.
Four stories were chosen by the Gail Borden Public Library to use on the StoryWalks, each with about 18 pages. Peters said the library chose stories that were culturally and linguistically responsive and inclusive, while offering readers colorful pages to interact with while building critical kindergarten reading skills and boosting brain development.
Reaching young kids before they start their formal schooling is important, said Kathleen Cox, director of early learning for Elgin Area School District U-46. She also sits on EPEL’s board.
“Eighty-five percent of a child’s brain development happens before their fifth birthday, so the more work the school district does partnering with child care providers to get the same message out about language development and social skills, the stronger all of our kids are going to be when they come in to school.”
Copyright issues prevented EPEL from using reproductions of the pages, so they bought a couple of copies of each book and broke them down, laminated the pages and mounted them on boards that are inserted in the frames that can be stuck in the grass. The program is funded by a collaborative partner grant written to Making Kane County Fit for Kids, Kiwanis of Elgin, and Elgin Township.
The plan is to have story walks where their audience is already gathered, be it block parties, city events, or, like Thursday, near a Gail Borden story time at Lords Park Zoo. Peters said people can reserve the StoryWalk materials for family parties or school events. “They’re for the community to use,” she said.
Peters said StoryWalks is a perfect fit for EPEL’s “learning on the go” model.
“These movable story walks allow us to relocate them to different locations during the year,” she said. “Anywhere you go, there’s opportunity to learn. It’s just a matter of you engaging the child.”
By Rick West
Original story appeared in the Daily Herald 8/6/2021 5:08 PM