A relaxing walk through the woods may appeal to adults, but the same trek can feel a bit dull to children.
Enter StoryWalk, an activity where kids follow a story through the pages of a book posted in intervals along the trail. It can "extend their attention span a bit longer," said Autumn Hubbell, outdoor education coordinator for Dakota County Parks. "It's sort of like a little treasure hunt. It's a destination to keep them motivated."
Dakota County parks and libraries are teaming up to put on a StoryWalk May 28-31 at Lebanon Hills Regional Park. The self-guided walk leads visitors along a trail around Schulze Lake. Hubbell called it "a nice, short loop for families." The crushed limestone path, she said, is stroller accessible and takes walkers through sections of forest and prairie.
"The wildflowers will still be in bloom in the forest," she said, adding that wildlife like birds, frogs and painted turtles may be visible.
The park system has done several StoryWalk events in the past couple of years, including one last fall at Whitetail Woods Regional Park, as part of the park's grand opening celebration. For that walk, they used the story "Minnesota's Hidden Alphabet," a picture book featuring photographs of letters found in nature — tree roots in the shape of an "A" or a bird's nest that looks like an "O," for instance.
"It really enriches the experience of the book," Hubbell said.
The idea for StoryWalk originated in 2007, the brainchild of Vermont resident Anne Ferguson. When she came up with the idea, Ferguson said, she had been working in the field of chronic disease prevention and focusing on physical activity promotion. She said she wanted to design an inexpensive activity that involved parents and children and fit in people's busy schedules. She received a grant by the Vermont Humanities Council to set up the first StoryWalks.
"I wanted to create an opportunity for a range of community partners to work together on a project that met their mutual goals," she said. "For example, most community collaborators have outreach as one of their goals. A nature center might want to teach about the animals or birds seen at their facility, the local school and library want to celebrate books and reading, the park wants people to come walk the trails."
Ferguson, now retired, is a volunteer overseeing the StoryWalk project in Vermont by loaning out the book pages to organizations across the state. The project has grown in popularity. StoryWalks have been done in 49 states and seven foreign countries.
She sees the activity as "a great opportunity to include an element of early literacy and couple it with the numerous benefits of spending quiet time in nature."
The story for the upcoming walk at Lebanon Hills is yet to be determined. Hubbell said they may use "Minnesota's Hidden Alphabet" again for this walk because it provides a connection to nature and encourages kids to look for letters in the woods.
"It offers a different perspective or lens with which to view the hike," Hubbell said.
Ferguson said she often encourages people who organize the walks to select books with minimal text, as one of the main goals is to keep people walking to increase their heart rate.
Julia Carlis, youth programming and outreach librarian at Dakota County Library, who is helping to organize the walk, said she likes that StoryWalk makes people think of reading and stories in different ways.
"One of the things that we like about it is that you are moving around and experiencing a story in a different way," she said. "Stories happen everywhere. They don't just happen inside a book."
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.