Enjoy a StoryWalk with Youngsters!

The sun was shining, the air was crisp (portending cooler temperatures to come), and the trail was covered in brightly-colored, wet leaves – in short, a perfect October day for a StoryWalk®  experience! Families trickled in, little ones skipping down the path to CREA’s Ecology Center, eager to start their adventure.

The children, ranging in age from 2 to 10 years, undertook a brief explore of the Ecology Center, checking out mineral exhibits, animal mounts, skulls, and books. But with a perfect sunny morning calling outside, the group soon headed for the StoryWalk® guided by CREA Camp Director Jenny Mueller and Sue Reed, CREA Board Member and early childhood specialist. 

Sue started with a short introduction to the book, Beautiful Blackbird by Maine resident Ashley Bryan, providing some context to help little ones engage with the story. After a few enticing tidbits, youngsters were asked to find the next page. No problem! In a flash, they were off and running down the trail in search of a story!

The StoryWalk® wound us through the forest on the Barnes Leap Trail, the carpet of wet leaves under our feet making for a slippery adventure. We paused just before the last two pages of the book and put on “deer ears” to see if our little friends could hear anything new, amplified by their cupped ears. Immediately, a chorus of voices declared, “THE RIVER!” and took off down the trail in a race to see it first. At the Barnes Leap rapids, everyone paused for a snack and sip of water (not from the river!). 

After soaking up the sights and sounds of the rapids and river, Jenny introduced her “magic bag” where the rainbows were hidden. Each family was handed a few rainbow-colored cards of paper and the next adventure was explained. We were going on a Rainbow Hike!

The littles were tasked with finding things in nature that matched the color on their cards as they hiked the Cathance River Trail. Everyone loves a good hunt and these youngsters were no exception. Egged on by the sight of their compatriots in full search mode, they found matches! Yellow was matched with autumn leaves under our feet, bright green with soft moss on a nearby rock, bright orange with jelly fungus growing on a stump, and white with birch bark just off the trail. 

After the Rainbow Hike, the group ventured back to the Ecology Center for a craft project to complement their exploration of color and the collage art showcased in Beautiful Blackbird. In the book, monochromatic birds ask Blackbird to make them more beautiful by decorating them with accents of black. “Blackbird stirred with a stick in his wing and said ‘We’ll see the difference a touch of black can make, just remember whatever I do, I’ll be me and you’ll be you.’”

Our craft project set the youngsters up to paint with feathers, just like Blackbird in the book, while exploring the message he conveyed. Each little friend chose their favorite collage bird with which to explore this painting technique. 

Families were overjoyed to be attend this in-person event. As one mother, Emily Goodchild, let us know later, “We had such a great time on the CREA story walk.  We are in the woods almost everyday, but it was much more exciting for my kids to be running with other kids.  My son said that doing the craft made his ‘whole body feel relaxed.’ We are all looking forward to your next family program.” 

We sometimes forget what feeds us and this event was a good reminder. Nature never disappoints, especially when paired with exploration and discovery. Even when the focus is on the children, it’s just as much fun for the adults. Our volunteer Sue realized that she had not been around children in over two years and found herself infected by the excitement and enthusiasm youngsters exhibited at sharing a story and fun activities with new friends.

We look forward to meeting new families and youngsters on our next StoryWalk®!