Storytime in the Park – Bringing Literacy Outdoors

May 13, 2024

Librarians from the Palatine Library District are taking their act on the road. This is not your typical road trip. The destination is Palatine Park District parks, and the mission is literacy. Storytime in the Park, an outdoor story time presented by the Palatine Public Library and the Palatine Park District returns in June to a park near you! Storytime is targeted to preschoolers and their families. According to Karen Rude, Palatine Park District’s Preschool/Tots Coordinator, the program began in 2014 with evenings added in 2019 to accommodate working families. Storytimes are held at Maple Park, Oak Park, and Hamilton Reservoir and run June through August.

Brooke Cusmano, Early Literacy Librarian for the Palatine Library, utilizes her theatre background to engage her energetic audience of preschoolers and parents. “Because we are outdoors the setting is more laid back,” Cusmano said. “Indoors the kids are more guarded and associate the library with being quiet.” Not so at the parks, which are tailor-made for running and playing and using “outside voices”. She utilizes puppets, oversized books, music, and props to fit nature’s venue.

Cusmano said library staff specifically choose books that make the most impact like “call and response” and sing-a-longs. Books with themes like fruits and vegetables, transportation, farms, dinosaurs, and dragons are audience favorites. “We want to keep the kid’s attention, so we over prepare material,” she said. “It’s interesting what works. We like to introduce new books but also use classics. The Hungry Caterpillar always works and that’s been around for 55 years.”

Participants can expect a “hello and goodbye” song and even some sign language. “We use sign language so kids can see how words can be expressed with their hands,” Cusmano explained. “Body movements, voice variations, and expressions teach meanings of words and engage parents.”

During 2020 when Covid kept many families homebound, Storytime in the Park flourished, due to its outdoor location. “The Palatine Library has an extensive puppet collection which was great because we rely on facial expressions and you couldn’t do that with masks,” Cusmano said. “Now we intentionally use puppets because they really add to the stories.”

“I enjoy Storytime because if you hit the right book, it really engages kids,” Cusmano added. “And If they can’t make it through the whole story they can go to the park and play.  I love that communities are developing around Storytime. Parents stay and talk and make plans to meet up with their kids; they’re developing connections.”  At night more dads and siblings participate. “Families tend to make it more of an event with a picnic or stay later to use the playground equipment or athletic courts,” Cusmano said.

In addition to being a Storytime location, Hamilton Reservoir, located at 1037 N. Smith Street in Palatine, is the designated location for StoryWalk®. As participants walk along the park path, pages from a book are displayed in permanent panels and direct participants from the beginning to the end of the story. Each panel tells part of the story and takes about 20 minutes to complete.

The official unveiling of this year’s StoryWalk® is planned for Tuesday, June 11 at 10:00am. This will be the seventh year StoryWalk® is housed at Hamilton Reservoir. Storytime will be held before the unveiling, then participants can experience the Storywalk® on their own.

 “StoryWalk® is made possible by a partnership with Palatine Library Foundation, Palatine Park District, and donors”, Andrea Lublink, Communication Manager for the Palatine Public Library District said. This year’s StoryWalk® is Bear Wants More by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. The themes in Bear Wants More include animals, springtime, hibernation, friends, and food. “This story was chosen because it is a classic for the Library’s 100th year anniversary,” Lublink said. “It has a Spanish translation as well so both languages are featured on the panels.”

Participating in a StoryWalk® with a parent or caregiver gives children the opportunity to learn new words, describe things and events, enjoy and tell stories, learn how to follow a sequence and hear and play with sounds and letters in words.

“It’s a great opportunity for families to put down their tablets and get outside,” Lublink said. “You’re walking through the park and interacting over the pages. And you don’t have to be quiet!”

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.

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