“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” — Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”
Since 2010 the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has had a successful pre-K program to facilitate literacy and kinesthetic learning, which makes connections to the refuge and nature with a goal to instill a sense of wonder in our youngest visitors.
Our Little PEEPS (Pre-school Environmental Education ProgramS geared to 2- to 5-year-olds and their caregivers) came to a halt when COVID-19 caused the refuge to stop all in-person programs and close buildings normally open to the public.
As the education specialist in charge of scheduling and facilitating outdoor education programs for all ages, this was crushing. I love my job because I am privileged to get to teach and work with youth on a daily basis.
The past year has honestly been tough and finding a new “normal” to connect youth with nature without in-person programming has been challenging. Challenging but not impossible.
I learned about StoryWalk during a U.S. Fish and Wildlife training in February entitled, “Making connections in a new normal.” All 50 states have implemented their own projects since 2007.
After some research, I found out that Seward and Homer have had StoryWalk projects, Kenai Community Library actually started one in February, and Soldotna Public Library hopes to install one in Soldotna Creek Park this summer.
What a great concept (read a story while walking a trail), but what legalities are involved? In creating a walk you have to give credit by posting the following statement: “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.”
No special permissions are needed if the pages are not altered in any way. The pages cannot be copied, reduced or enlarged.
At first it seemed disgraceful to literally disassemble a book, but because there are no alterations, the book still remains the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Instead of turning the page, the anticipation can build while exploring the trail to the next stop. It can be as simple as laminating pages and stapling them to a post along a trail.
There was a lot of helpful information, tips and tricks on the internet. In creating one at the Kenai refuge, our hope was to make something a little more permanent that will remain even when we can start in-person programs again.
Kenai refuge’s StoryWalk is on the Keen-Eye Trail, which is less than half mile round trip and will be available 24/7. It is a gentle grade trail perfect for all ages and is wheelchair accessible with assistance once the snow melts. We are hoping to switch out the story monthly over the course of one year.
For enhanced fun, we are adding an extra component that helps engage readers to their surroundings through additional facts and an activity. For example, you may be asked to act like an animal, search for an animal hidden in the woods or take a closer look at your surroundings (colors/textures).
In choosing stories for Little PEEPS, we usually look for more factual and less anthropomorphic stories that include flora and fauna of Alaska.
The first story is called “Raven and River” by Nancy White Carlstrom. Visitors of all ages are welcome to enjoy this new trail feature, but the focus to engage our littles is still key. If you have a 2- to 5-year-old who hasn’t started kindergarten and you would like to know about Little PEEPS, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You will be notified when we switch out the StoryWalk book and there may be access to some special pre-K activities, extensions and resources that will continue once we resume our monthly in-person program.
Come park at the Kenai refuge headquarters parking lot on Ski Hill Road, walk the Keen-Eye trail, enjoy nature and read the monthly book along the way. You could even keep your eyes shut and have someone else read to you. Oh, the places you’ll go if you visit StoryWalk project!
Ranger Michelle is the Educational Specialist at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and has enjoyed working with “kids” of all ages since starting at the refuge in 1998. You can find the Kenai refuge on Facebook for updates and educational posts.
By MICHELLE OSTROWSKI
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge