August 19th, 2020

Socially-distant StoryWalks bring safe storytime to Harrowgate Park

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Harrowgate Park in Kensington is no bigger than a city block, and its proximity to the Tioga stop on the Market-El Frankford line makes it a popular park to cut through for commuters. But these days, a new initiative is encouraging families to learn something new and stay awhile. 

It’s called StoryWalk, and it’s a simple literacy-building program launched by volunteers this summer that allows visitors to read a story while on a walk through Harrowgate Park. 

“Essentially, you take a book apart, laminate the pages, and post them along a path with wooden stakes,” explained Meghan Dondero, a librarian at the nearby Richmond Library. “So while you’re walking along the path, you can read a book.” 

The Richmond Library and the volunteer group Friends of Harrowgate Park collaborated this summer to offer StoryWalk at the park in lieu of their regular Storytime program, which typically involved reading a story in the park followed by an arts and crafts activity.  “The idea was budding that we could do something more,” said Beca Lufi, of Friends of Harrowgate Park. “Ms. Meghan had a great idea that would allow us to do something that would accommodate social distancing and we wouldn’t have to do a typical storytime where kids are sitting in a circle.”

The two groups were inspired to collaborate after attending the 2020 Public Space Summit last February, where they learned about the opportunity to apply for a Neighborhood Collaboration Grant. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, they decided to pivot and apply for the Event & Programming Grant offered by Fairmount Park Conservancy. Through these grant funds and individual donations made by the local community, the Friends of Harrowgate Park and the Richmond Library were able to move forward with their StoryWalk Program. 

“It drove home how much people want in-person things to do right now. Any outdoor activities you can do is worth it."

The program launched in July, with the first StoryWalk installment featuring the book Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn. To prepare for the kick-off, Friends of Harrowgate also organized a volunteer park cleanup before the launch with the help of neighbors and the neighborhood civic group. 

The groups have been able to offer free take-home craft kits and books to families in the park. One giveaway, for example, included the book Tiny Seed by Eric Carle that is paired with a do-it-yourself paper flower kit.

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Photos courtesy of Friends of Harrowgate Park

The Friends install a new StoryWalk every two weeks, which encourages families to return to the park for a new story. Two of the five books are bilingual, as well, allowing all local families to enjoy reading together in the park.

StoryWalk at Harrowgate Park has been such a success so far that Meghan has also installed StoryWalks at Richmond Library. 

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“It drove home how much people want in-person things to do right now,” Meghan said. “Any outdoor activities you can do is worth it, because it reaches a lot more families than virtual programs.” 

And Beca says that while they encountered “a few bumps along the way,” the StoryWalk installations help families by offering a safe and creative way to be socially distant and enjoy the outdoors. “We want everyone to have a safe space that allows families and people to safely use the park.” 

To learn more about Harrowgate Park, connect with Friends of Harrowgate Park!