The Trustees Chestnut Hill Farm in Southborough is a gorgeous place to visit, especially in fall when the woods show off their fiery hues. The 170-acre working farm has a network of loop trails crisscrossing through rolling hills and woods. It also has a delightful surprise.
“We installed our own StoryWalk last summer to offer something a little unexpected,” says Jessica Devine, who handles marketing and community relations for Chestnut Hill Farm. “It drew more people to the farm and spurred us to offer a different story every month. Now families come to the farm on a regular basis to enjoy our beautiful trails and see what new story awaits them!”
The aptly-named StoryWalk, designed to promote reading and physical activity, features laminated pages of a children’s story mounted on stakes along a short path. The latest StoryWalk book at Chestnut Hill Farm is “The Vanishing Pumpkin,” written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Tomie dePaola. It’s a cute and classic Halloween story about a pumpkin gone missing.
Books always have a nature or farm theme and in the past have included “Over in the Forest: Come and Take a Peek,” written by Marianne Berkes and illustrated by Jill Dubin, “Lola Plants a Garden,” written by Anna McQuinn and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw, and “Animals in Winter,” written by Henrietta Bancroft and Richard G. Van Gelder and illustrated by Helen K. Davie.
“The StoryWalk has been a fun way to keep our regular walks fresh,” says Southborough parent Lisa Jackman. “With 7- and 5-year-old girls, it’s also been a great way to practice reading skills while getting out energy. They love running down the trail and reading the story out loud to each other.”
The path is short and easy, taking about 30 minutes or so to walk. Besides reading along the way, you might also see farmers working in the fields and catch a glimpse of the farm’s “flerd,” a blended flock of sheep and herd of goats. “And you may still see red-winged blackbirds fluttering around the fields, fattening up for their winter migration, as red-tailed hawks circle above, looking for field mice,” Devine says.
StoryWalk was created in 2007 by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, Vt., to promote early literacy, physical activity, and family time together in nature. She collaborated with Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier to loan StoryWalk to communities across the state. At last count, it has spread to all 50 states and 12 foreign countries, appearing in state and local parks, schools, nature centers, child-care centers, farmers' markets, and more. “People everywhere are encouraged to bring it to their community,” Ferguson says.
Want to bring StoryWalk to your neighborhood? Boston Children’s Museum adapted the StoryWalk program as part of its larger The Race to the Top — Early Learning Challenge grant. The statewide collection is funded by the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care and housed in four libraries: Cambridge Public Library, Falmouth Public Library, Springfield Public Library, and Norfolk Public Library. StoryWalk books can be borrowed from these libraries and delivered through the Massachusetts Library System’s interlibrary loan and delivery program.
Books are free to borrow for up to two weeks, and typically include 30 or so laminated pages. You’ll need stakes for mounting the pages (sets of stakes are also available through selected libraries), and a place to put the walk. Consider partnering with local organizations, like parks and recreation centers, nature preserves, child-care centers, after-school programs, senior centers and hospitals, local business associations, and clubs that would be willing to host the walk. Special community events, such as farmers’ markets and festivals, are also good places.
Currently, there are six books available, including “Corduroy” by Don Freeman, “Mouse Paint” by Ellen Stoll Walsh, “The Dot” by Peter H. Reynolds, “The Mitten” by Jan Brett, “The Ugly Vegetables” by Grace Lin, and “Look Out, Kindergarten, Here I Come! ¡Prepárarte, kindergarten, ¡Álla voy!” by Nancy Carlson.
In the meantime, where is that missing pumpkin? Go find out on the Chestnut Hill Farm StoryWalk.
Chestnut Hill Farm and the StoryWalk are open year-round, dawn to dusk: thetrustees.org/place/chestnut-hill-farm.
For more information on the Massachusetts StoryWalk program and tips on hosting one in your community, visit bostonchildrensmuseum.org/storywalk.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org