Education Op/Ed

Opinion: Books on Sticks benefit us all

Throughout the seasons, I often look out my kitchen window and see neighbors wandering up Harrow Way as they read the most recent children’s book on wooden stakes. With my house on a little hill at the top of the street, I have a special perch that provides me with a view of these Books on Sticks from Ilsley Public Library. I’m a reading teacher at Mary Hogan School, which causes me to pause and take notice when a mom and small child (along with their leashed dog) take the time to study the illustrations, read aloud, maybe even laugh or have an extended conversation about the story.

Educational research supports the importance of reading aloud to our children: Children learn the rhythm, variety of words, and beauty of our language through hearing stories. Reading aloud also increases grammar, vocabulary, story sense and listening skills, and encourages a child’s imagination and curiosity. Reading aloud has a powerful impact on our children, and Books on Sticks is an engaging way to allow this to happen.

Classes at Mary Hogan School take walks to visit the stories and sometimes wander into nearby Battell Woods. When I asked a few kindergarten students what they like about the Books on Sticks, Everett said, “It’s like a surprise to see what the next story will be. My favorite was ‘The Gingerbread Man.’” Hatley told me that “The Gruffalo” was her favorite book posted so far. She said, “My family rides our bikes or walks up the street when we read the stories.” The Mary Hogan pre-K classes visit the stories several times a month, sometimes wearing their matching rainsuits and attracting other neighbors who are on walks to come join them or just say hello. Kim Forbes, a pre-K teacher, shared a story with me about one of her quieter students who completely lit up when he saw a familiar story on one of these walks. He proceeded to “read” the story to his fellow classmates, going from stick to stick and sharing his love of the book, while courageously practicing his speaking skills. That story alone makes me grateful that we have this resource in our community.

When my own children were young, I often had to “bait” them to pause their indoor play and get them outside for exercise and fresh air. This bait might have been a suggestion to go see if the frogs were out under the boardwalk at Otter View Park or a trip to get creemees on our bikes. I suspect that many families in our neighborhood use Books on Sticks as “bait” to get their children to take an after-dinner walk or to get their kids out the door on an early Sunday morning. I have seen families walking under the canopy of maple trees in fall, kicking a chunk of ice along the sidewalk in winter, and a small child licking a melting popsicle on a summer evening while his dad read aloud the story on wooden stakes.

Books on Sticks combines the outdoors with children’s literature — two of my favorite things — and I have become a life-long fan. I appreciate the neighbors who allow these stories in their yards and I appreciate our librarians who take such great care to pick a variety of beautifully illustrated books. It is a gift to our community, and if you haven’t wandered up Harrow Way recently, you should make the trip!

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