FORT MILL — Special to the Fort Mill Times
Last week, local youngsters at the Preschool on the Anne Springs Close Greenway were introduced to a new concept designed to promote literacy.
In coordination with Fort Mill schools, Fort Mill resident Derick Wilder introduced students to StoryWalk, an educational experience to help build an interest in reading while encouraging healthy outdoor activity.
“We’re gonna go on a quick little hike and we’re gonna read a book and we’re gonna pretend to be different animals,” Wilder said.
First developed by the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition in 2007, the StoryWalk initiative combines a children’s story with a popular walking route. Once a book is selected, the pages are then separated, laminated and attached to wooden stakes that are driven into the ground at regular intervals along pathways so readers can follow the story as they walk the route.
For this specific experience, Wilder selected “The Counting Trees,” a book he wrote that also features photography taken along the Anne Springs Greenway, where the program took place.
And just like Alice emerged from the rabbit hole, students entered a world of narrative storytelling as they journeyed through 13 pages, huddling close at each stop along the way to hear of the magic of animals and nature through lyrical quatrains. Throughout the activity, Wilder encouraged participation by asking students to point out the words that rhymed, promoted math skills by counting out the numbered stages as they went along and let their imaginations run free as they hopped like frogs, danced like falling leaves and flashed their alligator grins.
Preschool director Linda Spinks, who manages the day-to-day operations of the facility, says every 4-year-old attending the school, about 64 children in all, would be given an opportunity to take part in this inaugural reading adventure.
“We like to get the kids outdoors and we just thought the StoryWalk was a great idea…something new for the kids,” she said.
Wilder says he felt it was important to foster his own 4-year-old daughter’s appreciation for reading, so he began taking Taylor to libraries and book stores whenever he could. Before long, Wilder began writing his own stories and volunteering his time to read to the children at the Leroy Springs program Taylor now attends.
“I’ve always loved writing,” Wilder said. “And I think if there’s one thing that you can instill in kids that will affect the rest of their education, is getting them to love to read, because that affects everything else they do”, he said.
Recently, Wilder launched “Reading Giraffe,” an educational service focused on making reading an active adventure for a new generation. His newly created program offers a curriculum of weekly classes for children ranging in age from preschool through second grade.
The Leroy Springs preschool originated in 1983 and provides half-day services to children five days a week. Spinks has been on board for almost 28 years, and now oversees a staff of 13 full-time teachers who service about 112 students. She says she can’t imagine being anywhere else.
“To work with young students is more of a blessing, you know,” she said. “When they come walking through that door in the morning and they’re hugging and saying ‘good morning’, you just know it’s the right place to be.”