Cindy Hall is often referred to as the ‘storywalk lady’ in Terrace, thanks to her efforts in setting up Pages in Park.
The project, which emerged during the pandemic, offered a way for children and families to literally hop, skip and dance their way into the greatest escape of all times – story books.
A program coordinator for child care resources at the Terrace Women’s Resource Centre (TWRC), Hall spent her career as an early childhood educator. With more than 30 years of experience, Hall has worked at the Thornhill Preschool and Coast Mountain Children’s Society before taking on a role with the women’s centre.
Hall moved to Terrace when she was five years old and has raised three children, with her youngest now almost 17-years-old. A strong advocate of hands-on learning, Hall says her passion lies in helping children learn through play.
“If you give them that hands-on, play-learning, they’re just going to flourish,” she says, adding not many children take to learning by sitting at desks and doing worksheets.
Her own love of literacy came from growing up around books and being read to as a child, she says. “It was definitely strongly valued in our home.”
So naturally, when families she worked with voiced concerns about the pandemic’s toll on children, story books seemed to be the best medicine she could think of. And she set up the storywalks as an opportunity to help families navigate uncertain times.
At the start of COVID-19 she moved over to Skeena Child Care Resource & Referral Program and took on the role with the women’s resource centre. She works with childcare providers and families in her new role.
Her passion for children’s literacy and working with families and childcare providers got Hall to think of new ways to reach a wider audience. During COVID-19, when the women’s centre had to scale down on a lot of drop-in activities, families in the community began expressing to Hall how they really missed and needed some activities for their kid around this time.
“And that’s what sparked all of this,” she says about how Pages in Parks came to be.
Hall first came across the idea from a lady who was conducting storywalk activities in the US and thought of implementing it in Terrace. She partnered with the Terrace Public Library and set out to bring pages from children’s story books for families to enjoy in an outdoor setting.
“So we’re thinking about ways that we could still reach the families in our community in a safe way and follow COVID rules and that’s where storywalk sort of grew,” she said.
For the very first story walk, they placed a page each in storefront windows spread across town. Families were given maps so they could follow the story throughout the community.
“We had lots of great feedback.”
Hall and her partners continued to make storywalks more creative by including activities to go with it, like singing, dancing and more adventurous ones like skating and skiing.
She also made sure there was a cultural piece added to the program. They added Indigenous authors children’s books in the collections which included stories from local northwest writers such as Trudy Spiller from the Gitxsan Nation.
With her partners at the library, Hall pulled out at least one word from the stories on display and got it translated to Sm’algyax. That way when children (and adults) are reading the story, or think about the characters they will associate it with the word, she says.
“When children have that literacy background, it helps them in so many other aspects of their education,” she says about the importance of cultivating a love for reading at an early age.
“There’s there’s been studies that prove that children having books on a shelf shows the value of books to children, and it helps them through school. To add to that, when somebody is reading those books to them, or they are sitting in a parent’s lap there is that connection with your family or whoever in the household might be reading the story. So there’s all those great benefits to it.”
When they began the program last year, Hall did not expect the project to become such a big hit in the community.
“When we first started storywalks we thought we’ll just do this to get us through the pandemic but now I think this is going to be here for a very long time, forever,” she said, adding, “It’s just such a great way to to connect to literacy.”
They now have 30 to 40 titles in their storywalk library and also loan the stories out to many of the local daycares and preschools in Terrace.
Chatting with families, connecting with children, visitors and adults who would turn up and enjoy the storywalk has been the best part about this projects, Hall says.
“It kind of fills my heart to watch all of them enjoy the storywalks,” she says.
Binny Paul, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Terrace Standard