While all Durham Central Park programs are free, fun, and family friendly (like our PLAYlist concert series which opens May 6th at 8pm with Shane Tucker!), Storytime was a program made just for kids, thanks to the most kind and knowledgeable park supporter and neighbor, Kristin Reali. Our second season of Storytime began at the end of March, and four weeks in, we’ve already had so many kids enjoying the best of the park at this wonderful early literacy offering, which is completely free to attend – every Tuesday from 10:30 to 11:30am. We are sharing a great conversation we had a few weeks ago with Ms. Kristin below, to showcase her many talents and expertise in the field of speech language pathology, to give you an idea of why Storytime with Barnaby D. Troll is so great.
An Interview with Kristin Reali
DCP: So Ms. Kristin, thank you for meeting with me! Can you just say who you are, what your background is, and what brought you to the park for Storytime?
Kristin: So my name is Kristin Reali, and I’m a former speech language pathologist of over thirty years working with children birth to six. I started out in the hospital setting, and moved out into the school setting and private setting as well, and I have always had a love for learning language through different media – whether that’s play, or music or literacy. All of those are really strong in helping children who are delayed in not only their language skills – how they’re putting words together, but their speech skills also – so how they’re making sounds to form words. And by telling stories with them and engaging children to participate in the storytelling, it’s been very effective to help them develop their communication skills. My husband and I moved to Durham in May of 2020, and it was right during the pandemic, so I didn’t think I was going to go back into a school setting as a speech pathologist. But I wanted to fill the void as far as working with children and it had been difficult finding places to volunteer during the pandemic: all the kids were remote and at home and there weren’t a lot of venues for – the libraries and Barnes & Nobles had closed down their storytimes, and I live close to Durham Central Park. I was so impressed with the setting, with Mt. Merrill, and the play space, and the idea just grabbed me, and I thought, “Oh my goodness!” This would be a fabulous place to have a storytime in a safe setting, in an outdoor setting, where we could give parents, caregivers, grandparents, and their children a time to learn language. This has been a really tough time for young children because of their lack of opportunities to socialize with their peers. And if they do have delays in their speech and language, I think parents have been a little reluctant to take them to be evaluated in school, so I thought it was a great opportunity. So I emailed Erin about my plan to see if it was something that DCP would be interested in putting on your large agenda of activities! And we met at the park and I shared some ideas and I think she ran it by the board and we launched it last march, a year ago!
DCP: So what are your goals as far as things that are important in early literacy, like, in terms of benchmarks, what have you?
K: So I initially geared this program toward preschoolers, but what I have found especially this past fall and this spring is that I’ve had younger groups closer to toddlers 18mos all the way up to five. So this is really important for how I choose my stories. The most important thing to me is that I’m not telling a story. I’m sharing a story that they can share back with me and ultimately provide an opportunity for them to then take that story home and share it well and use their communication skills and language, and also empower parents with reading to their children and involving their children in that activity. So that really is my goal. That throughout the story they can have a part too. Last spring I had a young boy join us with disabilities – he used what’s called an augmentative communication board – he was nonverbal. And that inspired me to add gestures to the story so that all kids can participate. So I have a gesture or sign each session – the other day our sign was “more” so we did, “Bear wants more.” Yesterday was pointing up and saying “to the rescue” all together. Just simple simple signs that allow a child who may not have the words yet, but first can use those physical movements which children develop before they develop communication skills.
DCP: So when you are picking the stories are there things that you look out for particularly in a story that can help you to facilitate that development?
K: So I’m choosing stories that don’t have a lot of narration but are more predictable in nature so that there is repetitive language throughout the story, so that the child can then know it’s their turn to use the words. It can be a phrase, it can be a single word or gesture, but it’s that predictability that I think is engaging for young kids because it allows them to understand the story and then share the story pretty quickly.
DCP: And you repeat songs and things like that, throughout a particular story, yes, but also from storytime to storytime – like the “Hello” song.
K: Yes, we always start our storytime with the “Hello” song, by saying hello to all our friends at Durham Central Park, like Barnaby, and Rockin’ Reuben and Mr. Pickles. So that’s something the kids have learned, and the ones that come back, I see that they’ve learned the song and enjoy it. There are a lot of gestures in that song so young kids can get up and wave their hand hello and wiggle their body, and calm their body before listening to a story. And then I have a very thematic approach with the stories I choose based on the time of year, the season, so I try to then choose a song after the story that is relevant to the season. Right now with spring it’s –
DCP: Funny little bunny goes hop, hop, hop!
K: And the bunny hokey pokey!! You’ve probably observed this, but when the kids have heard the stories, they are ready to get up and move, and they love movement. They enjoy hopping and skipping and waving, and jumping.
DCP: Yeah, that’s another reason the park is so great for storytime. Like if someone is not in a listening mood they can take a walk to the creek or visit Barnaby…
K: Or they can climb and slide at Mt Merrill too. And that’s a great thing, I think parents can get frustrated if their child is not at the level where they have the attention span to listen to the entire story. And I think it’s helpful that they know I have a background in working with children, and know those milestones and assure them that this is very typical that they aren’t able to. In fact, one of the concerned moms who came back this season came to me at the first or second storytime and said proudly, “She listened the whole time!”
DCP: That’s so encouraging.
K: Yeah, seeing that growth has been fun.
DCP: So, let’s talk about the crafts. Obviously the craft has something usually to do with the story and theme.
K: I try, I really try to do that. It’s just another way that the child can remember the story and listen to it. To take that craft home, and not only show the craft but tell the story and use it with their imagination, communication and language.
DCP: I think my favorite craft was the map that we made last year!
K: Goin’ on a bear hunt?
DCP: That was a fun one. It’s a great addition to just the stories, songs, being physically active but also artistically engaged. So what’s on the horizon for storytime?
K: So this coming week we have a holiday that not everybody celebrates but to keep the bunny- spring theme, we are going to do an egg hunt! And of course, I have a really good stroyt about a turkey that desperately wants to be a bunny rabbit. And I have my favorite authors.. I love Eric Carle, and I love Pete the Cat. There are some of these favorites that definitely lend to repetitive storytelling, the ease of storytelling that engages a child to tell the story with you. And that really is what i want to offer to these kids
DCP: That’s amazing. Well I hope we get a ton of people for the egg hunt, especially with the weather getting nicer. I was so surprised to see on that forty degree day upwards of thirty kids, all bundled up and snuggled for storytime!
K: I was thrilled, it was so wonderful!
DCP: And we are trying to get a coffee truck for sleepy parents. So there is a lot that is popping off at the park with flowers blooming.
K: And you have that bee hotel! I’ve wanted to incorporate that, so I’ve been looking for some age-appropriate pollinator books. I just want everyone to enjoy it, from the littles to the oldest ones who are 5. I just want everyone to get something great out of it.
DCP: Well thank you for volunteering your expertise and time to the park, I think storytime is really a fabulous offering that the park can give.
K: Absolutely, when communication is the foundation of everything, that’s so important to offer – the opportunity to to use their language skills through storytelling.
Durham Central Park’s mission is providing space for community. Join Ms. Kristin and DCP for Storytime at the Leaf (behind Mt. Merrill) every Tuesday from 10:30 to 11:30am. All the work at Durham Central Park is powered by the support of volunteers like Ms. Kristin, and donors like you! If you would like to support programs like Storytime, consider making a donation today.