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Once Upon A Time… Outside

The Tompkins County Public Library’s “Stories in the Park” outdoor reading series continues.

“Stories in the Park,” hosted by TCPL, are held weekly on Tuesdays from 11 to 11:30 a.m. at Dewitt Park, Ithaca.

ITHACA, NY⸺It’s a beautiful, sunny fall day, and children and families gather in Ithaca’s DeWitt Park beneath a shady tree to listen to music and stories and participate in fun activities.

Since 2019, the Tompkins County Public Library (TCPL) has convened in the park  for its weekly episode of “Stories in the Park.” 

“We’ve been all around this park,” said TCPL Library Assistant and head of Youth Services Department Kelly Doolittle. “We think it’s a wonderful way to bring early literacy to folks with young children.”

Outside Storytime

Doolittle is in charge of developing the daily programming for “Stories in the Park,” which includes coming up with themes and music while keeping the park’s surroundings in mind, because it can be a bit noisy, she said.

“I always try to put in steam themes⸺science, technology, engineering, arts, or math⸺in my story times whenever I can because I think it’s important to bring science and nature to kids and their families,” Doolittle said. “… so each time I come up with a theme that I love to do. I love to do bears at the beginning of the fall, because they’re just such an emblematic creature when it comes to fall, they go and they hibernate like some of us might like to do.”

Doolittle also brings out her acoustic guitar and sings either a well-known or an original tune. 

“I research new songs and make-up new songs  and research new books and try to change it up, and bring something that they are familiar with each time,” she added. 

Jodie Thomas and her two children, Kaden and London, often attend the “Stories in the Park.” 

“Even at home, there’s a couple songs we’ve picked up over the years, but they’ll be some of their favorite songs,” Thomas said. 

Never Left

After a hiatus from in-person activities due to the pandemic, “Stories in the Park” resumed this summer.

Margaret Soulstein and her five-year-old daughter Sylvia have been attending TCPL activities such as “Stories in the Park” for several years.

Margaret and five-year-old Sylvia Soulstein got front row seats at “Stories in the Park.”

“The library is a huge part of our lives and when the pandemic happened, they were amazing really quickly,” Souldstein said. “They started doing story times online which was great to still have the routine, but oh my goodness…this summer, when they brought it back and we could be in person, it just brought tears to my eyes.”

Doolittle relaunched the program in June, with community members sitting on the grass and socially distancing themselves, guidelines which are still followed. The reaction was encouraging, she added. Many families and children attended the gatherings, which regularly drew between 60 and 70 people.

Thomas stated that she and her children “really missed” it last year and were “thrilled” when “Stories in the Park” resumed.

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