Winter can be tough. It's cold, it's dark, and everything is so much more work. It's work to make plans. It's work to get the kids into winter gear. It's work to go to the park. It's just so. much. work. And as things feel like more work, we spend longer times inside. As we spend longer periods inside, our mental health suffers.

It's no wonder that so many people in the Inland Northwest suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or other forms of mild depression. However, when we hibernate inside, eating cookies and watching movies, things spiral downward. Visiting StoryWalks™ provides an easy outside adventure with our children and allows us to fight SAD's clutches.

Like other forms of depression, SAD is characterized by low energy, losing interest in activities you usually enjoy, trouble sleeping, and feelings of sadness and hopelessness. SAD is more common in younger adults than in older adults; mothers of young children often suffer.



Although the causes of SAD are unknown, researchers suspect that changes in daylight play a role; as a result, MedlinePlus and the Mayo Clinic recommend using light therapy. In addition to light therapy boxes, doctors recommend full-spectrum light bulbs, vitamin D supplements, and spending time outside. While it may be the last thing you want to do, spending time outdoors does have real benefits for those suffering from SAD and other forms of depression.

In a 2015 Stanford University study, researchers found that 90 minutes of walking in nature decreased brain activity associated with rumination, or repetitive thoughts focused on negative emotions. In other words, spending time in a natural setting - walking, gardening, playing with your children, etc. - reduces feelings of depression.



Bonner County StoryWalk™ offers a fun and "low-planning" way to spend time outside with your children. At each StoryWalk™ site, we have placed laminated pages from a children's book in protected boxes and installed them along an outdoor path. As you walk the path with your children, you encounter the next page in the story every 30-50 feet. Pages are numbered.

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Library staff chooses high-quality stories from a variety of talented authors and illustrators, and those stories are changed on a regular basis. In general, most stories are geared to children in the preschool through second grade age range, though the act of walking and sharing the story extends its appeal to older children.

In addition to providing a SAD-fighting, vitamin D-laden experience, StoryWalk™ builds early literacy skills and provides a family bonding experience. Children who are exposed to hundreds of books before kindergarten, develop the early literacy skills which make learning to read much easier. And reading and talking about books (whether indoors or not), without cell phone interruptions, provides a wonderful bonding experience.

Currently, East Bonner County Library and Kaniksu Land Trust maintain two StoryWalks™ - one at Dover City Park in Dover and one at McNearney Park in Ponderay. January stories are Walking in a Winter Wonderland by Richard B. Smith and Winter Is the Warmest Season by Lauren Stringer. Both parks offer playgrounds and benches as well as StoryWalks™.

Suzanne Davis, Children's Librarian

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