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Socially distant outdoor story hours for kids on Long Island

High school students read books to families each Tuesday morning during what’s dubbed Beach Blanket Storytime, on the lawn of the Southampton History Museum. Credit: Randee Daddona

Families can grab their beach blankets and head to two different outdoor story hours on Long Island, one in Southampton and the other in Sea Cliff.

“The kids were excited,” says Moira Hussey, a teacher from Southampton who brought her three children, Fallon, 5, Liam, 3 and Charlotte, 8 months to the Beach Blanket Storytime at the Southampton History Museum recently. “They beared it through the heat, so I assume they enjoyed it.” 

BEACH BLANKET STORYTIME

High school students read books to families each Tuesday morning during what’s dubbed Beach Blanket Storytime – though families are sitting on a lawn at the Southampton History Museum, not sand.

Each family unit stays on its blanket six feet away from others and the readers share tales with a related theme – a recent story time was focused on fish. “Everyone wears masks,” says Kathy Bishop, chair of the Southampton Village Youth Task Force, which sponsors the program.

The stories are followed by a craft project – during the fish story time kids made fish on a stick. “We have to keep the projects really simple because they can’t really share materials doing it,” Bishop says. The story time is geared to ages 3 to 5, though siblings often attend as well during “this very unusual summer,” Bishop says. A future story hour is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Aug. 11; about six to 10 children typically attend, she says.

Rising high school junior Shea Rodriguez, 16, of Southampton, is one of the readers. “I love working with the kids. It’s really nice to be able to read stories and have them engage with you,” she says. Recently she read the book “The Rainbow Fish.”

At the conclusion, families can stay and explore the painted rock garden on the grounds. “It’s a beautiful property, it’s very peaceful there,” Bishop says. The museum is at 17 Meeting House Lane in Southampton.

STORY TIME AT SEA CLIFF BEACH

For 25 years the Sea Cliff Village Library has been doing Story Time at Sea Cliff Beach every summer – and this year is no different. Well, maybe it’s a little different.

In past years, story time drew about 65 to 100 people each week and was open to the public; this year, it is limited to 25 people who must have a Sea Cliff beach membership and sign up in advance to be guaranteed a spot underneath the shade sails. The craft element of story time has been eliminated.

But the spirit is the same, says Ann DiPietro, children’s coordinator at the library, who tells classic stories each Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. “It was and is great fun,” DiPietro says. Families sit on their blankets on the sand. DiPietro shares tales such as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” or “The Three Little Pigs” herself – she’s not reading from a book – and she always modifies the story to include a nod to Sea Cliff somehow. “Usually, I have a costume and I’ll have props,” she says.

Denae Penney, 39, a special education teacher from Sea Cliff, has been attending for years and says she is "so happy" the village was able to find a way to continue this summer so her sons, Wesley, 4, and Teddy, 19 months, can enjoy it. "We're so lucky to have it. It's a sense of normalcy, and we can do it safely. It's been really nice to have that sense of community back."

DiPietro uses a microphone, so even if families don’t have a registered spot in the group, they can still hear the story from farther away on the shoreline, she says. The story is also videotaped, so people can watch it on YouTube. The beach is at 56 The Boulevard in Sea Cliff; families sign up at the beach, DiPietro says.

THE VIRTUAL OUTDOORS

Not comfortable yet out in the world? Families can watch a Facebook Live story time that takes place outdoors during the Smithtown Historical Society’s “Streaming Tales for Tots” on Aug. 14.

“Since we have such a beautiful outdoors with animals and the farm, we can show them a little bit of that while the story is going on,” says Priya Kapoor, executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. “We have sheep, a pony and a rabbit.”

The Historical Society has a partnership with the Smithtown Library, which sends over two staff members to read books geared to children ages 3 to 5, Kapoor says. Participants need only visit the Historical Society’s Facebook page at 11 a.m. to watch; if it’s raining the story hour will be broadcast from indoors.

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