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Imagination, Traps, and Creativity

PreK works to trap the gingerbread man.

“Oh my gosh, we were cooking a gingerbread man and he got away!”

The chase began when cafeteria worker Katrina Leeper announced the dilemma to Ms. Russell’s prekindergarten class in January.

In the following weeks, the gingerbread man was spotted several times by the principal, the librarian, the nurse, and the cafeteria ladies. But even though they tried, he eluded capture because he was so fast.

Elementary principal Mike Word reported his experience.

“I just saw him running down the hall yelling, ‘You can’t catch me. I’m the gingerbread man.’”

In the prekindergarten classroom, thirteen-year veteran teacher, Shethelia Russell, encouraged the hunt.

“Oh my gosh, guys, we’ve got to trap that gingerbread man!”

Russell has been doing a project based Gingerbread Man unit in her PreK class for the last six or seven years. The idea came when watching other classes read The Gingerbread Man at the beginning of the school year and while searching for a January project.

“In December everybody’s doing Santa, and I know a lot of people do gingerbread during Christmas,” Russell explained. “I just thought, you know The Gingerbread Man is so much fun, let’s do something else with it.”

The story was introduced using characters placed on a flannel board.

“With the flannel play I have more working room to use the vocabulary I want to teach the children,” Russell stated.

Over the next few days, the students heard multiple versions of The Gingerbread Man through different literature such as The Gingerbread Girl and The Gingerbread Baby. They also learned of different ways to trap the gingerbread man.

“We’re just incorporating all this literature into this one story,” Russell said. “One of the stories tells how a little kid made a gingerbread house and caught the gingerbread man. One story is how the fox outsmarted the gingerbread man. The children are seeing how to solve a problem through the introduction of a story.”

But the unit was not only about the story. Math, fine motor skills, problem-solving, writing and technology were all incorporated into the unit through games, Play-Doh, puzzles and iPads that were gingerbread themed.

“It’s fun for the kids,” Russell remarked, “but here’s a lot of PreK skills that we’re learning.”

Even simple physics was covered when the class began to make their traps and discussed how traps and mechanisms worked.

“We work on our trap in a collaborative group as one of our stations that we do,” Russell explained. “They average about two hours through two weeks working on their trap and they have to collaborate with their group.”

During the building of the trap, Ms. Russell facilitated the ideas and got the needed supplies.

“I do not tell them what to do, I am just simply an observer,” Russell emphasized. “I may say, ‘Hey, do you think that’s going to work? What about this, what about that?’ I use a lot of questioning strategies to try and get them to think more in depth of how they’re going to make their trap.”

After completing the traps, the groups presented their trap to the class. Even then, learning continued.

“Most of the time the other kids in the other groups are saying, ‘Oh that’s such a good idea. Man, we wish we had done that in our group,’” Russell said. “The kids are actually learning a lot from each other even while we’re sitting there and making the traps.”

The children took the traps and put them in four predesignated locations in the main building. The library received a trap because the gingerbread man likes to read; the nurse’s office because he would break his leg; the cafeteria, because, well, a gingerbread man has got to eat; and the principal’s office because he was going to get in trouble. Every day after that, the students checked their traps and found notes and cookie crumbs as evidence that the gingerbread man had visited their trap and escaped.

In order to keep the unit fresh, Ms. Russell adds new aspects every year.

“Every year I feel like I’ve added something new into it, just based on the children’s interest. Just something different, something that’s unique to each group of kids.”

This year the focus was on the process of writing.

“One of the things that was new this year was that we wrote a note to the gingerbread man, because the gingerbread man had written us a bunch of notes,” Russell added. “We talked about how the gingerbread man must like writing and must like reading notes. In the note that we wrote, there were a lot of our sight words in it. We would go every day to lunch and read that note and talk about the sight words on that note.”

Another surprising aspect was also new this year.

“He liked Skittles,” Russell said. “All the kids wanted to make and put Skittles on their traps because they thought the gingerbread man loved Skittles.”

As with all good plot lines, the story ends with the culprit being caught. School nurse Debbie Thompson called with the news.

“Oh my gosh, the cafeteria ladies said they caught the gingerbread man and they cooked him! Come and get him.”

The class trekked to the cafeteria to see the gingerbread man for themselves.

“We got him! He was reading your note and we put this bucket over him and we threw him in the oven,” the cafeteria ladies exclaimed.

Ms. Russell described the event.

“The cafeteria ladies put on a big show. The kids were just waaa, waaa and going wild. It’s pretty fun and we ate him.”

And how did the gingerbread man taste?

“He tasted good,” Mr. Word said.

While Ms. Russell works to make learning fun, this project was really centered on the imagination and creativity of the students.

“What I really want people to know is it’s not about what I do for this project,” Russell explained. “This is a project that the kids do. This is really focused on what they can do and their little skills and their little imaginations and how their mind works. It’s about what they can create.”

And in the end, Ms. Russell said it best.

“I think it’s amazing fun.”