KINDERGARTENDERS TAKE PART IN YEARLY "ECONOMIC" TRADITION
story by meg ferrante
photos by angelina bellebuono
there's nothing like ice cream for breakfast. Right after a nice shave and a swim in the sea.
Strange things happened on the Morgan County Primary Kindergarten corner last week. The classrooms disappeared behind storefronts. The halls filled with children scurrying back and forth, clutching bright green replica money. The youngest rejoiced and the oldest lamented their age. It was Tiny Town time again.
"I got to go here and build a truck," said Rylee Johnson pointing in the door of Megan Ainslie's Dollar Store. He was greeting and advertising at the same time. "I even get to work here, too," he said.
Goodies for sale. Movies to see. Crafts to make. Tiny Town is likely the most anticipated activity of a Kindergartener's whole career. For teachers, it's a week jam-packed with opportunities to teach nearly every standard the state requires a five-year-old to learn. There's counting, adding and estimating in math; good citizenship, producing, consuming and community helpers in social studies; plenty of signs and letter writing for language arts; not to mention a whole host of social skills lessons in greeting, thanking and taking turns. For kids, it's also a week jam-packed. Of pure fun.
"I think [lead teacher] Brillo Jackson said it best, 'It's learning the standards by playing,'" Vice Principal Dr. Stephanie Nash said.
Nash, who is only in her second year at the primary school, said she has seen similar concepts taught in other systems, but nothing quite as well. "Tiny Town is so much better and so much more fun. It covers more standards. And more social skills."
Principal Dr. Betsy Short said that word about the event has spread and gained some area attention. The entire staff of the Newton County Elementary Kindergarten visited to take notes. They're planning a Tiny Town of their own in the spring.
Many of the Tiny Town shops have become Morgan County institutions – the PB and J Café, the Sweet Shop, the Flower Shop. A few have changed hands, like the MCP Theater moving to where Donnis Davenport's class used to have a doctor's office. But there's a new show in town this year and no one is complaining about the competition. It's Madison Moo, an ice cream parlor where the kids get to pick their toppings and break all the rules about sweets before lunch. That classroom's teacher, Stephanie Bennewitz, is new to the school and enjoyed teaching the community helper unit in such a sweeping, grade-wide program.
"It's great to watch all of their responsibility levels rise to the occasion," she said.
In some ways the teachers are just like real employers.
"You need to go pay... You need to go over to that table and work... You need to blow your nose," said parapro and "co-owner" of the Nature Shoppe, Lori Adams, to the gaggle of "employees" at her feet.
Another employer responsibility: after each class counts their earnings at the end of each business day, the teachers have to pay those who worked that shift. The worker bees pocket that money, but not for long. They turn around the next day and shop with it in other Tiny Town stores.
The supplies that the classes use are indulgent, imaginative and quite often recycled. In the Fireside Book Store, the cardboard fireplace is filled with real logs and flame printed fabric. The Panda Shave Shop and Nail Salon offers old fashioned brush shaves with real shaving cream and a disposable razor (thankfully, with the blade removed). Nail polish is real, too, and there are even hand dryers for that perfect post-polish shine. The aquarium is created with a bubble machine and swimmers get to don "goggles" (saran wrap and drinking straws) and "scuba tanks" (two large, plastic soda bottles tied together and held over the shoulders with string). The darkened movie theater has real ushers with flashlights and shower curtains suspended from the ceiling to create a separate cinema area.
April Bone, whose class runs the flower shop said it's a project everyone looks forward to. And that it is a lot more effective than a handout or a lecture. "To make their money to shop, they have to earn it," she said. "They worked to make our note pads and seed packets. They get paid to work and we talk about if they don't do a good job, certain things might happen to their pay. It's a fun way to cover producers and consumers.
"And there is a lot of math. We count money. By ones, by twos, in sets of 10s, we practice that. And we estimate. Do you think this money we made is more than $100? Do you think we made more today than yesterday?"
At the end of the work day, students are side by side, hoisting their supplies to store in the corners, cleaning their work areas, everything short of mopping the floors. Someone murmurs, "I actually like being a worker more than a shopper," which begets a question that Bone puts out to the whole class at circle time.
"Who would rather work than shop?"
Only two stand up. Which makes sense. This is America, after all. And certain things you just don't need to teach.
CAN YOU TAKE ME TO TINY TOWN? Students participate in an educational version of trade and commerce. Using imitation money, students make purchases throughout the week and subsequently each “store” totals their sales daily. Students learn careful spending habits, practice math skills and job skills and have an all-around good time, especially at the newest addition, an ice cream shop called “Madison Moo.”
PUBLISHED IN THE FEBBRUARY 12, 2009 EDITION