The delights of learning by doing

Last Wednesday I was back at the Open Classroom that is featured in AUGUST TO JUNE to enjoy this year’s winter cafe.  This annual tradition unites so many aspects of this vibrant community!  If you have seen the film you know that the year we followed the theme was the Gingerbread Man.  This year it was the well loved picture book by Tomie dePaola, Strega Nona.  For several weeks before the event, every day some time was devoted to elaborating that theme.  Of course everyone from Kindergarten to 6th grade read and re-read the story.  They talked about the characters and what they represented.  They compared it with other stories they knew that included magic, and the way magic can get out of control.  They talked about Italy, studying the illustrations and thinking about who made up the community in this small Italian town, comparing that with their own communities.  As they began creating the decorations to transform the whole school into Strega Nona’s village, they decided to inhabit it themselves, painting their families inside houses that reminded them of the ones in the story.  Cookie making involved lots of measuring, and the concrete understanding of fractions that increasing recipes involves.  There were lots of opportunities for children of all ages to work together.

And at the same time as they made things to sell, (including stories they had written, cards they had created, and wreathes whose bases were the grape vines they trimmed from the grape arbor and wrestled into circles) they were considering who would be the beneficiaries this year of the funds they raised.  Usually some goes to an international cause, and some to a more local one.  This year, with one of their own being treated for leukemia, everything was staying local.

The day of the event Tom and I sat with one of my former students who was home for the holidays from Northeastern and two moms whose children I had taught.  We heard about the good works our young adults are doing in the world, and ate pasta of course, served by a cast of characters in appropriate costumes they had created themselves.  And whenever anyone put a tip in the tip jar, our student servers would gather and heartily sing a song–everything from Jingle Bells to Hannukah Oh Hannukah, to the chant that Strega Nona says to make her magic pot produce pasta.  Learning by doing?  Si, grazie!

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