Feeding an appetite for creative learning


Any elementary schoolroom stocked with gummy worms, Fruit Roll-Ups and crispy rice-and-marshmallow bars is bound to be popular with pupils, and Holly Wright's third-grade classroom was no exception.

"It's going to be delicious," said 8-year-old Malerie Gamblin, who spotted the goodies earlier in the day and was eager to begin her sweet craft.

Malerie, like the other pupils at Ilchester Elementary School, took a break from the regular curriculum Wednesday to participate in Ilchester Inspirations, a day of crafts and activities.

The pupils, broken into groups of about a dozen, rotated among four or five projects during the course of the school day, spending about 50 minutes on each, said Judy Maurer, third-grade team leader and the inventor of Ilchester Inspirations.

The candy was being used to teach the children how to roll sushi.

Wednesday marked the second year for the event, Maurer said. The goal of the day, she said, is "to inspire the kids to learn a craft or a hobby," perhaps one they will enjoy for years to come.

The teachers propose and implement the crafts, but Maurer pulls the day together, purchasing supplies, organizing parent volunteers and making sure things run smoothly. Each class had at least two parent volunteers, she said.

One of the volunteers, Catherine Wheeler, said her children, third-grader Patrick and fourth-grader Dana, have been looking forward to the Inspirations day. "My kids happen to love crafts," she said.

Maurer's project was helping her pupils make rainbow fish out of colorful beads. She wrote the directions on the board and encouraged her class to read the steps aloud as part of a lesson plan on reading to learn how to do something.

"It's kind of like field day," said Abbey Groft, 8, as she threaded her plastic string through the center of the beads. "We're going to make a lot more crafts," said Nicole Neiman, 8.

This year's projects, which include knitting and soccer, are similar to the ones offered last year, Maurer said. "In terms of fine-tuning it, the teachers are tying it more to the curriculum," she said.

Fourth-graders, for example, have been learning about state history, so their projects included making a state flag with colored tissue paper, decorating a box with pictures of Maryland symbols and playing a quiz-show-type game to test their knowledge of Maryland history.

"Our whole Inspiration day is Maryland-centered," said teacher Marjie Rowe, showing off the boxes the pupils created, which contained sheets of paper explaining various symbols, such as the black-eyed Susan, the state flower. "It ties in directly with the curriculum."

While the glue on the boxes dried, the pupils were doing Maryland-themed puzzles.

Kindergartners and pre-kindergartners also got involved, learning about summer with projects that included making sand art, creating stained-glass-style sun-catchers and decorating visors.

Because third-graders were learning about different cultures, the introduction to sushi seemed appropriate, Wright said. (Of course, the kids may be disappointed when they try real sushi and find that it's not made of candy.)

Before they started rolling the candy sushi, Wright read aloud the book How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman, which tells of a Japanese woman and white man who fall in love and learn to eat each other's food. Then the children created the sushi by flattening out the fruit rolls in lieu of seaweed, squishing on the rice-and-marshmallow bars as though they were sushi rice, and adding the gummy worms instead of the seafood and vegetables used in real sushi.

The children then rolled up the gooey concoction, cut it in slices with a plastic knife and picked up the pieces with chopsticks.

Chase Young, 9, had some wisdom to share about the experience. "You don't want to pound it too hard because then the Fruit Roll-Up will stick to the plate," he said, after he lifted a morsel with his chopsticks and offered it to his mother, LeAnn Young, one of many parent volunteers.

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