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Gingerbread House Camp in Full Swing by Camille Hayward

Our multi-age elective “camps” take place at various points during the calendar year.  They give teachers a chance to delve into a topic, and children a chance to enjoy time with the children and adults they know so well from their regular classroom encounters, and, for everyone who needs it, or chooses to take part in it, an extended school calendar.  Camps are usually held the first two weeks of summer vacation, the first week of spring break, and during the early days of winter vacation.  

Last year at this time,  Lake and Parkers learned about the Nutcracker Ballet in a three day camp,attending a live performance at McCaw Hall.  This year, children are enjoying some baking related activities in a two day setting, where folklore and fairy tales converge with cookie dough and candy canes.

When children arrived the first day, they were greeted with options of playing with balloons and hoops and jump roping.  They also were invited to enjoy toast and cereal upon arrival, a typical Lake and Park Camp activity, so different from the beginning of a normal school day.    


The group gathered altogether, from Very Beginners, to those in the graduating class, to hear teacher Jami Baker read “The Gingerbread Man”.  Her expressive and insightful reading soon brought the group together and ushered each child into the suspense of the plot of this familiar tale.  With her approach, it was as if we were all in for a treat, and not just those few for whom it was an altogether new story.   

Children then moved into smaller groups where attention to detail and creativity could be combined.  

Some older children  worked with Kim Martinson to roll out large amounts of pepparkakor dough, a Swedish recipe that was doubled, and yielded much.  

Others met with Jami to create gingerbread men-inspired characters,  which included an opportunity to consider their own interests and attributes.  

The Beginning Room was set up for all that goes into allowing children freedom to work on various activities. 

 The Block Corner housed a variety of stuffed gingerbread characters and a variety of houses suited to them.  

The center area was equipped with a small kitchen which was soon a scene of acting out the tale, including peeping into the oven, to see the gingerbread boy jump out.  

At the tables there were “hands on” options–creating collage  based on holiday candy themes and adding real spices to  playdough–cinnamon, allspice, cloves. 

In the adjacent hallway, children had a truly wonderful time at the large sensory table.   Wearing aprons and the occasional baker’s hat, they had their choice of flour sifters to work with, and enjoyed sifting flour over the large area.

Time was made for regathering to hear another version of the tale, this one  featured an urban setting in which the hero is chased by city animals and city dwellers.  Following that reading, the group headed outdoors, where a Seattle fog was still lingering.  

Children ate lunch together outside on a day when fog was hanging low in Seattle.  When they came back inside, they read Jan Brett’s, The Gingerbread Baby, who is taken out of the oven before he is “done”.   Not to be outdone by a fox, he is ultimately tricked into captivity by the cunning creation of a gingerbread house, cleverly made by the child hero of the story.  

This led to our creation of gingerbread houses.  We were not as elaborate as Brett’s illustrations depict, nor nearly as authentic, as our work consisted of constructing houses made of graham crackers and royal icing.  Children had free rein regarding construction of the houses, as  younger ones  were supported by older peers, who helped them through some of the tricky aspects of such fragile building.

Upon completion of the first day’s work on their mock gingerbread houses, the children were welcome to head back outside for a chance to play under increasingly bluing skies, with the sun making its limited appearance on this day, December 21st, the Winter Solstice. 

As we came back indoors for our final segment of the day,  children were assigned to groups to play games together.  Some learned to play checkers from one another, while others worked with a variety of Candy Land games.

Our time ended with yet another read aloud.  (So much wonderful literature was packed into this first day of a two day camp!)  The Gingerbread Rabbit, written by poet and author Randall Jarrell, makes for a wonderful corollary to the traditional tale.

Children and teachers returned to camp for a second day where decorating of the previously constructed houses was the featured activity.  They packaged some of the many lovely cookies made the day before  and had  another opportunity to build with blocks, sift large quantities of flour, roll out playdough and enjoy time playing and being together.  

           There were opportunities for singing and for a Reader’s Theater re-enactment of “The Gingerbread Man”, as well as a look at the fairy tale of “Hansel and Gretel”, the penultimate “gingerbread house” tale for those brave enough to cope with it.

And Jane Yolen’s poem warns us:

The Magic House

We should have known when we tasted the eaves,

Breaking them off like toffee

And cramming them into our mouths

And the dear little windows, the color of coffee,

And chocolate doorknobs,

And windowpanes striped with mint.

We should have guessed at the chimney smoke,

White marshmallow fluff,

Taken the hint

From the marzipan bricks

And the fenceposts made of bone rubble,

But it was only when we saw the witch

That we knew we were in deep, deep trouble.

The last of the light on the shortest day of the year.

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