Friday, June 3, 2011

Competing with the Carnival

The teacher, when she begins work in our school, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work. ~Maria Montessori

How do we keep 1st graders engaged in learning despite the arrival of the dreaded (but much loved by children) Fruitport Old Fashioned Days Memorial Day carnival? That's the dilemma we face at the end of every school year. Not only does the carnival set up in the center of town, nearly every bus going to or from our school drives by it twice a day!

This year I decided to do something a bit different. We built
our own "Roxaboxen" in our classroom. First, we read Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran. Then we discussed what materials we would need. Students brought in some cardboard boxes--one even brought in a huge appliance box! Measurement and telling time were math concepts specifically incorporated into the project. However, it has become truly integrated across the curriculum--and a project that evolved in an amazing way! As we were planning what shops or buildings to include, I realized mapping skills and expanded vocabulary could be included. The students incorporated money and economic concepts naturally. We googled 'Roxaboxen' and found that there is a park in Yuma, Arizona dedicated to the original Roxaboxen and we took a "trip" to Yuma, Arizona via Google Earth.
Codi's Pet Shop--Open 24 hours!

Jamie's Train Station
Brody & Brady's 'Hunting Shack'

The room was quite loud, but everyone was completely engaged, from Ryan the banker who was "making money" and using existing student mailboxes for "accounts", to others who were busy measuring and cutting white paper to make "stones" to be used to delineate boundaries. As I looked around, I saw 6 and 7 year old students collaborating as they were creating Jamie's train station, Madyson's Beauty Salon, Brody's Hunting Shack, the Martin & Evans vehicle race track, Codi's Pet Shop, Miss Ead's School of Dance, Miss Louetta's Coffee Shop, Allen's Sporting Goods Store, and Timothy's Weather Station. The Day Care closed before it even opened "because there weren't enough kids" and Amy's Artist Studio took its place. Hand written signs were everywhere: 'Open' and 'Closed', store names, and direction signs complete with directional arrows.

Miss Ead's Dance School
Banker's Hours??

One of the best moments? When the banker realized that other kids were making their own money, he commented, "Hey, that's not fair! Only the money made by this bank can be spent in our Roxaboxen!" Which then led to a lively discussion about counterfeit money and the FBI.

It was clear this project was loosing its power to engage students when "For Rent" signs went up on Wednesday. So, yesterday was "Demolition Day." I'm confident my students were fully engaged and learned so much more than I'll ever know---or could ever be measured on a standardized test.
Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, where study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants—doing nothing but living and walking about—came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning; would you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child's way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so he passes little by little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love. ~Dr. Maria Montessori, MD


  1. Brilliant!
    I think your kids should present their money production theories to Congress. They clearly understand money better than the banking industry.
    I was also intrigued by their move to put up "for rent" signs as a signal that their attention had turned to something else. Fascinating!

  2. Thanks for commenting, Susan & Jeff! I was also fascinated by the "for rent" signs!

  3. Wow, what an engaging and exciting learning environment...

  4. Alice McLerran has written a book The Legacy of Roxaboxen: A Collection of Voices. It is the story of her mother Marian Doan, one of the children who created the real Roxaboxen in the Yuma Arizona desert. It also has stories of many of the other children. It also includes a facsimile of a book that Marian wrote when she was 11 years old in 1916.
    It is a great book for teachers who use Roxaboxen or if you want to extend this lesson to higher grades.

  5. Crazyoaks, Thank you so much for this information! I can't wait to check out this book!