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Learning from Tomtens

Imagine stuffing a metric ton of ideas into a small balloon, blowing it up to extreme pressure, and then handing a pin to the nearest mischievous first grader at hand. The imminent result is often the visual impression that I get whenever a have a little peek into the Discovery classroom at Five Acre School. It always has a certain aspect of creativity gone kablooey.

Now I’m not saying that the classroom is not orderly by the end of the day. I’m just saying that the space gets, well, an awful lot of mileage during the school day. Great chunks of projects are often distributed about the floor with enthusiastic students crawling in their midst, working and playing together with that wonderful combination Tomten lineupof both focus and abandon.

But the last time I stopped by, just before the winter break, things had gone beyond kablooey. There was what appeared to be an entire miniature village on the floor by the kitchen. It was surrounding a glittering, frozen lake (a metal mirror dressed out with cotton balls) with the quaintest of tiny ice skaters flitting about on its sparkling surface.

It seems I had stumbled upon the culmination of Tomten Week in the Discovery Class.

Tomtens are traditional fairy tale skating Tomtenscreatures from Sweden, perhaps most resembling what we might call garden gnomes. They are the magical helpers of the animals, aiding them through winter with hot porridge and other comforts. In the Discovery class, they are also magical learning tools.

The project started off by the students creating their own, unique Tomten. While immersed into this, they also read two different versions of a classic tale, The Tomten and the Fox, comparing the two books’ similarities and differences. Students worked on adjectives by attaching progressively more descriptors to sentences about their Tomtens, and charted Tomten aspects like colors and genders into a mathematical “Tomten-table”.

And then the shared housing started to develop, with Tomten roommates sharinga Tomten table small cardboard houses with creative little efficiencies like tiny place mats with pockets to store even tinier cutlery. There were little pictures on the walls, minute baskets for food and shoes, tables and chairs, all hand made and shared together with remarkable ease.

This, of course, grew into the fabulous village surrounding the frozen lake. At the start of the day, kids would find that their Tomtens had gone wandering during the night, mysteriously finding them hanging out at a new friend’s place, or out on hike amid a forest of decorational mushrooms (a carryover from a previous study on fungi!  ).

“This is precious,” Discovery teacher Jen told me after describing a scrumptious porridge feast the kids had enjoyed that morning. “This is the thing of the year. This is like the magic!”

I’ll have to drop by the Discovery classroom more often. After all, everyone can use a little dose of Magical Creative Kablooey!