Of Elves and Economics

Of Elves and Economics

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The snow-dusted forests of Chewonki Neck are especially quiet this week, but the classrooms of the Elementary School at Chewonki are bright and busy, like an elven workshop, with students crafting beautiful items to present at the Holiday Craft Fair and online auction on December 11.

“If you hear about children making crafts, you might just think, ‘Oh, that’s so sweet,’” says Kat Cassidy, Head of Elementary School, “but this is so much more. The work these students are doing now is part of several months of theme-based study called ‘Economy and Ecosystems.’ It involves history, literature, writing, research, science, mathematics, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy–as well as imagination, planning, perseverance, and judgment. And they are using their head, hands, and heart to create beautiful things to sell. This project brings together so many aspects of their interdisciplinary learning.”

Earlier in the fall, students visited craft vendors at the Common Ground Fair and a gallery in Bath. They talked to experts at Halcyon Yarn and Joann’s Fabric and Craft Store, two local hot spots for crafters. After they decided what they wanted to make, they developed a business proposal and budget, which could not exceed $20. They were able to take a $20 loan from the “Bank of Chewonki” to get started (they must repay the loan). Students had to consider the cost and the value of their product, and if after crunching numbers they projected a loss, they had to rework their plan. Next week they will decide together what percentage of their profits they will donate to a good cause and which to support (an animal shelter and a food pantry are top contenders).

Through their reading and class discussions, they have learned about the Great Depression, the 1930s Dust Bowl, and Hoovervilles (shanty-towns of this era). They have studied the current Maine economy. They have researched how small-business owners make a living. Because they are required to use one skill they have learned at Chewonki and one place-based material, they have honed their artistry and incorporated Chewonki wool and plants into their work.

Whale or Octopus?

On this afternoon, they are scattered around classroom tables, bent over felting, stitching, embroidery, silk screening, paper-making, and other endeavors. Camden is finishing the running stitches that decorate the edges of her handmade notebooks. Ella is making a wooly llama. Lila is printing a maple leaf design on notecards. Ben is felting turtles for Christmas tree ornaments. Harriet is embroidering patches for prayer flags. Around the top of a glass vase, Piper is hanging pairs of folded-paper earrings in subtle colors. Maeve is silk-screening black cats on white cloth for pouches she will fill with catnip she harvested. Acadia is holding a handful of fuzzy gnomes.

This hands-on artistic work connects Elementary School students in an authentic way to the many subjects they have studied during the Economy and Ecosystems unit. Teaching assistant and visual arts specialist, Coreysha Stone, has been developing the students’ art and craft techniques while Cassidy and grades 4/5/6 teacher Emily Bell-Hoerth have led the integrated academic curriculum.

The industrious small crafters (think real live holiday elves) are obviously enjoying their work. They show it proudly, telling exactly how they decided on their projects, what materials they needed, how they determined their budgets, and how much each item will cost. The Holiday Craft Fair is suddenly not far away; they say they are stepping up production.

“I am hoping to do a lot of felting over Thanksgiving vacation,” says one student. “Yup. I am taking everything home so I can keep working,” remarks another.

“I can’t wait for the fair,” says a girl as working on her stitching. We can’t either. Come to see these crafters and their creations–plus a full array of handmade items by more than 30 adult artisans from around the midcoast area–on December 11. If you can’t join us in person, visit our online holiday auction!