Santa's elves aren't the only little people cranking out gifts this time of year.
School children around the Kenai Peninsula celebrate the December holiday season with an outburst of creative cheer. 'Tis the season for art projects, singing and those cute little plays featuring moppets masquerading as candy canes and reindeer.
On the educational side, the children are learning art, music and drama skills. But, perhaps even more importantly, they are caught up in the fun of creating, using their new skills and making gifts for their families.
In Gigi Banas' special needs preschool class at Soldotna Elementary, youngsters focused on embellishing paper reindeer cutouts with popcorn and glitter. When asked what they were making, they enthusiastically chorused, "Rudolph!"
Girls in Matthew Faris' class ponder their paper poinsettias. Krystal Baer and Claire Baalke work on their project, while Meera Oftedal works behind them.
Photo by JAY BARRETT
"It is something they can make themselves, and they are very proud of it," Banas said.
The children also sang "Jingle Bells," made picture frames and created Christmas tree ornaments shaped like Santa and snowmen. In the midst of the fun, they refine their motor skills and learn to take directions, she said.
This week before the Christmas and New Year's vacation, the schools are buzzing with gleeful anticipation and creative energy.
Walk through the hallways, and you pass a kaleidoscope of Christmas motifs: stars, bells, stockings, wreaths, gingerbread people and evergreen trees decorated with everything under the sun.
Sasha Jones and Hunter Hollenberg work on their project.
Photo by JAY BARRETT
For primary students, learning how to read and write means they can now write Christmas cards and letters to Santa.
In Tracy Erwin's kindergarten and first-grade blended classroom at Soldotna Elementary School, students were finishing their letters Monday.
Caroline Walker, age 6, had her sights on a Jam 'N Glam Barbie Tour Bus. She also said she wanted a scooter and a horse.
Her classmate Troy Hope, 7, wrote, "Santa, I wish for big Harry Potter castle toy with action figures."
But the emphasis is on projects the children can give as gifts to their families. The
projects don't have to be fancy or pricey, but they often become treasured mementos for future years.
"Kids don't have a lot of money to go spend on presents for their parents," said Shellie Worsfold, who teaches a first- and second-grade class at Tustumena Elementary School in Kasilof.
She explained how she uses recycled and inexpensive materials for craft projects. For example, the children formed miniature wreath ornaments by dying rice with green food coloring, gluing the grains into rings and pressing beads into them before they dried. Another big hit was a picture frame rimmed with colorful collages. Combined with pictures the teacher took of her students, the frames will make keepsake portraits.
"Basically, for $20 I get 20 kids' gifts," she said.
Eight-year-old Phoebe Napoli-tano, one of Worsfold's students, said she loves art. Making holiday crafts is one of her favorite things about Christmas, right up there with shopping and decorating. The portrait and frame are her favorite craft project yet.
"I'll put it on the Christmas tree next year. This year it's a present," she said.
The schools are consuming reams of red and green construction paper, cotton balls, little bells and glitter.
Visual arts are not the only medium students are sharing this season. Musical and dramatic programs, ranging from senior high school choirs and bands to preschoolers lisping through Christmas carols, have filled the auditoriums. Most of the programs already have passed, but fans can watch reruns of them on the Internet through the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's Web site at www.kpbsd. k12.ak.us. However, a few shows are still to come.
At Tustumena earlier this week, music teacher Bob Ramponi was putting classes through their paces for their performance Thursday. Each class will sing, the band will play and soloists, duets and trios will entertain the audience.
The teachers are as involved in the holiday arts bonanza as their pupils.
Kelly Vasilie, a first-grade teacher at Soldotna Elementary, said her personal favorite this year is the "kindness quilts" that combine traditional quilt designs with the children's messages about ways they can help their families. She called them gifts from the heart.
Ann Fraser, a third-grade teacher at Tustumena, had her students make paper stockings, cloth pillows and amazingly cute little felt mice that slip over candy canes.
Down the hall, her colleague Katie Blossom was preparing her fourth-graders to make candy jars. Her inspiration, she said, was a magazine called Pack-o-Fun, chocked full of craft projects.
"It has great little ideas. It's one of those things teachers enjoy," she said.
Sharon Hopkins, a second-grade teacher at the school, was so motivated she braved the subzero weekend temperatures to collect willow branches for wall hangings. She might never have done it if not for the aid of a supportive friend, she said.
"It took us a half hour. I timed it. It wasn't bad," she said with a laugh.
"I think they are so pretty. ... They smell wonderful."
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