The first day of school is filled with all kinds of emotions for students, especially those who are entering kindergarten for the very first time. To ease her new kindergarten students into their unfamiliar environment on their first day of school, Laurentian Hills Christian School (LHCS) teacher Yvonne Grootenboer planned a unique activity—a day-long Gingerbread Man Hunt.
“The new students are often timid and scared the first day of school,” shared Ms. Grootenboer. “This activity provides a great way for me to introduce them to their new surroundings in a fun and inventive way.”
The adventure began early in the day, as Ms. Grootenboer read the classic Gingerbread Man story to her new students. “The kids always enjoy hearing the story,” she shared. “They love to join in the repeating part as well:
‘Run and run, as fast as you can!
You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!’”
After she shared the story with the group, and they discussed how everyone in the story wanted to eat the delicious Gingerbread Man cookie, Ms. Grootenboer ‘suddenly’ became very hungry herself, and asked the students if they might like to make their own Gingerbread Man.
“Since the first day of school is already super busy, and I’m not a world class chef by any means, we just used Pillsbury chocolate chip cookie dough,” admitted Ms. Grootenboer. As the students sat around her in a circle, she shaped the dough into a large cookie the shape of the Gingerbread Man in the story. Once he was shaped, she asked the students to add eyes, a nose, a mouth, and buttons using Smarties. Then, together with their teacher, the students walked to the kitchen to put the unbaked cookie in the oven.
Unbeknownst to the kindergarten students, who were engaged in other activities while the Gingerbread Man was left to bake in the oven, the office administrator slipped into the kitchen to ‘steal’ the cookie and hid it in the principal’s office. Later in the day, when the class went to retrieve the freshly baked Gingerbread Man together, it was gone!
“I really played this part up,” laughed Ms. Grootenboer. “I looked very confused, and asked the kids what could have happened. It is so fun to see the shock on their faces and then to see them come up with ideas of where the man might be and how he could have run away. I try not to laugh, but it is so funny and cute!”
Students quickly determined that the Gingerbread Man must have run away, just like in the story book, and that they needed to find him. And that was exactly what Ms. Grootenboer, their teacher, had planned to happen. The students would need to tour the school, introducing them to the various rooms and hallways that were unfamiliar to them, in order to find the missing cookie.
“We checked in several rooms that they will be visiting throughout the year—the gym, the library, the office, and some of the other classrooms—asking if anyone had seen the Gingerbread Man,” explained Ms. Grootenboer. “In this way, they were visiting new parts of the school, talking to teachers and the librarian, and meeting other students, including their learning buddies.”
The students ended up at the principal’s office, and with a bit of hunting and sniffing, they found their Gingerbread Man. They quickly took him back to their own classroom, cut him up, and ate him before he could run away again.
Ms. Grootenboer shared how rewarding it was to watch the students start to relax and to see the fear disappearing from their faces as they engaged in the adventure of the day. “The activity distracts them, gets them walking through the school and talking to people,” she reflected. “Because they have an important mission, they don’t remember that they are scared!”
Not only do the students become familiar with their new surroundings in a fun and inventive way through this activity, but the teacher also learns something about her new students. According to Ms. Grootenboer, the inhibitions of her students started to fade as they got more and more involved in the activity, and she started to learn who the leaders are, who likes to speak in front of others, and which students are quickly able to relate the events of the day to others around them.
“It’s also about building community and helping the new students to build trust in those they’ll be sharing a building with for coming years,” added Ms. Grootenboer. Wherever the students went in the school to find the lost Gingerbread Man, they met others who were concerned along with them and offered to help—students, teachers, and staff. It’s important for them to know that others at the school care about them.”
LCHS principal Ian Timmerman shared that the Gingerbread Man hunt is one of the highlights of the first week of school for him as well. “It’s so much fun to see the excited group of kindergarten students pile into my office in their search for the missing Gingerbread Man,” he smiled. He continued by saying that the activity fits within the school culture that they have been intentionally building at Laurentian Hills. “We’ve been deliberately focusing on meeting students where they are at, and showing them that school is something that we do with students, not to them.”
As the students reflected upon the activities of the day, while enjoying a delicious piece of their cookie, they shared what part of the day was their favorite.
“I didn’t want to go to school this morning,” shared Savannah, “but I really liked the Gingerbread Man.” Savannah also commented that when they looked for the lost Gingerbread Man, it was her first time in the school library. “And I like Mrs. Grift,” (the Office Administrator) she added, with a smile.
Moriah said that she thought it was funny that the Gingerbread man had somehow escaped from the oven.
Most of the students, however, agreed with Conner, who excitedly shared that his favorite part of the whole day was eating the newly recovered Gingerbread Man!
Mr. Timmerman summarized the day well when he described the Gingerbread Man hunt as a fun and inventive activity that builds on the imagination and curiosity of the new kindergarten students. “It made what could have been, for many of the new young students, an intimidating experience—exploring a big new school—into an adventure that each of the students will remember for a very long time.”