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Ferguson Township Kindergarten Bookstore

When fifth-grader Eli Honikel went shopping for books, he couldn’t have found a better deal. All he needed were some plastic pennies, and he didn’t have to leave his school.

During teacher Mary Macalus’ kindergarten class at Ferguson Township Elementary School, Eli browsed in support of an innovative writing lesson. After creating their own books, the kindergarteners turned their room into a bookstore, complete with stations for the authors to discuss and autograph their works. There was even a “café” with pretend food and beverages.

For a coin or two, Eli and his classmates could buy copies, though they gave their purchases back in the end so the writing could be assessed. Instead, they took home memories of a fun hour spent encouraging nascent writers.

“I got to interact with the kindergarteners, and I think it’s really cute to be with them,” Eli says.

All of the exchanges helped cap a lesson in the writing unit “Show and Tell: From Labels to Pattern Books,” part of educator Lucy Calkins’ acclaimed series of elementary literacy resources. The State College Area School District draws from Calkins resources in its kindergarten reading and writing curriculums.

At the suggestion of their principal, Shelly Buckholtz, a former Title I reading coordinator, Ferguson Township’s kindergarten teachers are using the “Show and Tell” resource for the first time. The bookstore culminated learning to write pattern books that build vocabulary through repeated sentence structures. Once the books were done, kindergarten classes invited fifth-grade Book Buddies to shop instead of the usual story reading during the weekly visits.

“The thing I like about the bookstore lesson is it gives purpose to their writing,” Macalus says.

Down the hall from her, a second franchise popped up a few days later in teacher Lisa Harrington’s room. She admires how the lesson and the unit in general inspire expression.

“If you think about kindergarteners, most come to kindergarten just barely knowing their letter names and sounds, and we’re teaching them to write books with real sentences,” she says. “They’re very insecure, so a lot of this is to build their confidence. The big factor with this is we’re celebrating their growth and their bravery as writers. We want them to feel like writers.”

They also got a taste of being business owners. Students organized everything, right down to the café menu, book and food prices, and author table displays. Opinions sometimes differed, and discussions led to compromises. Harrington enjoyed seeing her class work out solutions and then confidently run their store, engaging in the kind of imaginative play that’s critical to development.

“They were so proud of this,” she says. “They owned it, and that was what was really exciting about it all.”

Appropriately for bookstores, the students’ plans included book readings, a chance for the authors to practice reading aloud while sharing their texts with shoppers. Kindergartener Olivia McPartland took advantage of the opportunity. She huddled with her book buddy, Carsyn Ligetti, and raced through several books, starting with her own.

At closing time, Olivia initiated her version of a customer rewards program. She hugged Carsyn — the perfect punctuation to the day.

By Chris Rosenblum

Photos by Nabil K. Mark