Walk into the pre-kindergarten classroom at Shaare Torah congregation, in Gaithersburg, and you will immediately be surrounded by four tiny but eager salespeople, trying to sell you handmade jewelry.
“Do you have any dollars?” one says. “Do you want to give us coins?”
One shows you the display of necklaces, while another tries to drag you to the bracelets next to a cardboard cash register, with bottle caps for buttons.
It’s hard sell here. But given that the oldest staffer is 5 years old, it’s OK.
The class has been running the tiny shop since the beginning of February. It’s part of the school’s “emergent
curriculum,” which allows the children to direct how they learn by focusing on their interests, according to Allison Colker, the Conservative synagogue’s education director.
The kids came up with the idea for the store one day when they were making jewelry. So they made price tags and play money, and built displays. They enjoyed it so much, they asked to make the store “real.”
The store has provided the four with opportunities to practice reading, math, handwriting and interpersonal skills.
“The curriculum is not to top down, so we don’t have to teach them specific things,” said their teacher, Nicole Martin. “Their interest was the jewelry store. So all of the math, all of the writing — everything went in to it.”
Students learned about patterns from designing the pieces and writing signs for the displays and price tags. They learned math by helping count dollar bills and change, even if they still refer to them as “pieces of paper.” They also built the cardboard cash register, where all of the money is kept.
All of the money will be donated to the Children’s Inn at National Institutes of Health, which gives families of sick children the opportunity to stay with them for free while they’re in treatment.
As Micah Simon, 4 ½, said, “We are selling the jewelry for getting money to send to the hospital for sick people.”
So far, they have raised about $200. The store is open at all times. When the students are not there, it runs on the honor system.
And the students say they’re learning.
“[I learned] it’s hard,” said Emma Broder, 5. Micah agreed. All four students said they were having a lot of fun, and are looking forward to having more customers come to their shop.