WIND POINT — “Welcome to our museum of nocturnal animals,” Prairie School kindergartner Ava Hendee exclaimed Wednesday evening, her voice rising with excitement.
She bounded around her darkened classroom, clutching a flashlight in her small hand to show visitors how the room had been transformed into a nighttime forest. Large and intricate paper trees covered the walls and ceiling. In and around the trees, Ava’s light revealed paper skunks, raccoons and more.
“Do you see the bats hanging in this tree?” she asked, aiming her light higher.
As Ava talked, similar presentations were going on in Prairie’s other elementary school classrooms, where other student docents explained museum exhibits on currency, famous buildings, Native Americans, homeless shelters and much more.
It was all part of Prairie’s “Window to the World” museum, showcasing how elementary schoolers learn about the world, its history, their responsibility to it and their place in it. The elementary school becomes a differently themed museum for one week every other year because students learn through exhibiting their work, said Kathy Boero, head of the elementary school at Prairie, 4050 Lighthouse Drive.
“When you teach something, you really become secure in that knowledge,” Boero said. “(Students) are also so motivated. They’re so excited to share what they have learned. ... It takes it out of being a simple classroom activity to being something the child owns.”
The “Window to the World” museum was up and running all last week for visitors from other schools, the community and students’ families. All of Prairie’s 197 students in 3-year-old kindergarten through fourth grade participated in the museum, with related classroom learning and exhibit-making taking place from the beginning of the school year, Boero said.
Students are told some of their classroom work will stay at school instead of going home, so it can be included in a museum in May. Students also vote on or discuss what schoolwork to include in the museum and how to best present information to visitors. And then they study up to give museum tours, Boero said.
On a Wednesday evening tour, fourth-grader Sam Paupore stood over a diorama of Wisconsin Native Americans and explained they used to make maple syrup and mine copper. The fourth-graders studied Wisconsin history — and their own families’ histories — to understand world history and their place in it.
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Third-graders studied community action, including Racine’s Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization shelter, to learn about people’s responsibility to the world. Second-graders studied currency — and even tracked a dollar as it changed hands around the country — to understand part of world economics. First-graders sent letters around the world and recorded their progress, learning about each city the letters passed through in an attempt to understand cultures.
The kindergartners, of course, studied nocturnal animals, another part of our world. And the younger students, aged 3 and 4, created paper and cardboard 3-D models of famous buildings, like Big Ben, the Wisconsin Capitol and the Eiffel Tower, to learn about architecture’s place in the world.
Past museum themes
• The Ocean
• Habitats Around the World
• Celebrate America
• Books Alive
• The Spirit of Adventure
SOURCE: The Prairie School.