For the third consecutive year, right after Thanksgiving break, the preschool teachers at Learning Tree told their 4- and 5-year-old students the story of the renegade “Gingerbread Man.” Afterward, each class decorated and baked its own gingerbread man — only to have all four “escape” and “run away” to places around Grand Haven and the world.
Teachers and children told family and friends to keep their eyes open and alert them if they saw the fugitive cookies. As a result, scores of postcards poured in — bearing news of “gingerbread sightings” from around town, Michigan and the United States; as well as India, Germany, Afghanistan, Spain, Australia and other foreign nations.
When the return address of each postcard was matched to a map of the world, children marveled at all of the new places they were getting to know.
“It’s become a bit of a geography lesson for them,” said the local YMCA’s child development director, Betsy Durant. “They don’t see it that way, but it gives them their first exposure to maps. They can see Grand Haven in relation to all these other places in the world.”
Durant got the idea from colleagues at various preschools in California. Entranced with the possibilities, she adapted and amplified the program for Learning Tree children, who come to the preschool from as far as Muskegon. Having the program every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as a special activity for the preschoolers, means that younger children can look forward to baking gingerbread men and following their adventures.
“Everybody gets so into this,” Durant said. “The children, parents and community all have embraced the project. Our letter carrier, Dave VanderKooi, has sent postcards to children who didn’t have anyone out of town to mail to. And it’s a magical feeling as they all start to pour in.”
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