Margie Yurtinus' Challenger K-8 kindergarten students gathered on the floor in front of her and clutched their stuffed toys, mostly bears.
It was a special morning. The students were getting ready to celebrate the study of a unit about bears with a bear food picnic.
First, Yurtinus reviewed what the children had learned about bears. They eat all kinds of berries. They are particularly fond of huckleberries. Black bears can climb trees. Grizzlies cannot, except cubs.
While this was going on, parent Dee Juan and eighth-grade teacher's assistant Amanda Litwinsky, 13, prepared plates of berries and food made with berries. The blueberry muffins, crackers and jam, and pies are not found in the wild for bears, but they appealed to the children.
Aubrie Carlson, 5, whose father, Matt Carlson, stopped by to help serve drinks, said her favorite bear food was the red raspberries. She was sharing a picnic blanket — a towel — with classmate Madalyn Dixon, 5, who also liked them, but added blueberries and blueberry muffins to her list of favorites.
The girls pretended to share their food with their stuffed friends: Marissa, Aubrie's stuffed bunny, and Care Bear, Madalyn's toy bear. Madalyn pointed out that Care Bear "has a little rainbow on her belly." She added, "I've got The Care Bears Movie, too."
Yurtinus said she began the unit with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, then shifted from fantasy to the real animals.
"I like to start out with Goldilocks and the Three Bears because they're familiar with it," she said.
The unit included math, art, science, reading and writing. For math, the children tasted three different kinds of porridge: Cream of Wheat, oatmeal and cornmeal. They graphed their favorites to learn which was most popular.
Another math problem was packaged in little plastic bags. Each child received different numbers of three flavors of teddy bear cookies. They had to separate, count and graph the cookies.
The science lesson was facts about bears and the examination of a real, stuffed bear that Yurtinus brought from home. The bear was prepared by a taxidermist and was a gift from a parent.
She told the students that bears have excellent senses of hearing and smell, but they don't see very well. The children saw up close the thick fur, the long claws and the sharp teeth.
"We talked about that they really do eat honey," Yurtinus said. And she showed the children a jar containing a honeycomb.
Reading included both the fictional Goldilocks story and the factual book, Black Bears. Yurtinus had the children role play the fantasy story.
Victor Lovell, 5, had his bear, Elvis, with him and said his favorite treat was the blueberry muffin. He recounted some of what he now knows.
"I learned how they run very fast," he said. "I learned how they climb trees."
Aden Juan, 5, decided to have his toy dog, Doggie, at the picnic and said, "I learned about all kinds of bears. I learned that the black bears climb trees, but some of them can't because they're too heavy, but the cubs can."
The students still have art and writing lessons to do, and will continue with their sewing projects. They are learning and practicing overstitching, sewing two cloth bear-head cutouts together and decorating them with goggle eyes, noses and mouths.
All of the bear activities prompted parent Dee Juan to say about Yurtinus: "She makes me want to go back to kindergarten!"
And Yurtinus recognizes the value of the parents in the classroom.
"I couldn't do this without parents," she said.