NEW PORT RICHEY
Each 4-year-old in Anclote Elementary School's Head Start/Voluntary Prekindergarten classes had nine grapes, five toothpicks, two cloves, one dried cranberry, an apple and a problem to solve.
How, their teachers asked, could the children make turkeys using these groceries?
The teachers showed an example — grapes speared with toothpicks served as tail feathers in the back of the apple and a head in the front, while the cloves were the eyes, and the cranberry was the "waddle."
"A waddle helps the turkey say 'gobble, gobble,' " student Maddie Ingram explained as she put together her apple turkey.
The Thanksgiving arts and crafts project might seem simple to adults, teacher Kendra Duffy said. But for the children, it offers plenty of important lessons.
"It's good for their eye-hand coordination and their fine motor skills," Duffy said. "It's good for oral skills as they talk about fruit and nutrition, too."
The lesson also helps the children recognize colors and practice following directions, teacher Virginia Mancuso added. And at the end, "it's something they made that they can put on the (Thanksgiving) table as a centerpiece, to show that their hard work is appreciated at home and at school."
At least, that's how it works in theory.
Giovanni Vasquez grabbed a single grape and pushed all five toothpicks into it at various angles.
"I did it!" he announced proudly to his mom, Jessica Miccio, who laughed and offered some guidance.
"You only have to do one at a time, like the way Maddie did it," Miccio told her son. "That is cool, though."
The boy just kept on making his grape-and-toothpick star.
"I don't want to do it like that," he said. He pointed to the pattern he made with the colored toothpick ends. "Look what I did!"
In the neighboring classroom, Daniel Harrington Jr. quickly put his apple turkey together under his dad's watchful eye. Then he began playing with it as if it were an action hero.
"My name is Turkey Man!" he said, holding the fruit above his head.
Then he pretended to eat it.
"Can we eat this?" he asked Mancuso.
"It's up to you. What do you think?" she replied, encouraging his decisionmaking skills. "Do you want to put it on the Thanksgiving table? Or do you want to share with daddy now?"
"I want to put it on the table," Daniel answered, setting the apple turkey down and beginning to count the toothpicks instead. "I'm going to eat it at Thanksgiving."
His dad, Daniel Sr., grinned. "They learn a lot in pre-k," he said. "He'll probably eat it before."
Back in the other classroom, Miccio had convinced Giovanni to turn his star into the turkey project, though he had trouble getting all of the toothpicks into the apple. She cheered his progress.
"This is a wacky-looking turkey," she told her son, who smiled broadly. "It's a wild turkey."
And across the way, Daniel Sr.'s prediction came true, as his son's grapes were gone and the apple was filled with tooth marks as Daniel Jr. chomped away.
"We can make another at home," his dad said.
Before long, the project was completed, and the parents headed out. The sleepy children settled in for their post-apple-turkey siesta before their true Thanksgiving break would begin.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.