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Supporters and Staff Work to Help Children’s Renaissance Fair a Success

By Clare Sanford, Early Childhood Education Enrollment and Nutrition Manager
December 17, 2013
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Hand-sewn handwarmers available for sale at the fair

Do you have last-minute holiday shopping to do? Or a craving for gifts that are handmade and local? How about some shopping that not only gets you great stuff, but also rewards the hard work and learning of young entrepreneurs? The students of the Downtown Children’s Center’s Garden Room have just the thing for you — and you can even avoid a trip to the mall. Visit their Renaissance Fair now through Monday, December 23, from 2:00 to 5:30 pm.  More on the wonders that await you in a moment, but first, who are these kids?

The Garden Room’s kindergarten through fifth-grade students are with us before and after school, on school vacation days, and all summer long. That provides the luxury of being able to develop ideas and long-term plans for execution. No folks, this isn’t a school-age program where kids color a few worksheets, run around the gym, and count the minutes to going home. This is an incredibly enriching, stimulating, skill-building, and just plain fun learning environment in the space between school and home. It is by, for and of the kids and their interests and dreams. And have they dreamed big!

The Renaissance Fair has been in the works since at least last September, and there is a lot to show for that time and work. The 25 participating children are excited to entice you with gifts made by them in the Garden Room: yarn googlies, felt and ribbon crowns, cookies, fairies (and fairy wands, and pictures of fairies), iced coffee, greeting cards, cardboard swords and shields and daggers, and microwavable hand warmers. Prices range from just 50 cents to five dollars. Your exuberant salespeople will be decked out in period costume, also sewn right here by the kids themselves.

In order to become “shop owners,” children had to write a three-page business plan and have it approved; some of these are displayed on the classroom windows for curious passersby. Owners must pay for rent and supplies, but keep 60% of their profits. Owners get a break in rent if they hire other children to assist in the production or sales of products. Just as in the larger economy, there are different roles for different skills and interests. In the words of Lead Teacher Elaine Markey, the number one goal “is about working as a team, being inclusive and finding the best in others as well as ourselves.” Elaine and Assistant Teacher Randy Pollard choose an employee of the week each Monday, decorating the classroom door in her or his honor and distributing flyers about the child and her or his enterprise. Business plans, paying for rent and supplies, hiring and managing employees, quality control, marketing are all in a day’s work. One person’s Renaissance Fair is another’s solid introduction to entrepreneurialism!

And there’s more: as if the thrill of hard work and the fruits of their labor wasn’t enough, the eventual plan is for Garden Room students to set up savings accounts with a community banking partner — Not a class account, but individual child accounts, turning entrepreneurial skills into individual financial literacy. “We hope our children will view bankers as community helpers who will help them save for college, a car, a home. Someday!” says Elaine.

Fredrik Hedling and Bonnie West

The hard work of teachers and kids goes a long way, but everyone needs support to succeed. We’d like to highlight a couple community members who stepped in and provided just that so this Renaissance Fair could succeed: Bonnie West and Fredrik Hedling. Longtime members of the YWCA of Minneapolis, they exercise here regularly and sent their own children to the Downtown Children’s Center in the 1970s. One morning, they happened to notice a sign on the Garden Room door asking if anyone had an old sewing machine they might donate. Several children had developed interest and skill in sewing, and staff hoped to add another machine to the one already in the classroom.

Bonnie and Fred went beyond rummaging in their attic to see if an old machine could be found — they went out and purchased a brand-new sewing machine, enthusiastically (and without fanfare) donating it to the classroom. When asked if they would be willing to come and have their photos taken, they agreed but deflected attention, saying that everyone was making an awful lot of fuss over a small thing. It wasn’t a small thing to our kids and teachers, though. It showed them that there are people out there who care, people who take an interest in them even though they may not know them personally, who are kind, who listen when someone asks. In short, the kind of people we want children to know and know about in their wider worlds. Bonnie and Fred enjoyed touring the Garden Room and viewing the products students were sewing firsthand. Upon seeing the classroom library, Bonnie dashed out to her car and returned with another donation, this one a bilingual (English/Japanese) children’s book, Hideki and Kenji Save the Day. It is a book co-written by Bonnie herself, and is intended to help Japanese children in the traumatic aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami, but suitable for any child facing fears. Our students will learn from and take comfort in it for years to come.

This is what supporting child and youth development looks like. Committed and interested community members and organizations, teachers and families, all coming together to allow creativity, learning and self-confidence to flourish.

Thank you, Elaine and Randy. Thank you, Bonnie and Fredrik. Thank you, kids!

The Downtown Children’s Center Garden Room Renaissance Fair at the Downtown YWCA is open through December 23 (weekdays only) from 2:00 to 5:30 pm. Make sure to check in at the front desk as a guest!