It’s the most wonderful lesson plan of the year! Last year, my class participated in a trip where people with disabilities could shop for the holidays with a little extra assistance. Most of my students brought money to purchase items for their families, but not all were able to do so. So what was I going to have them do while the others shopped ‘til they dropped (that they would genuinely like and that would not cause a behavior problem in public)?
Thus was born what became known as The Mouse Project. I thought it would be fun for my students to buy holiday gifts for a local family in need. Where would we get the money for these gifts? Well, we would run a little business from our classroom, of course!
The class worked together to make holiday ornaments that looked like mice. And silly me, I didn’t get enough glue for each student to have their own bottle. They had to take turns, ask nicely, and say “please” and “thank you.” They did a wonderful job of making each mouse unique—and practiced lots of social skills along the way.
My students were genuinely engrossed in the project, and each had a special responsibility. There was a marketing manager in charge of making and hanging up posters to advertise our sale. We had an accounting director who counted the money at the end of the day and “deposited” it into an envelope for safe-keeping. We had a CEO—classroom efficiency officer, that is—to ensure we had a safe working environment and that everything was picked up and put back where it was supposed to be. There was the sales director to greet customers and assist them with their selections. We had a supplies director in charge of making sure we had enough materials to keep production up with demand.
We talked about and role-played the social skills needed to do each job well. Each student was given a badge for their desks identifying their role in the process. Finally, we were ready to open shop.
So was anyone really going to buy any mouse ornaments? I e-mailed all the staff . . . and held my breath. The first day of our sale, people came pouring in. They came in droves all week. By the end of the week, we had made almost $200.
A local non-profit was able to suggest a family for whom we could buy presents. The mom was dying of ALS and had two sons, one about the same age as my students and another a few years younger. We got their wish lists: slippers, gloves, blankets. Then we got to work.
Using the store’s Web site and flyer, my students figured out how we could get everything on the wish lists, plus a toy for each boy, including tax, while staying under budget.
Finally, shopping day arrived. Each student was given an envelope with note cards listing which gifts they would be shopping for. Those who were also shopping for family members got to find one or two items, while the others were able to search for about four items each. We shopped, we paid, we rode the bus back to school . . . and we spent the rest of the afternoon wrapping our mountain of presents. It was my favorite day of the whole school year.
A few weeks later, we got a beautiful thank-you card from the family, along with a stack of pictures of the boys opening the gifts. We displayed them proudly in our classroom for the rest of the year.
Just last week, one of my students asked about those pictures, because they were no longer on the wall. It was hard to contain my excitement when I told him we’ll have another family’s happy pictures on display very soon.
I can’t wait to see how this year’s project turns out—I love this time of the year!