Winter weather makes many a bibliophile long to curl up with a good book, and Elm Street Elementary School’s media center is making it easy for students to indulge themselves.
Each year since 2012, the school’s media specialist, Shannon Ewing, has created “reading caves” – themed hideaway cubicles – where children take turns snuggling in and losing themselves in a book for a few quiet moments as hustle and bustle of the Christmas season approaches.
“Children and adults of all ages have always loved crawling into small, cozy spaces to read and be together,” Ewing said. “ I remember making plenty of blanket forts when I was younger and still do with my own children. I wanted to bring that into the media center with the focus on reading during the holiday season. It's a fun way to promote reading and relax during the busy time of year.”
Parents, teachers, staff and students all pitch in to create the reading caves. In the first year, that meant transforming the shelf areas into eight book-themed nooks using butcher paper, cardboard and imagination.
“We didn’t know how it would turn out, but the students absolutely loved them,” said Ewing, who was the Coweta County School System’s 2016 Teacher of the Year. “We also found they loved to read in them. Goal accomplished.”
Ewing said the tradition is to spend two days constructing the caves and to make them available beginning the week before Christmas break. Themes have included Harry Potter, Magic Treehouse, I Survived, The Grinch and Willy Wonka.
“We even had a closet constructed one year that the students had to walk through to get to the Narnia cave,” Ewing said. “One year, we gathered over 350 milk jugs to create an igloo cave.”
Ewing said some of her favorite caves include student work.
“One year, I sent a gingerbread man home with each student so they could decorate it and bring it back to display on our Gingerbread Man cave,” she said. “And this year, second-grade students contributed their engineering drawings to the Rosie Revere, Engineer cave.”
We have had caves constructed for Harry Potter, Magic Tree House, I Survived, The Grinch, and Willy Wonka to name a few. We even had a closet constructed one year that the students had to walk through to get to the Narnia cave! One year we gathered over 350 milk jugs to create an igloo cave! Some of my favorite caves include student work. One year I sent a gingerbread man home to each student and they could decorate it and bring it back to display our Gingerbread Man cave. This year 2nd-grade students contributed their engineering drawings to the Rosie Revere, Engineer cave.”
The only “cave rule” is that the school does not repeat a cave for at least five years to keep the designs fresh and exciting for students, Ewing said, adding that the undertaking is done with the full backing of school administrators.
“Elm Street is such a treasure because the staff and teachers always feel supported by our administration and each other to take risks and try new ideas,” Ewing said. “I could never take on reading caves by myself.”
Once the caves are complete, each class spends an hour in the media center. Students have 15 minutes to explore the caves before selecting their favorites to crawl inside and read. They switch caves during their hour so they can read in a variety of settings, and all caves are equipped with Christmas lights or flashlights to read by.
For the youngest students who may not yet be skilled readers, adults volunteer as “cave readers” so everyone is able to enjoy the experience. Caves stay up for five days so all of Elm Street’s classes can get a turn.
“It is a lot of work, but well worth it when we hear and see how much the students love them,” said Ewing who then confessed, “I think I secretly love them just as much.”