Why spend the final days of the school year studying in desks and taking notes off the whiteboard, when students could be sitting cross-legged on the floor, eating s’mores around a (fake) campfire?

The first-grade teachers at Satilla Marsh Elementary have spent the last two weeks doing the latter, by transforming their classrooms into campsites and crafting their reading, math and science lessons around a camping theme.

A sign at the front of the school’s first-grade hallway welcomes students, teachers and visitors to “Camp First Grade,” and the teachers spared few details when decorating their classrooms.

In first-grade teacher Pepie Morris’s class, a faux campfire sat in the center of the room. And on Thursday, her students were scattered on the floor around it, as they completed that day’s STEM activity — to build a three-dimensional camping tent using no more than a handful of mini marshmallows, some toothpicks and a napkin.

“The teachers actually all went to the Ron Clark Academy back in November, and he’s really big into classroom transformations,” Morris said. “I’ve been teaching for about 15 years, and I’ve been doing transformations for years before I came here. But this is the first transformation we’ve had here in the first grade.”

A few students had the coveted seats inside a full-scale camping tent, a favorite classroom feature for many of the first-graders.

“My favorite thing is getting to sit in the tent,” said first-grader Evan Pacleb. “You have to be good to get to sit in the tent. You get to sit in the beanbags while you’re working.”

Paper trees and string lights were pinned up on every wall, lanterns rested on the tables and a kayak stood at the front of the room, next to a seven-foot cardboard cutout of a black bear that towered over the students.

“The parents donated everything — the tents, the camping chairs,” Morris said. “We just sent a letter to our parents that said we were doing a camping transformation … and look, I got lanterns, deer heads. We got all kinds of stuff.”

Classroom transformations offer a creative way to stimulate learning, Morris said, particularly when schoolwork is winding down at the end of the year.

“The last few weeks of school, it’s very hard to keep them focused,” she said. “We were able to immerse this theme across the curriculum. We still use our reading strategies that we use everyday, we’re just using camping-themed books. We’re still doing opinion writing and persuasive writing, we just did it with a camping theme.”

Back out in the hallway, a paper camping trailer had been fashioned along one classroom wall, across from a log cabin decoration outside another class.

In Lisa Fauth’s classroom, the students laid on their stomachs and sat beneath desks, reading camping books by the illumination of flashlights.

The teachers were able to integrate their entire curriculum into the camping theme, Fauth said, and the students seemed to enjoy the innovative approach.

“This was so much fun,” she said. “It was a lot of work for the teachers, but I think the kids really enjoyed it and they were so excited.”

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