Third Grade Town Chapelfield Elementary

Parents and students at Chapelfield Elementary are no strangers to the annual Third Grade Town project. The school’s well-known event has evolved over the years, thanks to the third grade team of Rob Williams, Casie Taylor and Haley Doke.

According to Williams, the concept first began eight years ago when fellow teacher, Jennifer Sinkey, introduced the idea to have kindergarten, first- and second-graders use fake money to purchase goods or services from the third graders’ businesses. But Williams saw an opportunity to expand the project – not just teaching a valuable economics lesson, but also helping to pay for a fantastic field trip to Heartland Outdoor School, which offers students a hands-on way to learn about the environment.

Williams realized that they could hold Third Grade Town during the annual open house and art show, allowing parents to use actual money to purchase the kids’ products. The proceeds have been able to cover the costs of the field trip for the past two years.

The project ties directly into the students’ economics unit, allowing them to dive deeper into an understanding of the marketplace. They think of a good or service they can provide, from snacks and paper airplanes to jewelry and face painting, and then they go to market with that product. To advertise their business, students may “purchase” space on the morning announcements or hang fliers in the hallway.

The project is introduced at the beginning of the economics unit to allow students time to think about their plan as they learn. They then make business plans, either independently or with a partner. This year, several students designed games with prizes or made food products with ingredient lists. The most popular idea Williams has ever seen was about four years ago when students cut holes into a cardboard box for arms and legs and added handles to make a car. They allowed customers to “pay” to take the car out for a spin.

This year’s Third Grade Town was held on March 21, during the open house and art night. Parents and other students used real money to buy tickets, at 50 cents each, and the third-graders were able to keep track of their tickets to see how much money they raised for the field trip. Students are told how much was raised at the end of the evening and are then asked to reflect on what they could do with that money beyond the field trip.

“Kids see stuff they want when they’re at the book fair or at the store with their parents,” said Williams. “After the project, they realize if they work hard, they can make money to buy those things. It’s really rewarding for them to have more control of their choices by doing something like opening a lemonade stand over the summer to make a little cash. The project shows them that they have that kind of freedom.”

And it’s not just participating students who are having fun and learning through this effort. The entire school gets involved and looks forward to the event each year.

“Older kids love to come back and talk to the third-graders about the projects they did at their age,” said Williams. “The younger kids can’t wait to do their own, and many have already started planning their future businesses.”

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