Working like elves for a day

ALISO VIEJO — Jack Finkelstein placed rolls of colored duct tape and scissors in the middle of his table and put a small piece of Velcro in front of each seat.

Then he folded his hands and waited patiently as other children sat down to do his craft.

"Share your scissors with people … share," the 11-year-old told the younger kids in his group.

It was Jack's turn to be a "teacher" for the Farm School's Elf Workshop on Tuesday. The alternative private school, which doesn't give out letter grades and has multiage classrooms, holds the workshops so the kids can make each other holiday gifts instead of buying them.

Jack chose a duct tape wallet for his project after seeing others sell them. He and his twin brother, Alex, couldn't stop talking about it and made a handful as examples for their classmates.

"I thought of the girls and just made this one up," he said, pointing to a duct tape clutch. "No one has made it before."

The Farm School originated at UC Irvine but moved to Aliso Viejo five years ago, when the university faced budget cuts. It started with 12 students and a couple more are added each year. Now there are 25 students and three teachers.

Teacher Nancy Enoch has been with the school for 25 years, starting when she was an undergraduate at UCI.

She said the workshop and other teaching opportunities began because the "big kids," ages 8 to 11, asked for more responsibilities.

Besides the workshop, the older kids also get to teach certain parts of the curriculum to the younger kids — developing lesson plans, gathering materials and setting goals for their students.

"I can't believe you do this every day for so many classes," Enoch said, recalling what a student once said to her about teaching.

The responsibility has taught the children how to explain, teach and be patient, she said.

They learn how to anticipate common questions and the best way to respond.

"Older kids try not to 'brain rob' the little kids," said teacher Dana Guruprasad. "They don't want to rob them of the chance of thinking on their own."

On Tuesday, there were two other craft tables besides Jack's, including Aidan Pollick's project. He had glue, tissue paper and jars ready to make colorful lanterns out of Mason jars.

Simone Lavik, 7, got started on her jar right away.

"I think jars are kind of weird," she said. "I haven't decorated them before, and I love trying new stuff, so I'm excited for it."

Another craft teacher, HwaMin Sim, showed his students how to make cardboard buildings.

The "teachers" were allowed to do crafts from other tables, but they always knew their primary responsibility was making sure their "students" were taken care of.

As Aidan, 8, worked on a duct tape wallet, he noticed a girl walk over to his craft table. He left to help her and told Enoch how proud he was of her for asking him for help.

Enoch said the girl was a new student and sometimes it takes a while to get used to the Farm School's methods of asking other students for help.

"One of the lovely things about Farm School children is that they see each other as individuals, instead of ages or grades," she said.

The students will have a potluck Dec. 16, when the big kids will make all the food and everyone will open their gifts. The "Solstice Fairy" will also make a visit.

The students have special gift lists with the names of friends and family for whom they will make crafts. The Farm School teachers leave the lists up to the children.

Enoch said sometimes students will finish their gifts early and ask who doesn't have as many gifts so they can make extra.

joanna.clay@latimes.com

Twitter: @joannaclay

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