The Magic of Gingerbread: Building Memories Alongside Skills

Child's gingerbread house

Today’s post is an article I wrote for a sub-paper of the Boerne Star. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this story. I’ve fully embraced Kit’s playful, learning-centered approach to gingerbread house making! (She hates having her picture made, so I’m leaving it off of this post.)

Note that this is most likely my last post for 2012, so I want to wish you all a wonderful holiday break and a very happy 2013.

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Within a few decades, the holiday gingerbread house has transformed from novelty into seasonal staple. Lifestyle magazines and newspapers showcase grand and eccentric versions, and supermarket stockers crowd easy-to-assemble kits on to store shelves.

Meanwhile one enterprising Leon Springs woman has built a business around gingerbread house construction.

Each year, Kit Myers and her team of “gingerbread angels” oversee the construction of 500 individual houses. This is all accomplished in the spirit of teamwork and community building in Myers’ popular gingerbread workshops.

“The first workshop that I did was with my daughter. I knew it was going to be a learning curve, but I also knew right away it was something that I’d want to continue to do,” says Myers. “We use the term ‘workshop’ because of the holiday idea of Santa and his elves, but there has always been an instructional component in the middle of the party-like atmosphere. Real learning is involved.”

Myers points out that while people may perceive gingerbread house construction as intimidating, there are “no real mistakes that cannot be corrected by a little extra frosting and candy.”

Gingerbread workshop

While participants enjoy the candied fruits of their labor, Myers is quick to identify the more lasting benefits.

“Gingerbread is the tool that we use to build memories and communication skills. When kids work with adults, the child has a vision that the adult helps execute. They are telling a story in gingerbread together,” she says. “Fundamentally, I am myself a storyteller. And I enjoy teaching people how to tell stories.”

There are two basic types of workshops: one geared to family and friends and another designed to foster team building among co-workers.

“With the family groups, I make everything as easy as possible. I give written and verbal instructions. With the team-building workshops, I put challenges in place to make teams of people think more creatively. There are lessons about resource management.  I shortchange essential supplies in some groups, forcing them to work together to make trades. We also work on non-verbal communication, too.”

Essential as those team-building skills may be, there’s fun to be had. It is after all a gingerbread-centered workshop.

“There is something magical about working with all the gingerbread and candy, even among grown men. When I work with couples, the men are more hesitant initially. Then they start working and the men almost always decide they want to ‘fix’ the structures. And that’s how they get what I call ‘gingerbread fever.’ All of a sudden they become 8-year-old boys again. You see the child that this person once was. Eight years of age seems to be the exact age to which every adult reverts in the workshops. I say that age because I once watched a boy of 8 make a gingerbread Alamo, the first one someone made in the workshops. It was a simple, child-like representation. But it was indeed The Alamo. Kids of that age are in tune with their creativity. The workshops help adults get back to that stage again.”

Kit Myers Quotation

Myers relishes the creativity to which her students bring to the medium.

“I don’t want everything to look the same, like out of a store-bought kit. I want chaos; I want the structures to reflect the unpredictability of life. Life isn’t about balance. There’s always something a little quirky going on.”

This year Myers will teach over 23 workshops. She starts booking for the holiday season during the summer months. In anticipation, she fills her large dining room table with piles of supplies.

“There are over 90 boxes of candy this year. I do bake some of the gingerbread, but I found a baker who makes a high volume of marvelous product for me.”

Inspired by the boy who created The Alamo years ago, Myers now includes that structure as an option. This year she’s introducing a gingerbread train, too.

“We still enjoy seeing a traditional house, but we’ve gone so far beyond that. I’ve had participants create a bicycle, a space shuttle, and a football stadium. Someone turned gummy flowers into fighter jets. The only limit with gingerbread is one’s imagination. That sounds like a cliché, but trust me, in this case it isn’t.”

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