'Elf on the Shelf' finds a home in Highcliff kindergarten class

| Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Not all of Santa's elves are busy in the workshop preparing for Christmas this year.

One is on the loose in teacher Jill Zunic's kindergarten class at Highcliff Elementary School.

“It's a bad elf,” said Sidra Quinn, 5. “It never talks, but it makes messes every day. It's funny.”

Earlier this holiday season, Zunic, 31, of McCandless, made arrangements with Santa Claus to send an “Elf on the Shelf” to her classroom. She hoped it would help her teach reading, writing and good behavior to her 20 kindergarten students.

“The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition” is a children's book by Carol Aebersold and her daughter, Chanda Bell, that was based on a family Christmas tradition about a scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his “naughty” and “nice” lists.

Since the book was published, others have adopted the tradition of having an elf check on their children.

The 8-inch-tall elf arrived to the classroom in a brown-paper-wrapped package straight from the North Pole at the beginning of December. The students named her Shelby. Shelby will visit the classroom until the start of winter break.

“Every morning, the kids walk in to find Shelby sitting somewhere in the classroom,” Zunic explained. “She watches them throughout the day and takes a report back to Santa at night, telling him what they did in class and how well they behaved that day. The next morning, Shelby is back in our classroom, hiding among a mess she has made. And every day, she brings a PowerPoint message for the kids.”

The messages contain spelling and punctuation mistakes that the students work to identify and correct.

The children also write about Shelby in their daily journals.

And they discuss Shelby's daily reports to Santa.

“Yesterday's report says you're working hard, you've helped each other in different ways, and you've used kind words,” Zunic told her class Dec. 6.

The students cited various examples of how they have achieved these good reports.

“The report also says we have to improve by raising our hands, listening with our eyes and ears, and not tattling,” Zunic said.

But it's the elf's messes that are making the biggest impression on the children.

During Shelby's first morning in class, she was spotted reading a Christmas story from atop a heap of scattered books that were randomly tossed on the floor from a class bookshelf.

The next morning, the students found her near the class calendar, which was ripped and tattered.

“She's messy. But we're teaching her how to clean up,” said Levi Clark, 5.

There is only one rule for children when it comes to caring for an “Elf on the Shelf” such as Shelby: It cannot be touched — ever.

Otherwise, it will lose its Christmas magic, which enables it to fly back and forth from the North Pole to the classroom every night.

Unfortunately, there are no rules for elves to follow.

“She's only been here three days, but she's already messed up our bookshelf, wrecked our calendar and eaten our snacks,” said Lou Stevens, 6. “But we still like her.”

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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