Crowds of children ranging from 4 to 9 years old, from 24 different schools, flocked to North Carolina’s Tweetsie Railroad Theme Park in May for some special Letterland Adventure days. On those days, the whole of the mountainside park was transformed into the special world of Letterland!
There was music in the air and wide-eyed anticipation on the children’s faces as they poured out of their buses and arrived on Letterland’s Main Street escorted by teachers and many volunteering parents.
The children were fascinated to find live versions of their favourite Letterland characters coming up to them, shaking their hand and talking to them. These characters were a combination of Tweetsie staff members and high school drama students, all in costumes specially made for the occasion. The children also had the chance to meet Letterland’s author and originator, Lyn Wendon, and her son Mark Wendon who runs their family company, Letterland International. On these occasions he was impersonating guess who… with that green hairy hat on?
The famous Tweetsie railroad train was transformed into ‘Talking Tess’s Train’ for the occasion, taking visitors on a 20-minute ride around the mountain. Further up the mountain was Firefighter Fred’s ferris wheel, and lots of Golden Girl go-carts to ride in too! The children could also take a mini-train into ‘Munching Mike’s Mouse Mine’ and ride on Clever Cat’s Carousel.
There were lots of animal friends to discover in Zig Zag Zebra’s Zoo, including Lucy Lamp Light’s lovely llamas, some dappled deer near Dippy Duck’s Duck pond, and even two enormous emus belonging to…? Mr. E, of course! Children could chat with Harry Hat Man and even try on his green hairy hat. This year there were also opportunities to follow instructional goals drawn up by local teachers, including map reading (the park is BIG), counting, using ordinals, collecting data for making graphs, observing similarities and differences, etc.
One of the park’s historical features ‘Panning for Gold’, became the place to pan for Eddy Elephant’s emeralds for the Letterland days! Eddy himself was on hand to show the children how to sift out the little green gems to keep. The children also could take home other treasures, including lemon lollipops given to them by Lucy Lamp Light, a yellow yo-yo from the Yellow Yo-yo Man, and a precious ‘Key to the Kingdom’ from Kicking King himself. Many also went home with brightly painted faces applied by their friend Impy Ink.
This year’s festivities also included two Letterland plays, a puppet show (with the puppets operated by high school students), and a real fire engine from the Blowing Rock Fire Department, manned by a real firefighter who did a fabulous job taking on the role of Firefighter Fred. Everyone particularly admired Jumping Jim who, unbelievably, could actually jump while he juggled!
The participating schools and parents were all impressed to see that transforming the theme park into Letterland drew such crowds (well over 2,000 each day) and press attention, including a front page feature in the Mountain Times and an interview with Lyn and Mark Wendon on Mountain TV.
This special trip to Letterland, an imaginary place made real, was especially exciting for the children, because they had earned it as a reward for really applying themselves in their studies throughout the school year. Their teachers knew how well they had done before the annual DIBELS assessments became official. These results now confirm their record rise in reading test scores!
Many thanks go once again to Kathy Oliver, Literacy Specialist and K-2 Instructional Coach, who initially had the idea of turning a trip to Letterland into a great way to culminate the school year, and to Cathy and Chris Robbins, the owners of the Theme Park who together with all their staff entered into the spirit of this celebration so enthusiastically.
The first Letterland Adventure Day in 2007 was originally a one-off event, but Kathy’s idea really caught on. So it expanded to 3 Fridays in May 2008, and why it was repeated this May 2009 (the best yet!).
Now it has become a fondly anticipated event every year, attended by schools from many different counties. And there are plans already afoot for making the 2010 Letterland Adventure Days even more exciting and rewarding!
© Letterland International, 2011. Registered in England no. 1540779. Registered office: 8/10 South Street, Epsom, Surrey, KT18 7PF. VAT Number 424813757.