Steamboat Springs The halls were alive with the sound of excited children.
Inside, the warmth of Soda Creek Elementary School's snow-covered edifice, anxious children put finishing touches on graham cracker houses, gumdrop bushes and candy cane light poles.
It may have been the last day of class before winter break, but even the fun projects taught valuable lessons, third-grade teacher Allyson Spear said.
"The last day is not a wasted day," Spear said. "It might be a more relaxed atmosphere, but there are lessons going on."
Spear divided her class into groups of four students. Each group was assigned an accountant, a banker, a buyer and a check writer. Given $500 in make-believe funds, the teams had to decide how to allocate their money, how to balance their account books and write checks, and most importantly, work as a team.
The goal was to accomplish these tasks as well as build a candy-house village.
Building supplies -- graham crackers, candy and icing -- were kept on a table at the back of Spear's classroom nicknamed the "W.V. Market."
The accounting work had to be correct before teams could use the supplies and any mistakes were sent back to the team for correction.
"You can teach them more abstract concepts when you combine them with hands-on activities," Spear said.
For the kids, the lesson was a nice change from more traditional daily assignments.
"We learned geometry," Brett Gordon said. "We have to know the right shape to build our house. If you don't have the right shape, you have to put a lot of icing on it."
Brett's team should know -- their first house collapsed.
"We learned how to write checks," Sydney Bauchnecht said.
The house-building project suited James Terry's stomach, too.
"I learned that eating is more fun than building," he said.
Today begins a 12-day break for Steamboat Springs School District students, teachers and staff.
Teachers welcome the vacation as much as the students, Soda Creek Principal Judy Harris said.
"It's a busy time of the year -- people are tired," Harris said. "The staff feels the same way (as the kids do)."
Schools reopen Jan. 2 for a two-day week.
The short week is a good way of easing students back into the second half of the school year, Spear said.
"The two-day week is a nice transition," Spear said. "The kids are ready to come back and ready to continue to learn."
Some families use those two days to extend holiday vacations, but Harris said those parents are keeping their children away from important classes.
"Every day is a learning day," she said. "We stress to parents that those two days are important."