Friday, October 4, 2019

Letting Our Children Make Mistakes

Later this month we will start reading the Torah from the beginning. The first book of the Torah, Bereishit, is also the name of the first parsha. The stories in Bereishit are the ones everyone knows: creation, Noah and the flood, the Tower of Babel, and the journey of Abraham and his family.

Image result for tree of knowledge of good and evil
We'll also read about Adam and Eve. God creates a paradise for them but warns them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Curious and tempted, of course they eat the fruit. In that moment, they become aware of their nakedness and lose their innocence.

I've always thought that this story is a beautiful metaphor for parenthood. We want to provide our children with everything they need to be happy and healthy and safe. We want to shelter them from the harsh realities of the grown-up world. But, ultimately, we can't. Our children grow up, explore, take chances, make mistakes. They become their own people and -- eventually -- leave home. It makes us sad, even though we always knew it was inevitable, because (let's be honest) we lose a bit of ourselves when our children grow up and grow away from us. 

I've always seen God as the model parent here. God realizes God wouldn't always be able to protect and shelter the human souls God had lovingly created, and therefore God lovingly lets them go when the time comes for them to start living their own lives. 

Letting go of our children, whether it's to attend preschool or leave for college, is tough. But it's what we do because we love them. And it's the hardest thing a parent will ever do.

The second hardest thing a parent will ever do is let their children fail, but let them fail we must. Letting our children make mistakes, letting them take risks, and letting them fail along the way is how they learn what it means to be an adult. Did God allow Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit? Or did God just know they were going to eat the fruit no matter what God said? Does it really matter? They ate it. They weren't supposed to. And there were consequences. 

I think the lesson to be gleaned from this story is that parents have to accept that their children will make mistakes. They have to accept that their children might even disappoint them by making choices the parents wished they hadn't. And that's ok. We're going to love them anyway, no matter what.

Wendy Mogel has written some excellent books for parents on raising resilient and self-reliant children. Check out The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Cultivating Empathy in My Children, From a Neuroscience Perspective

Image result for children helping children

Wanting to share another great article I've read recently, I dug into my archive and found this fascinating piece by Erin Clabough.

She explains that children need to be given the space to learn how to be empathetic, even when that means they will make choices along the way that we wish they hadn't. In order to really teach empathy, we have to allow our children to practice empathy in real time under real circumstances. They need to feel good (or not good) about the choices they've made. The neurology behind why this works is just an added bonus.

Clabough says, "To actively work on empathy, we must teach our children what to do with the feelings and thoughts that get dredged up by social conflict. To begin, we can provide a framework to process the social content — parents can name the emotions and help explain other perspectives.

And parents, then we back off. If we want compassionate acts to be deeply rewarding to our kids, then we have to allow them to pick a course of action on their own terms. And if it all goes wrong, we let them feel what that choice feels like. Afterward, we can provide a framework to process it and help our kids generate lots of alternative solutions. We talk them through the present, but instead of focusing on what went wrong this time, we help them see a clear path to choose differently next time."

Friday, September 13, 2019

What's Lost When We Rush Kids Through Childhood

I come across so many truly good articles about early childhood education and child development that it seems a shame not to share them. This one was sent to me by a colleague. It's titled What's Lost When We Rush Kids Through Childhood and it's an interview with Erika Christakis, the author of The Importance of Being Little.

What really resonated with me was her answer to the question of what quality early childhood education looks like. Her answer: relationships. I wasn't surprised that this was her answer; I was just thrilled to see it in print.

Image result for seeing world through child's eyes
Read the article here. And know that this is what we at Agudas Achim Preschool strive for every day.

Christakis also makes excellent points about taking the time to see the world through a child's eyes, slowing down, and not "adultifying" childhood. I hope you enjoy it. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Planting Fig Trees for Our Children

By the end of September, we'll be reading the final chapters of the book of Deuteronomy. Moses will remind the people of the covenant God has made with themGod has not only made this covenant with the "people standing here today," he'll explain, but also with "the people not here today." He'll be talking about future generations: us. And our children.

This notion that future generations are beholden to the promises of their ancestors might not fit with our modern sensibilities, but to me it's a profound reminder that what we do now -- or don't do now -- will matter in some way, somehow in the future. Our actions (and inactions) do have consequences, some of which are immediate, and some of which we'll never even live to see.

For parents, this might feel especially overwhelming and exhausting. It's just so much responsibility, which can be terrifying. At some level, it might even feel like a burden. But we do have another option. 

Image result for parent and child planting treeWe can remind ourselves of another Jewish value, tikkun olam, which means repair the world. We can believe it is our duty to work with God to finish the work of God's creation, meaning that it's incumbent upon us to do our part -- small or large -- to make the world a little better than we left it. We can remember that we're not doing it just for us; we're really doing it for our children and their children.

There is a story about an old man who is planting a fig tree by the side of the road. A stranger walks by and laughs at him: “Why are you bothering to plant that tree? You’ll never live long enough to eat its fruits!” The old man replies, “My ancestors planted fig trees for me. And now I am planting this fig tree for my children and grandchildren."

What constitutes a fig tree in our modern world? Slowing the effects of climate change? Finding the cure for currently incurable diseases? Of course. But how about getting to know your neighbors and smiling at strangers. Tipping the barista. Holding the door open for the man behind you. Making eye contact with the woman standing on the corner holding a cardboard sign and saying, "Good morning." When your children see you going out of your way to behave in kind and considerate ways, they learn how to respect and value others and their life experiences. They internalize these lessons, which they then model for their children. And, thankfully, hopefully, the cycle continues.

As this new school year begins, and as your children continue to grow, take time to acknowledge, and feel joy in, all the fig trees you're planting for them. It's easier than you think.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Grasshoppers to Giants

From June 2017

In a few weeks, we'll read about Moses sending twelve spies into the land of Israel to do a reconnaissance mission. They come back talking about a land flowing with milk and honey, but also inhabitants the size of giants. The scouts had felt like grasshoppers in their presence. Upon hearing this report, the Israelites are terrified.
Related image
I imagine that some of our students entering kindergarten next year might feel like grasshoppers when they walk through the doors of a school much bigger than the one they've just left. 

It's hard to do something for the first time. And going to kindergarten -- all by yourself, without mommy or daddy or a caregiver to walk you to your classroom door -- is a big first. But it's also one you'll never forget. 

I hope that your child's first day of kindergarten, whether it'll be this September or a fews years from now, is beautiful and meaningful. Your child might go in feeling like a tiny little grasshopper, but on the way out, full of pride and accomplishment, they'll feel like a giant.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

As the end of my third year as preschool director approaches, I’ve been thinking about how much we’ve accomplished together.
736x489 Image Children Playing Clip Art 2 

The preschool has a STEAM Lab, where the children explore concepts related to science, technology, engineering, art, and math; where they create and problem solve; where they collaborate and experiment with their peers; where they find new solutions to old problems; and where they prepare themselves for the challenges of the future.

Every December, the children shop at our Chanukah Bazaar to find gifts for their families, learning about giving as well as receiving in the process. We celebrate Purim every year with an increasingly hilarious Purimspiel, put on by the teachers. Every March, we spend a week focused on literacy, which culminates in a Storybook Day celebration when everyone is encouraged to dress up as their favorite character from children’s literature. It warms my heart when a child comes to school dressed as Frida Kahlo or the fictional Miss Viola Swamp.

We’ve found a way to bring Israel to the children (or the children to Israel, depending on your point of view) every year on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Just last month, after flying El Al and getting our passports stamped and currency exchanged in Tel Aviv, we went shopping at the shuk in Jerusalem, ate snack in a Bedouin tent in Beersheva, went fishing in Eilat, collaged doors blue in Tzfat, and undertook an engineering challenge in Haifa. Next year, Jerusalem!

As I’ve been fortunate to say many times in this space over the past three years, our playground, gross motor play space, and classrooms have been able to acquire more high-quality toys, games, and equipment, thanks in whole part to this community’s generosity.

Finally, all our teachers have been able to participate in professional development by attending the Federation’s annual Jewish Early Childhood Education Conference along with hundreds of their colleagues from around the Beltway. We’ve also brought in presenters to learn more about STEAM, early literacy, room design, and serving children with special needs.

Looking ahead, I’m excited about bringing more Hebrew into our classrooms, offering more parent education sessions and family programming, digging deeper into the importance of social-emotional development and play-based learning, and continuing to improve and update our facility. It is no understatement to say that having age-appropriate bathrooms in the preschool wing will be a game-changer. It will greatly reduce the amount of time we spend walking the children to -- and physically supporting them once inside -- our adult-size bathrooms; better yet, it will increase the amount of time we can spend with the children engaged in more meaningful activities.

The next few years may also bring other kinds of changes to our program. As more and more families require full-time care for their children, we may have to re-evaluate what kinds of services we are able to provide, and when and where we can provide them.

We also need to re-think the ways in which we advertise and promote our program to better account for the transient nature of our community, and that’s where we’d ask for your help. Families, and members of the synagogue community, are our single best resource when it comes to advertising, and positive word-of-mouth is what often brings prospective families in for a tour. I often hear from families who have just moved into the area and are just beginning to look for a preschool: I was at the playground (or my older child’s school) and I asked around and everyone said we should check out Agudas Achim Preschool.

Please continue to spread the word about our program, and let families know that we do have openings next year. Interested families can call or email me with questions. Thank you for all you have done and will continue to do for our preschool in the years to come.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- B'har

Originally published May 19, 2017

On Shabbat, the seventh day, we rest. We refrain from work, work often being understood as the act of creating something, or changing or altering something in a fundamental way. We refrain from creating in order to give our minds and our bodies an opportunity to rest, relax, and rejuvenate.  Let's not forget that even God needed a day of rest after creating the world.

Image result for overgrown garden
In this week's parshaB'har, we learn about shmitah. We learn that even the earth needs a rest. Millennia before scientific research confirmed the importance of crop rotation, ancient Israelites were giving their fields a rest from planting and harvesting every seven years. Their fields would lie fallow for an entire year during shmitah. This is both a simple act and a profound sacrifice, especially when you think about the practical implications in an early agrarian society. 

This is a beautiful idea to teach children, and one easily done by marking off a spot in the yard or garden and saying, "This part of the earth gets a rest this year. We won't plant anything; we won't pull any weeds. It can just do it's own thing. The earth works hard for us, and it deserves a break every now and then just like we do."

Letting Our Children Make Mistakes

Later this month we will start reading the Torah from the beginning. The first book of the Torah,  Bereishit , is also the name of the firs...