Friday, January 10, 2020

Why "I don't know. What do you think?" is Often the Best Answer to Your Child's Question

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"Why do Jews always answer a question with a question?"
          - curious reader

"How should they answer?"
          - Dear Abby

"No, really, why do Jews always answer a question with a question?"
          - same curious reader

"Well, how else are we supposed to learn?"
         - Morah Jen (taking over for Dear Abby)

"But there's got to be a reason, right? Like a real reason?"
          - increasingly frustrated reader

"Sure. What do you think the reason is?"
          - Morah Jen


"Ok, I'm sensing your frustration. 

Jews answers questions with questions because for us it's not about the answers. We're not really looking for the answer. How can we ever know the answer is the right answer? Or the only answer? So it's not about the answer. 

It's about the questions. It's about the journey. It's our struggle with the questions that connects us to our history, our ancestors, and to God. We find holiness in asking questions and debating what the answer is.

Also, it's just good pedagogy. Read this article to learn more."

Friday, December 13, 2019

It's All About Relationships

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Yesterday I attended a workshop entitled The Research Has Changed but the Children Haven't: Developing a Better Understanding of the Toddler Years. The presenter is passionate about developmentally appropriate practice and ensuring that our youngest children receive the nurturing care they deserve. She talked about a values-based education that's based on important things like helping children become more adventurous, caring, confident, cheerful, respectful, determined, persistent, open-minded, and creative. She talked about children needing to be independent as well as interdependent and dependent. She stressed that our guiding principle should always be "it's all about relationships."

Click here to learn more about Zero to Three, an organization working to educate parents and politicians about what the research really says about what young children really need.

I also attended Strategies for Maximizing Family Engagement. We learned the difference between outreach (it's more about the organization and what it needs, i.e. recruitment) and engagement (it's about what the people need, i.e. relationships). Her next slide declared, "It's all about relationships," clearly a theme for the day!

The presenter works for PJ Library, a phenomenal program that provides free books to families raising Jewish children. If you haven't already signed up to receive these books, you should!

Friday, December 6, 2019

My Friend, Fred

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For those of us lucky enough to be born at just the right time, we had the privilege of growing up with Mister Rogers.

I can still remember every nuance of his program, every quirk of his. The shoes, the fish, the trolley.

I remember wearing a light blue coat dress and white patent shoes and boarding a real trolley with my grandfather in Pittsburgh to see Mister Rogers speak. Our seats were very high up, and he looked so small sitting in a straight backed chair on an otherwise empty stage.

I remember the joy, again in Pittsburgh, again with my grandfather, as I flipped through the channels with my three-year-old son and landed on WQED. In a second my whole childhood came rushing back to me. I was excited, but also trepidatious.  I was about to introduce my oldest friend to my only son. Would he understand why Fred Rogers was so special to me?

Last year we saw a Mister Rogers documentary; this year brings us a Hollywood movie. So many think pieces have been written about Fred lately. I stumbled on these two recently. I hope you get as much out of them as I did.

When we were saying goodbye, I thanked him for all he had taught me.
“I think that it is very important to learn that you get that largely because of who you are,” he said. “I could be saying the same words and giving the same thoughts to somebody else who could be thinking something very different.”
I remember protesting. I was just trying to say thank you.
“It’s so very hard, receiving,” he said. “When you give something, you’re in much greater control. But when you receive something, you’re so vulnerable.
“I think the greatest gift you can ever give is an honest receiving of what a person has to offer.”
He was impossible to thank.

Within a half-hour of my bingefest, our youngest two children, then ages 5 and 7, came to ask me to help them with some homework. They sat down on the bed beside me and peered at the television as I looked over their worksheets.

In the episode I was watching, Mister Rogers had gone to a restaurant in Pittsburgh to show his young viewers how restaurants work.
“Mommy,” asked my young daughter. “Who is that nice man?”
“It’s Mommy’s friend, Fred,” I explained.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Soulful Teaching, Soulful Parenting

My favorite spot at Capital Camps, down by the creek.
On Wednesday and Thursday I spent time with my DMV Jewish preschool director colleagues at Capital Camps in Pennsylvania. We learned with Dasee Berkowitz from Ayeka, a group that aims to make Jewish learning less about content and text and more about making personal connections and finding meaning in everyday experiences.

The founder of Ayeka, Aryeh Ben David, says, "We are all about the future . . .  Our vision and mission are to make this world reflect the image of Gd, to rebuild the Garden of Eden.  We are not just about doing, and we are not just about being; we are about becoming.  Soulful Education invites each of us to continually take small steps in that direction, to become our better and even better selves."

I invite you to take a moment to explore Dasee's blog and to read about one of Ayeka's programs, Becoming a Soulful Parent.

The past two days were incredibly rewarding and invigorating. I look forward to sharing more of what I experienced in the months ahead.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Socially Awkward Person's Guide to Playing with Children

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The title of this piece is a little misleading. It should be the "Any Adult Person's Guide to Playing with Children." 

As a preschool director, I'm sort of a play professional, but even I sometimes struggle with playing with children. I'm comfortable doing it, I enjoy doing it, and I think I'm generally good at it. But, especially when my own child was very young, I sometimes found it challenging to play for extended periods of time. At some point, I would think I should be doing something else, something "more important."

At a workshop on Conscious Discipline this Monday, the presenter reminded us of the benefit of dedicated play time with our children. She quoted a statistic that I can't remember, but the gist was that if you spend even 10 minutes playing with your child, you build a connection with them that pays dividends.

She told a story about how hard it used to be once she and her two children got home from school every day and how frazzled she was trying to get dinner on the table. But once she made it a priority to play with her children first, as soon as they got home from school, prepping dinner actually took less time, and the evening was more enjoyable for everyone. 

So, slow down. Play. Remember that play is the important thing you have to do. And if you have forgotten how to play, read this article.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids and Start Raising Kind Ones

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I came across this article just last week. I was hooked as soon as I read the first paragraph:

"As anyone who has been called out for hypocrisy by a small child knows, kids are exquisitely attuned to gaps between what grown-ups say and what grown-ups do. If you survey American parents about what they want for their kids, more than 90 percent say one of their top priorities is that their children be caring. This makes sense: Kindness and concern for others are held as moral virtues in nearly every society and every major religion. But when you ask children what their parents want for them, 81 percent say their parents value achievement and happiness over caring."

Wow. We all say we want our children to be happy, caring, good people, but deep down, do we really just want them to be successful? Are we even conscious of this fact? Have our kids realized something about us that we haven't realized about ourselves?

The authors of this piece, Adam Grant and Allison Sweet Grant, go on to explain why kindness is essential in our society, how we all benefit from kindness, and how to explicitly reinforce kindness in our children.

When our kids come home from school, we always ask, What did you learn today? What if instead we asked, Were you kind to someone today?

The Grants convinced me to give it a try.

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Key to Raising Brilliant Kids? Play a Game

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Do you want your child to grow up to be a happy, healthy, caring, social person; a creative, collaborative innovator; a thinker; a good citizen? According to Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, the best (if not only) way to nurture these qualities in your child is to play because everything "goes through the social. Everything we learn starts with collaboration and relationships. When you think of it, we aren't born ready to hop out of the womb and into the world. We have a lot of learning to do, and the learning is social."

In this interview, Hirsh-Pasek explains the "6 Cs" children need to be successful learners: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence. We nurture these qualities through play.

Lest you think the "6 Cs" are just another educational gimmick, as Hirsh-Pasek describes them, they're really just a distillation all we've learned about child development and high-quality early childhood education over the past decades. Part of our learning has evolved from the mistakes we've made. For instance, we've pushed the curriculum down and disregarded everything we know about children's brains and children's bodies in order to meet inappropriate, unreachable expectations.

Hirsh-Pasek's message is simple. Push back. Play.

Why "I don't know. What do you think?" is Often the Best Answer to Your Child's Question

"Why do Jews always answer a question with a question?"           - curious reader "How should they answer?"    ...