Friday, November 18, 2016

Shabbat Around the Table -- Vayera

This week's portion is Vayera. Abraham and Sarah graciously and without hesitation welcome three wandering strangers into their home and offer them food. It is the perfect illustration of Middle Eastern hospitality and the Jewish value of hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests). These are important values at any time of year, but how much more so this week?

With Thanksgiving upon us, we can teach our children the importance of hospitality and how to be good hosts. We can expect them to say "Welcome to our home!" and "Can I get you a drink?" when your guests arrive.  We can encourage them to offer the turkey to their sibling or their grandmother before they take some for themselves. We can teach them to consider the needs of others before they tend to their own needs and the importance of sharing with others all that they are blessed with. Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Imagination Playground and Loose Parts

Thanks to the generosity of the Chaiken family, the preschool has been able to purchase a set of Imagination Playground blocks for our gross motor play space in the social hall. Unlike a traditional playground, where the kind of play is predetermined by the different equipment available, Imagination Playground encourages open ended play, self-discovery, problem solving, collaboration, and creativity. The pieces are made of lightweight foam and can fit together in dozens of ways. Working in groups of 10-12, the children can build virtually anything they can imagine. Because the pieces are so large, the children also get to interact with whatever they’ve built. We’re so excited about our new toy! Thank you Chaiken family!

Imagination Playground falls into the category of “loose parts,” a philosophy that encourages children (and adults!) to use everyday materials to discover and create, imagine and build. According to Loose Parts, Inspiring Play in Young Children by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky, “ . . . loose parts means alluring, beautiful found objects and materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change while they play. Children can carry, combine, redesign, line up, take apart, and put loose parts back together in almost endless ways. The materials come with no specific set of directions, and they can be used alone or combined with other materials. Children can turn them into whatever they desire: a stone can become a character in a story; an acorn can become an ingredient in an imaginary soup. These objects invite conversations and interactions, and they encourage collaboration. Put another way, loose parts promote social competence because they support creativity and innovation.” Click here for a great example of loose parts play -- you might recognize the star!

If loose parts theory sounds like the kind of play you engaged in as a child, you’re probably right. And loose parts play is just as important now as it was then. In my opinion, the hardest thing about being an educator right now is that we don’t know exactly what skills and knowledge our students will need in the next decade. Or in 2030. Or 2050. Think of the technological changes that have impacted our homes, schools, and businesses in just the last decade. The iPad was released in 2010, only six years ago. Eight years ago, as a fourth grade teacher, I couldn’t have imagined the changes that the iPad would bring to the classroom.

The types of skills that loose parts theory, and toys like Imagination Playground, provide go way beyond technology. Loose parts play encourages problem solving and collaboration, critical and creative thinking, and flexibility and adaptability. The children who are in school today will probably live in a technological world that we can’t imagine, but they will face many of the same problems. By challenging and empowering them now we are enabling them for the future.

Please join me on Tuesday, December 6 at 7:30 pm for a discussion on Loose Parts, Inspiring Play in Young Children. We'll talk and play!

The Science of Shabbat Dinner

Every now and then I’ll come across a study that seems to confirm the importance or validity of a Jewish tradition. This happened a few year...