Friday, January 27, 2017

Shabbat Around the Table -- Rosh Chodesh

Not only is tomorrow Shabbat, it is also Rosh Chodesh, or the new month. Tomorrow marks the beginning of the month of Shevat.

We mark the beginning of each new month at the new moon, and many of our holidays fall in the middle of the month, at the full moon. I genuinely enjoy watching the night skies in the weeks leading up to Passover to remind me how much time I have left to get ready for the holiday. As the moon grows and gets fuller, I have to plan faster!

It's a wonderful thing to make the time to look up at the stars and the moon with our children. Not only can we use the moon to track our holidays, but looking at up the celestial objects reminds us of the vastness of God's greatness. It gives us yet another reason to be thankful.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Shabbat Around the Table -- Blessings for Children

This week's parsha is the last in the book of Breishit, or Genesis. In it, Jacob blesses his sons before he dies. It has become traditional for Jewish mothers and fathers to similarly bless their sons and daughters on Friday evenings, often right after lighting Shabbat candles.

This can be a very meaningful moment for parents and their children. Parents often place their hands on their children's heads while reciting the blessings. In my experience, children, once they become teenagers, pretend to not like this tradition anymore. I think they secretly love it, because they know it's a demonstration of their parents' love for them.

In English, the blessings are:
For boys: May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.

For girls: May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.

For both: May God bless you and keep you. May God's light shine upon you and be gracious to you. May God's face be turned toward you and give you peace.

To learn more, and for the blessings in Hebrew, visit the website below.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Constructivism Part 1

In early December, Morah Virginia, Moreh Simon, and I attended Federation’s annual Jewish Early Childhood Education Conference. The theme of the conference was Ayeka, which translates as “Where are you?” It is the question God asks Adam in Gan Eden after Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree, realize their nakedness, and hide from God.
Each workshop at the conference challenged us to think about where we are in our beliefs about what young children truly need from the adults in their world in order to learn and grow. Where are we in our own personal journeys as early childhood educators? We left inspired and full of new insights and ideas. I’ll be sharing much of what I learned at the conference in the next several bulletin articles.

Meir Muller, an ordained rabbi who also holds a doctorate in early childhood education, gave a presentation entitled Ayeka?: Mirrors, Windows, and the Sliding Glass Doors of Constructivist Classrooms. Based on the work of the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, constructivism is the theory that knowledge cannot be transmitted from one person to another. Facts can be transmitted, and often are, especially in older classrooms. One person can relate facts to another person, and that person can memorize and regurgitate those facts, but that is not true knowledge.

True knowledge goes beyond recitation of facts; knowledge is how one understands one’s experiences, (which include facts, observations, and skills) turns them around in one’s head, makes connections, questions and investigates them, applies them to new situations, and creates new meaning. Knowledge is thereby constructed, and constructing knowledge takes time. In a constructivist classroom, children are given the time to construct meaning of their world through a variety of carefully planned experiences guided by the teacher. A constructivist classroom is full of opportunity for investigation. The teacher doesn’t tell or explain. The teacher asks questions.

So what about the mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors? Rabbi Muller suggested that children need (metaphorical) mirrors in which to see themselves in order to learn. They need to relate to the learning experience and find it meaningful for them before they can fully engage with it. They also need windows to see the outside world, to appreciate that there is a world beyond theirs, with new experiences. Finally, they need sliding glass doors to walk though, to engage with those new experiences and begin to construct knowledge anew.

Outdoor Magic

Early childhood educators have long known the   benefits of outdoor play . To name but a few, outdoor play improves physical and mental heal...