Friday, February 17, 2017

Shabbat Around the Table -- Family Prayer

Tonight many of our friends will be celebrating Shabbat using special Shabbat bags they've brought home from school. The bags come equipped with two mini challot, grape juice, a kiddush cup, candle sticks, candles, a story book, and reflection pages. Before the end of the year, each child will get a chance to bring the Shabbat bag home. 

In thinking about what we hope each family will take away from this experience, I could only think of the 'family prayer' we say at my house every Friday night:

We thank You, God, for enabling us to welcome this Shabbat day together.

We are grateful for the happiness of our home and for our caring and loving family.

We are thankful for the blessings of the past week: for life and health, for laughter and friendship; for the opportunity to work, to learn, and to grow.

Where these have been lacking, may the coming week be better.

We pray that the peacefulness of Shabbat will refresh and inspire us so that the week ahead will be one of blessing and accomplishment for each of us(Emphasis added at my house!)

(from Siddur Sim Shalom)

I was so excited to hear about this tradition when I first started working here this year. What a lovely way for the children to bring home what they've been learning at school, and what a lovely way for families to share a meal together. Whatever your family's faith tradition or level of observance, we hope you find this tradition as meaningful as we do. Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Shabbat Around the Table -- Beshalach

In this week's parshaB'Shalach, the children of Israel finally leave Egypt. Followed by Pharoah and his army, they reach the Sea of Reeds, where it seems as if they're trapped. God then causes the sea to split, creating two walls of water and dry land on which the Israelites can escape. When Pharoah tries following them, the waters fall back into place, drowning the Egyptians.

In celebration, the Israelites break into song. Moses's sister Miriam leads the women in singing and dancing and making music with their timbrels. There's no better way to engage children in a story or a tradition than with a song, and singing around the Shabbat table at the end of the meal is lots of fun. Ask your children which songs they know, or check out some new music. Try Debbie Friedman, Judy Caplan Ginsburgh, Sheldon Low, Rick Recht, or (my personal favorite) Sally and the Daffodils.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Constructivism Part 2

Last month I shared Rabbi Meir Muller’s belief that children need (metaphorical) mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors in order to meaningfully construct knowledge about their world from their experiences. This hews to the theory of constructivism, which posits that one does not – in fact often cannot – learn directly from another. Information can be shared but knowledge cannot be given. Knowledge must be constructed from one’s own experiences and by actively engaging with those experiences, turning them over in one’s mind, making connections, and finding new meaning. Constructivism is a theory of learning, not of teaching.
            
Rabbi Muller explained that there are four key factors in constructing knowledge, which relate back to his mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. (To recap: with mirrors, children see themselves in their experiences and therefore give import to those experiences; through windows, children see opportunities to apply their learning to new situations; by going through sliding glass doors, children engage with the bigger world and test their knowledge.)

In the first key factor to constructing knowledge, leaners must have hands on experiences and be able to internalize those experiences before they can truly learn. Hands on experiences are often sensory in nature and must involve the whole child. Children must engage authentically with their world and feel true emotions for real learning to take place. For example, we need to be careful that we don’t inadvertently give children the impression that the Torah is a lightweight, fuzzy, soft, blue and red toy that can be dropped on the floor. In order for children to really learn what the Torah is and what it represents they need to engage with a real Torah in an authentic way.

The second key factor is the hardest to provide, only because our rushed world is always pushing us to do more, faster. The factor is time. Children need time, lots and lots of uninterrupted time, to explore their world. They need time to notice how their world changes when just one tiny variable is added or taken away. They need time to build on what they’ve processed the day or week before. They need time to suss out why something is the way it is or works the way it does before a well-meaning adult jumps in to offer a little “help.”

This doesn’t mean adults have no role to play in the constructivist classroom. Social interactions are the third key factor. One way children construct knowledge is by learning from someone else something that they could in no way have gleaned for themselves. A good way to understand this is to think of a technology that is no longer in use in today’s world. Without the practical experience associated with that technology, we really can’t know or understand what it once did. Would a child growing up with iTunes be able to make sense of a gramophone?

Finally, passion and wonder are required in order for children to construct knowledge. Without that inspiration to know more, to ask “why,” sometimes over and over again, there will be no learning. That doesn’t mean it’s on us to make sure our children are always interested and entertained. Instead it means that we shouldn’t quash children’s innate curiosity by thinking it’s our job to directly teach them everything they need to know. If we trust our children, they will show us what they are ready to learn.

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