Friday, March 23, 2018

Shabbat Around the Table -- Passover and the Four Children

Image result for four children seder

I love Passover. I mean I really love Passover. It's my favorite holiday. I love all the cleaning and physical preparation that goes into it, I love the food, and I love the seder. As an educator, I realize that the seder is what it's all about. Every year we tell the exact same story as we did the year before (and the year before that). We do this because we can always learn something new from an old story.

At one point in the seder we hear from the four children, one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who doesn't know how to ask. This usually engenders jokes about who at the table is wise and who is wicked. But, again, as an educator, I know that this part of the seder is what it's all about.

In our quest to learn, we all come at the question differently. We bring our own experiences and understandings, our own strengths and weaknesses, our own biases and perceptions. We come as individuals whose questions and ideas are just as valid as those of the person sitting next to us.

For me, the four children represent the many different ways we have to teach so that everyone can learn. The wise child helps us remember the tried and true teaching methods; the wicked child keeps us on our toes and reminds us that the methods we've used in the past might not be good enough anymore; the simple child forces us outside our comfort zone as we search for new methods to help them understand; and the child who doesn't know how to ask reminds that there's still so much for us to learn.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Shabbat Around the Table -- Vayikra

In this week's parsha, Vayikra, we learn all about the animal and meal offerings brought by the priests to the Sanctuary. There is a distinction made between "sin" and guilt offerings; the former is for those who have knowingly transgressed and the latter is for those who are in doubt as to whether they have transgressed. (Click here for a more detailed explanation of the meaning and consequences of "sin" in the Jewish tradition.)

We obviously don't expect our children to bring sacrifices to the priests when they make mistakes and hurt friends. But what about saying "I'm sorry?" Is that enough? Is is meaningful? Is it really developmentally appropriate?

The answer to all three questions is "probably not." Giving children words to say doesn't mean they understand those words. Telling them to do something to express regret doesn't mean they feel regret. Expecting them to understand the consequences of their actions doesn't mean they will. We also don't want "I'm sorry" to become a meaningless phrase that a child says automatically when they're afraid they're about to get in trouble, thinking their words are the equivalent of a get out of jail free card.

A better approach is to teach children how to "make amends." The child who has done the hurting asks the child who has been hurt what they can do to make them feel better. The child who has been hurt might say, Give me a hug, or Don't do it again, or Say you're sorry, or even a combination of all three. This not only empowers the child who has been hurt, it teaches both children that making amends is a complex process. It's not enough to simply say, I'm sorry. To really make amends, one has to acknowledge their mistake and change their behavior. In a way, one has to make an offering, and give something of themselves as part of the process.Related image

Friday, March 9, 2018

Shabbat Around the Table -- Vayakhel-Pekudei and Good Deeds Day
In this week's parsha, Vayakhel-Pekudei, the Israelites are commanded to build the Mishkan, or portable sanctuary. They donate such quantities of precious metals, precious stones, fabrics, animal skins, wood, herbs, and oils that Moses has to tell them to "stop doing work for the offering of the Holy." The people are described as "wise hearted" and "generous hearted." They are people whose "hearts uplifted and inspired" them. Such was their desire to contribute to the building of a sacred space that they gave more than what was strictly needed.

What a good problem to have. And what a valuable lesson to impart. We can give for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes we give because we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Whether we're donating resources or our time, giving provides us with the opportunity to build stronger connections with our community. Working together to do good brings us together in more ways the one.

Click on the link above to learn more about Good Deeds Day and how you and your family can give to your community. Agudas Achim Congregation will be participating; stay tuned for more information!

Friday, March 2, 2018

When Teachers Play in the STEAM Lab, Part 2

Last month, I outlined some of the foundational principles of the STEAM Lab. I also mentioned that our teachers had a chance to explore the Lab as part of their professional development day in early February. This month, I'd like to share some specific examples of the ways in which we use the STEAM Lab every week.
Sometimes the children will be given
challenges, just like our teachers were.
This group was challenged to move the 
Matchbox car, without using their hands.
They were given balloons, a magnet, 
tape, straws, and a cup.
This group was challenged to build a
house that wouldn't fall down. Their
materials? Two sheets of paper, two
paper clips, two band-aids, two
sticks of gum, and scissors. They did it!
We were reminded of the importance of
literature in STEAM, especially to pique
the children's interest. This fantastic picture
book is based on a true story. Check it out!

The children are introduced to engineering concepts at the ramps station, where they use ramps, balls, and tubes to construct trails and paths. They develop an understanding of physics-based concepts such as incline, elevation, mass, force, and motion in an organic way as they play. The children must work together to plan ahead, test their designs, fail at first, and then try again and again until they succeed.

In the beginning, the children were simply presented with the materials to explore. The next week, they were challenged to build a pathway that went from one end of the room to the other. The week after that, they were challenged to build a pathway that could carry a ball from one end of the room to the other. With each passing week, the pathways get more sophisticated as the children become more familiar with the materials and their confidence grows.

At the light laboratory the children explore the color, hue, and intensity of light by controlling the table’s knobs. They mix red, green, and blue light to create a rainbow of colors, and use multi-colored translucent discs and cups to discover even more about colors and color mixing. Added features such as a marble board, weaving ring, drawing board, and messy material tray offer the children opportunities to practice other skills with the added element of light and color, for an experience that keeps them engaged for extended periods of time.

The creation station currently is outfitted with all different kinds of paper and paper-like materials of different thicknesses and textures for cutting. Just cutting. There’s wrapping paper, recycled coffee bags, old x-rays, rolls of receipt tape, cardboard, gift bags, running bibs from old 5K races, note cards, paint color chips, and much more. After spending weeks cutting, and building up the muscles in their hands and becoming more dexterous, the children sorted all the cut pieces by color and have begun creating color collages. Soon, the creation station will become an area for color mixing, and each child will mix and name their own color of paint.

Finally, the sensory table is currently filled with unrolled VHS tape, silvery icicles, and magnets. Because these materials are so novel (most sensory tables are filled with rice or beans), the children initially didn’t know what to make of them. But many soon learned that with one big swirling motion you could gather up most of the tape and icicles in one hand. One friend even “poured” the tape all over his body; thankfully, the cleanup was quick and easy. The look of surprise on children’s faces when they picked up the magnet wands and discovered all the magnetic pieces at the bottom of the table was precious. They delighted in finding this “treasure.” Now that we’ve had fun with these unusual materials and since Pesach is right around the corner, we’ll be filling up the table with water soon. The children will be challenged to create a basket out of tinfoil for Moses that can hold a few pennies, and they’ll be challenged to see if they can get the waters to “split.”

These are just a few of the stations and materials in our STEAM Lab right now. It will continue to grow and evolve over time. Thank you again to everyone who has made this possible. Your generosity has been overwhelming. Todah rabah!

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...