Monday, June 21, 2021

Outdoor Magic

Early childhood educators have long known the benefits of outdoor play. To name but a few, outdoor play improves physical and mental health, provides meaningful and magical opportunities to explore and create with others, and presents chances for appropriate and necessary risk-taking. This year, which will always be known as the COVID year, with its many restrictions and surprising bright spots, we've seen for ourselves day in and day out just how much our children have benefitted from spending so much time outside. We've seen the theory play out in practice. If anyone had any lingering doubts that outdoor play was different from indoor play and just as crucial for children's healthy development, this year put those doubts to rest.

Because we were told to be outside as often as possible, we went outside as often as possible. We ate snack and lunch outside. We did art projects outside. We played with legos and magnatiles and blocks outside. We went through tubs of sidewalk chalk and gallons of bubbles.
 We planted and watered and weeded. One class planted bulbs during Sukkot and watched the daffodils bloom during Pesach. Another planted and enjoyed lettuce and cilantro. 
We played with sticks and dirt and rocks and built bridges and forts and habitats for cicadas. We discovered so many spaces around the synagogue building that we had to give them special names. We needed a shared language so we could talk to each other about where we were going. In addition to the sukkah courtyard and amphitheater, classes played in the secret garden, by the climbing tree, in the field, and in the forest.
We also created new spaces. We hope you'll enjoy the Preschool Havdalah Herb Garden near the back parking lot and that you stumble upon the painted tree stumps in the secret garden behind the front parking lot. We worked with parent volunteers to enhance these spaces to make them even more beautiful and intentional. We have another project in mind, and we invite you to help us build it. We're planning on creating a Seven Species Garden in the grassy area to the left of the glass parking lot doors. We hope to build a new raised garden bed in the shape of a Star of David. We want to plant a fig tree and see if we can grow pomegranates. We imagine steppingstones and benches for wandering and resting. Like all the other spaces described so far, this will be another space that everyone in our community will be able to enjoy.

We'll be looking for gardeners and carpenters and anyone with a passion for outdoor learning. Stay tuned for more details and thank you in advance. Have a wonderful summer and see you in September!

Friday, May 14, 2021

Shavuot -- Do we really need all these rules?

We've quite literally been counting down the days until our next holiday, Shavuot, which begins in a few days. Starting on the second night of Passover, we count every day until we reach 50. Since we celebrate receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai on Shavuot, it makes sense that the holiday is linked to Passover. After leaving Egypt, the Israelites spent seven weeks in the desert before entering into the covenant with God.

Most people know The Ten Commandments, and some assume that they are the foundation of the Jewish moral code. But the Torah actually contains 613 commandments if you count every time God says "Do this" and "Don't do that" to the Jewish people. Some of those 613 are now impossible for us to observe (bringing sacrifices to the Temple) and some probably seem downright ridiculous to many of us now (not wearing clothing made with both linen and wool). But there are many others in those 613 that are, in my opinion, just as important as The Top Ten:
  • We are commanded to pay workers the day they complete their work so as not to take advantage of them: "On his day you should give his wages, the sun should not set on it, because he is a poor man and his life depends on it…"
  • "Do not put a stumbling block before the blind," which can be interpreted to mean that we shouldn't put any kind of barrier in front of anyone on their way to success or happiness
  • "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Children can most definitely relate to Shavuot and its celebration of the Torah, which in so many ways is a how-to book of rights and wrongs. Children thrive when they know what the rules are, when clear boundaries and expectations have been outlined and are enforced. Children feel more secure knowing that there are limits to their behavior, as well as the behavior of others. They feel safer and become more confident as a result. 

A great story to share with your children is No Rules for Michael by Sylvia A. Rouss. Michael thinks school would be more fun without rules, so his teacher (wisely) suggests a day without rules. Quickly Michael becomes frustrated and sad. At the end of the book he says, "No one will listen to me. No one will give me a turn. No one will share. I guess rules are important. Rules show people how to care about each other."

Friday, February 5, 2021

Shabbat Bags and the Family Prayer

"More than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews." 

-- Ahad Ha'am

Over the past few weeks, our friends have been busy making kiddush cups, candle sticks, challah covers, and/or tzedekah boxes to fill their very own Shabbat Bags. In the past, each class has shared a Shabbat Bag, with a different friend taking the bag home each week. Things are a little different this year. 

Today, every child will go home with the ritual items and a copy of the blessings needed to make Shabbat, and every week we'll send a friend home with a bottle of grape juice, candles, and baby challahs from our neighbors at Great Harvest. We hope you'll take a picture of your family celebrating (or getting ready to celebrate) Shabbat and send them to your child's teacher to share on the class blog. Whatever your family's faith tradition or level of observance, we hope you find this family dinner tradition as meaningful as we do. 

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)

Shabbat Shalom!

a different version originally posted February 17, 2017

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...