Jan 22

I did it my way


Something incredible happened today. A confident, independent, capable, AMAZING three-year-old (because all three-year-olds are all of those things and so many more!) found a bucket of Hebrew banana-gram tiles.

And she started to match the tiles to a set of Hebrew magnets.

And she created a system for herself to put the used banana-gram in a basket and the used magnet in a pile so that she could track her progress.

And then she matched every. single. Hebrew. letter. All 22 of them.

And then she did it again, like it was the most casual thing in the world.

My how you’ve grown! Look what you can do now that you couldn’t do when we first met you in September. How truly amazing.

Jan 19

Works of creation

Last week, as ענפים (Anafim, “branches” for 3rd-4th grade children) began exploring the text of קידוש (kiddush, a blessing for the beginning of Shabbat on Friday night), several children stopped short.

We were exploring the words that describe שבת (Shabbat) as a זכרון למעשה בראשית (zikaron lema’aseh vereishit- reminder of the works of creation). This reminded the children of the story at the beginning of the book of בראשית (bereishit, Genesis; literally “in the beginning”) about God creating the world in six days, and resting on the seventh day.

“But the story isn’t true!” said one child. “It didn’t take six days.”

“It took millions of years for the planet and all the animals to happen,” agreed another child.

“Yeah! It’s not true!”

I wanted to make sure to welcome this perspective into our שבת (Shabbat) theme, and give the children a chance to explore the idea of “remembering the works of creation” in a way they could connect to authentically.

So, this week, we dived back in time… about 4.6 billion years back.

“Here’s another way to explore the works of creation,” I said. “Take your pick: we have packets on the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras, plus the Precambian eon– that one goes all the way back to before there were living things; just lava and rocks. The pictures on the front will give you clues about what’s in each of those geological eras” The children eagerly chimed in: “I want the dinosaurs!” “When was the ice age, with the wooly mammoths?” “What’s that squishy thing in the ocean called? Is it like a jellyfish? Can I have that one?”

And then, within moments, the classroom fell quiet as the children settled in to read and explore. 

The lull didn’t last too long, though.

“How many years did it take for the earth to form at first, before this part happened?”

“And where did the sun come from? Was that first?”

“How do we know about how long things took before people were there to count?”

“What did the first animals eat?”

“Did the dinosaurs evolve from one of those bugs, or from something else?”

“Is it true that birds are dinosaurs? Or just descended from dinosaurs?”

“Yeah, and how come they didn’t go extinct like all the other dinosaurs?”

“WOW. A little planet COLLIDED with earth!” “Yeah, and the debris made the moon!”


There was so much wonder and excitement in the classroom.


Later in the day, we had a long, quiet יצירה (yetzirah– art/creativity) period by candlelight to help us get into the שבת (Shabbat) mood.

The children experimented with chalk pastels on dark paper, and I invited them to use those materials to reflect on how they interpreted the words “a reminder of the works of creation” from the קידוש (Kiddush).

One child drew שבת (Shabbat) symbols and objects, like a loaf of challah and a קידוש (Kiddush) cup, surrounded by Hebrew roots she knew: “bless/blessing” and “holy/sanctify” and the word “GOD.” “Because I think שבת (Shabbat) is holy. And it’s about thanking God for creating the world.”

Other children created Shabbat scenes with a cosmic background: the collision between the molten proto-Earth and the planetoid Theia that allowed it to begin to cool down and become solid; a home on which life could thrive. “Because, the prayer… one of the prayers says, שבת (Shabbat) is about remembering creation.”



Jan 18

Shabbat Moments

In Shteelim (‘saplings’ for kindergarten) the children have created rich dramatic play about שבת (Shabbat) based on stories that we have read and personal experiences.


In addition to house cleaning, שבת (Shabbat) dinner preparing and guest inviting, we have added going to the grocery store to buy things we might be missing for שבת (Shabbat).

One child suggested that one way to rest our גוף (guf-body) and our brain on שבת (Shabbat) is to get cozy and listen to stories, so we did just that!

This week in our שבת (Shabbat) play we had moments where we stopped and were asked to pay attention what our גוף (guf- body) was feeling.

When we were playing rushing around getting the house ready for שבת (Shabbat) and it was time to light שבת (Shabbat) candles we took a deep breath in and out and very slowly said the ברכה (bracha-blessing) and said how our גוף (guf-body) was feeling.

Teacher: What do you feel inside your גוף (guf-body) right now?

Child 1: Quiet, more shabbat like.

Child 2: There is something that is so different.

Child 3: Well we were rushing around, and we didn’t get everything ready but. But we are still doing it [lighting candles]. We felt calmer lighting the candles.

Child 2: {Shows rushing and stopping with her body}. Well, more quieter.

Now that we have a familiarity with the traditional elements of שבת (Shabbat), catch us next week when we will start exploring what שבת (Shabbat) might feel like.


Jan 18


Nitzanim children have been exploring what Shabbat might feel like. We’ve been testing out so many different ways to imagine or experience Shabbat feelings. We’ve been reading stories, practicing guided meditation, playing together, and more! Today, children explored the connection between Shabbat and night time. Are the feelings we associate with night and darkness connected to Shabbat?

When the sun was starting to set, we camped out in the atrium to draw and paint. Children included images of the sky, trees, and the ground in their watercolor crayon paintings. We’ve been working on techniques for using watercolor crayons, and wow did children demonstrate their skills!

Later in the day, when the sky was completely dark, we returned to paint the same scene.

Then, we compared our paintings to notice what they felt like.

Here’s what children had to say:

  • “…it feels peaceful when I look outside in the night sky… and Shabbat it feels peaceful… because we’re reciting the prayers with each other and it’s a time for being with each other and that makes me feel peaceful.” 
  • “Shabbat feels of peace.”
  • “Light makes me feel more like crazy and dark feels like calm. Shabbat feels calm, peaceful.”
  • “Quiet.” (She was explaining that her painting and Shabbat both feel quiet.)

What incredible ideas! I’m excited to see where this theme takes us!


Jan 18

Middle Schoolers Manage Their Own Schedules

One of my goals as a teacher is to let children drive as much of the learning process as they’re ready for. I’ve been working with this group for years on how to take responsibility for their own learning and the learning of their peers. This month, we’ve reached a new milestone: managing our own schedules. It’s a Wednesday thing, and it makes possible extended, small group conversations and yetzirah (art/creativity) on other days.


Here’s how it works: in my message (written, of course – have you ever tried to talk to a room of middle schoolers?), I supply a list of responsibilities for the day. It’s up to the middle schoolers to decide when they do them, and with whom. Here are just a few of the skills our middle schoolers know so that they can manage their own schedules: recognizing when my own body or brain needs a break, strategies for learning Hebrew, finding a place to work where I can concentrate, cleaning up after myself, how to ask a peer to work together, and how to help a peer learn something the peer is finding difficult. If you’re a parent of one of these middle schoolers, I hope you’re getting a picture of just how capable they are! and how kind these children are to each other!

Here’s what middle schoolers managed for themselves yesterday:

Eat כיבוד (kibud-snack) and refresh yourself.


Come to Trop class with Rabbi Rebecca. We are all learning to read Torah! It is SO exciting!

Do the Thinking Page to give your opinion about what YOU think we should do to make a Shabbat “pause” together that leaves us feeling refreshed.


Work on עברית (Ivrit-Hebrew) (either Shabbat lunch Kiddush or Friday evening Kiddush).

Be a מדריך (madrich-“leader”) in a younger children’s room.

And, we had time to play Shabbat and eat a treat with the nursery children!

Jan 17

Shorashim Shabbat

It’s time for Shabbat! The guests are coming over soon!

It’s time to polish the candlesticks.

And dust the furniture.

And cook a Shabbat soup.

The sun is setting, and it’s getting dark.

Time to light the נרות (nerot–candles) and cover our eyes.

Now it’s grape juice time.

Finally, let’s cut up the challah. 

Dinner time. Chicken and soup–delicious!

What a beautiful Shabbat!

Jan 11

Shteelim Shabbat

The beginning of a new quarter is an exciting time in Shteelim (‘saplings’ for Kindergarten) we have begun our new theme, שבת (Shabbat)!

We are doing some research to figure out how we might play שבת (Shabbat). So far we have been reading stories about שבת (Shabbat) and have done some careful looking at shabbat pictures.

 Shteelim (‘saplings’ for Kindergarten) practice taking turns sharing ideas.

Here are some ways that we saw the characters get ready for Shabbat:

“They started getting ready in the morning.”

“They cleaned up and polished the candlesticks.”

“They got a table cloth ready.”

“They made challah and dessert.”

“They got dressed up and they even matched.”

“It is like hard work but a little bit fun.”

A big focus in our play has been getting the house ready for shabbat שבת (Shabbat) and for the guests that are coming.

We rushed around getting ready until it was time to light נֵרוֹת (nerot- candles).

We paused, took a few deep breaths together and then had שבת (Shabbat) dinner with family and friends.

Part of our שבת (Shabbat) play includes trying out different ways of resting our גוף ( guf– body) and brain.

We tried yoga:

I’m going to call this “שבת (Shabbat) pose” because It reminds me of מְנוּחָה (menucha- rest) [from the days of the week song].

We participated in a candle meditation and drawing exploration:

During this exploration, children drew how they felt while watching the candle and breathing deeply:

I felt like a butterfly flying slowly.”

“It felt like I was resting.”

“The breathing was making me feel sleepy and the candle was making me feel warm.”


I am looking forward to more שבת (Shabbat) Shabbat exploration!



Jan 11

What Could We Do To Create Our Own Shabbat Pause?

“The Israelites should keep Shabbat, to make Shabbat…for in six days Adonai made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day (God) paused, and was refreshed.” (Ex 31)

What kind of a Shabbat “pause” could we do together that might leave us refreshed?

Here are several ideas 5th – 7th graders came up with:

  • “You could make boxes and put everything in your regular life into a box and then put it aside.”
  • “Let’s make a spa, with scented candles.”
  • “Make cupcakes!”
  • “Let’s make a tzedakah game, and everyone will start out with, say, $10 dollars, and there’ll be stores, like organizations, and they’ll have $10, and organizations can upgrade, and you can give your tzedakah…” (The game development went on and on!)
  • “Scavenger hunt!”
  • “Drink cold drinks.”

Somehow, we’ll design our own Shabbat “pause” to refresh ourselves. And just wait until the children start to think through the process they’re in right now: what does it take to “make” your own Shabbat? what genuinely refreshes our group? how might we balance traditional Shabbat practices with our own ideas of a Shabbat experience?


What a rich beginning to Shabbat exploration we’ve made together!



Jan 11

Opening up Shabbat

Oh, the beginning of a new theme is so exciting!

In ענפים (Anafim, “Branches” for 3rd-4th grade children), we opened up our שבת (Shabbat) theme with a big brainstorm: the children compiled a list of all the facts they knew or thought about שבת (Shabbat), and then, all of the things they wondered about שבת (Shabbat).

Then, they explored their first ideas using drawing, collage, or writing, and finished by noticing details about their own and each others’ work.

To give you a sense of what they’re thinking about, here are some of the facts and wonderings they shared:

-Drink grape juice/wine, eat challah

-Light two candles

-some people say prayers

-starts Friday at sundown, ends on Saturday when you see the first three stars

-A time for rest

-some people have dinner with family and friends

-Some people go to services

-it’s connected to the story of God creating the world in 7 days


-Why does it have to be on Friday-Saturday?

-why drink wine/grape juice?

-Why light 2 candles?

-If the whole point is to rest, why go to all the work of buying special foods and putting on a big dinner?

-If you don’t believe the story about creating the world in 7 days is true, why celebrate שבת (Shabbat) at all?

-Does it still count as שבת (Shabbat) if you celebrate it in ways that aren’t traditional?


Wow, right? I can’t wait to see where some of these questions will lead!



Jan 09


Yesterday, I watched as all five children chose to sit at the same שולחן (shulchan–table) to work on their Hebrew challenges. I wish I had a picture to share! Only a few children were actually working on the same challenge, but they all wanted to be together.

Just in the short time that we’ve been back from winter break there have been many moments like this one where the children have been drawn to each other like magnets, wanting to play and grow together, seeking connection even when working independently.

Like when one child was setting up a Shabbat scene at the dollhouse and another child, working in a different part of the room, headed over to offer an idea for attaching the roof.

Or, when this child quietly acted out a puppet show and two other children snuck up behind the video camera to get a peek.

These three begged to get the chance to play together.

And we all wanted to point to the words of the (Shema) together.

What gorgeous moments!

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