Themes and Projects
Our curriculum makes it possible for each child to determine their own relationship with Judaism. As children engage in deep and creative exploration of Jewish texts and ideas, we prioritize children’s questions, and together, design a long-term project that lets them wrestle with their biggest questions. All children ages 3-13 explore the same topic, or theme (such as “Yosef”, “Blessing,” “Haggadah,” or “Avraham v’Sarah” [linked to project gallery page]), starting with meticulous, collaborative study of a developmentally-appropriate translation that stays close to an original Hebrew or Aramaic text. Over the course of the theme, children of all ages design their own interpretation of the text through an extended creative project, developed through play, an immense range of artistic and expressive media, and conversation with peers. At the end of each theme, we share the children’s work publicly in a giant floor-to-ceiling installation highlighting their unique ideas and questions, and inviting conversation and reflection with family and community members.
Torah for All Ages
We believe that all children are capable of deep, authentic Jewish learning from a young age. In fact, when their natural curiosity, empathy, and desire to understand the world around them is truly welcomed and engaged in Jewish learning contexts, children not only learn Judaism, but become creators and owners of a vibrant, personal, engaged Jewish story and worldview.
It begins with nursery children, sitting around the snack table, listening carefully to a short Jewish text, translated into developmentally appropriate language that stays close to the structure of the original Hebrew or Aramaic text. Over the course of a few weeks, as children hear the text over and over again and “play” the text through building, painting, acting, dancing, puppetry, and a hundred other creative ‘languages,’ children begin to ask questions. “Why didn’t the Israelites listen?” “Why was he angry?” “Is this story true?”
This is the moment the door opens.
Educators have a choice: We can position ourselves as the source of knowledge and the static
“answers” of a rigid Judaism, or, invite children to follow their curiosity into discovering their own Jewish interpretations and place in the ancient and ongoing Jewish conversation.
“What do you think?” “Tell us more: what do you think the Israelites should have done?” “What words in the Torah are telling you that?” “What other ideas can you imagine? Can someone else think of another possibility?”
“It sounds like we have two different opinions about what Avraham should have done.” “Three different interpretations of this word! Wow!” “Let’s see how many ideas we can think of, for what this means.”
As the children get used to voicing their own questions and ideas, and listening thoughtfully to the ideas of peers, we introduce them to other interpretations: commentary from the Ancient Rabbis, interpretations in classical art and modern poetry, music and dance; contemporary activism drawing on those same ideas and texts. Empowered by the practice of articulating their own views and listening respectfully and carefully to the ideas of their peers, the children engage diverse new ideas critically and thoughtfully.
Comfort with the Hebrew language, and a working vocabulary, are essential to developing confidence in owning the texts of our centuries-old Jewish conversation. Hebrew is embedded into the auditory and visual environment and in the routines of our day, so young children pick up the language naturally. Children of all ages play games in Hebrew, often choosing how they would like to engage with the language that day. Hebrew is also woven into our physical playtime for younger children. During a daily “Hebrew time [link to day in the life section],” older children practice reading and writing in Hebrew, discover basic grammatical principles, learn key vocabulary, and master chanting a core set of prayers in Hebrew.
Language and Community
Language is one of our most powerful educational tools. At the Jewish Enrichment Center, we use intentional language to build children’s confidence; connect children with each other, Judaism, and the world; and to assert a belief that children can grow and master difficult skills. At the beginning of the year, each group collaboratively crafts its list of classroom expectations, and throughout the year, children explore what it looks like and sounds like to act and speak in a way that represents our shared values and expectations. By consistently using language in a way that validates children’s experiences, honors their best intentions, and supports their autonomy, decision-making, and capacity to take responsibility for themselves and their peers’ well-being, we help children grow into confident, empathetic community members. With encouragement and support, the children also learn to use language compassionately to resolve conflicts, build consensus, and challenge ideas respectfully and constructively.
Texts and Translations
Just as we believe our language matters in helping children take power over the learning, growth, and communities, we also believe the language of Jewish texts and traditions is an essential part of supporting our children’s authentic participation in the ancient and ongoing Jewish conversation, whether or not they are ready to begin engaging with the original Hebrew or Aramaic of ancient texts. We create several translations of each text we study in a given theme, ensuring that each child encounters a developmentally-appropriate translation that keeps as close as possible to the structure, word choice, and rhythms of the original. This helps children grow familiar with how ancient Jewish texts sound and flow, as well as supports a practice of close reading and valuing the interpretation of minute details within a text.
Diversity of Jewish Ideas
We value and celebrate the wide range of Jewish perspectives, beliefs, and practices within our community. When children share and discuss each other’s widely varying views about God, Jewish texts, Jewish traditions, or Israel, we create a community that represents our values of inquiry, self-expression, listening, reflection, and creative exploration. Exploring multiple perspectives in a respectful community strengthens children’s empathy and offers them more possibilities for shaping their own place in the world. We emphatically affirm and support the diversity of belief and practice among our community members, and our values are reflected in our use of language that honors a diversity of Jewish beliefs and practices as equal and authentic.
We use the auditory and visual environment to make our values visible. Our classrooms are designed thoughtfully with fabrics, comfortable furniture, and natural materials to create community gathering areas, a wide variety of cozy, flexible spaces for quiet work or rest time, and room to move around in, so that each child can meet their individual needs for noise or quiet, interaction or privacy, and stillness or movement. We offer an environment rich with Hebrew print and spoken words to support children’s familiarity with Hebrew language. Jewish objects and special Jewish books inspire curiosity and connect children to our shared history and tradition. Reggio Emilia-style documentation supports children in revisiting previous ideas and tracking their growth (and the growth of their peers) throughout a theme.
We believe that in order to develop an authentic, complex, and resilient Judaism themselves, children should see people of all ages living, creating, and transforming their own Jewish ideas and experiences. Accordingly, we design frequent inter-age group and inter-generational experiences. From the nursery children playing a Torah text with middle-school leaders, first- and second-grade children interviewing third- and fourth-grade children about their interpretations of a rabbinic text, and a visit to the middle school classroom from the local chevra kadisha (Jewish burial society) to talk about Jewish burial practices, inter-age learning is a frequent part of our curriculum. Children particularly enjoy getting to meet and interview adult community members, and this provides a wonderful opportunity to experience the range of beliefs, perspectives, and practices that Jewish adults have, as well as practicing friendly and polite greetings and thanks. Finally, by creating decorations for community celebrations, baking treats to deliver to other people and organizations at holidays, and writing thank-you notes to special visitors and people who help run our shared building, children spend time in and out of the classroom practicing building friendly and participatory relationships with the local community and other community members.
One of our primary aims is to support families in connecting with, celebrating, and sharing in their children’s learning. When children begin to explore a big Jewish question, their first frame of reference is what they have experienced with their family. The children’s home and family experiences are the starting place for exploration and discovery each theme. As part of our learning each theme, we invite immediate and extended family members to share their ideas, experiences, and questions with their children through interviews, letter-writing, and conversations. This broadens the range of perspectives and ideas the children consider, and also helps families connect with and participate in their children’s Jewish learning.
Each big Jewish question or moment of celebration is an opportunity for families to connect and learn together. We help grown-ups practice listening carefully to the profound, insightful ideas and questions their children ask, and support families in exploring their Jewish ideas, questions, and practices together. Through frequent communication with families and opportunities for participation in classroom theme learning, daily connections during our Shirah/Tefillah singing circle at the end of each session, and the Family Exploration and Celebration gatherings at the end of each theme, designed to help families discover and reflect together on their children’s theme work, we help children and families explore, recognize, and celebrate their own unique Jewish practices, ideas, and interpretations together.