Mar 06

Making Learning Fun and Active

Nitzanim (“Buds” for 1st-2nd grades) are learning the Hebrew names for parts of their bodies. We played a lot of games to get to know all these words.

 One of our favorites was a game in which one child was the model while the other was the runner. The model laid down on the floor on one side of the social hall while their teammate ran to the other side of the room. The runner picked up a card showing a picture of a body part and its name in Hebrew print and script. They ran back to the model on the floor and placed the card on the corresponding body part. The runner also had to say the name correctly while placing the card on the model’s body.

For example, if the runner picked up a card with a picture of an ayin (eye), they brought it back to the model, said “ayin” and put it on the model’s eye. 

We learn so much, and so much better, when we have fun at the same time. And all that running around is good too!

Mar 05

Our Responsibility In Working Towards The World As It Should Be

We are just a week away from Family Exploration and Celebration! The community will come together to celebrate the amazing work our children do and all the steps that go into it. Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) is our current theme. Many children in Anafim v’Alonim (“Branches” for 2nd-4th grades and “Oak trees” for 5th grade) have focused on what needs to happen for the world to be as it should be and how their vision of a better world  differs from the world we are currently living in.  

In texts and stories we’ve read, an important question has come up over and over, “what does it mean for the world to be perfect? Is it possible?” None of the children believed the world could be perfect. However, each child did see rich ideas about how and why people should continue to work towards a better world.

These four words: listening, partnership, courage, and persistence were the foundation for our exploration of what needs to happen to make the world as it should be. Children chose problems they found in the world like homelessness, racism, gun violence, and climate change. Each of them named what needed to change and the steps it would take to get there. 

One way children have shown their ideas is through flowcharts. These flowcharts walk you through the steps it takes to work towards making something in the world better. For example, one child is exploring climate change. He starts with one single person and how it takes many people to make change. For example, door knocking and calling your local representatives are all steps to ultimately get a bill pushed that would help to make a difference.

Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) reminds us of our responsibility to make  the world as it should be. Even though Family Exploration and Celebration is next Sunday, I know that our exploration of Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) will continue as Pesach (Passover) approaches. The conversations of what children see as their individual responsibility in different social issues, as well as collective responsibility, will continue far beyond Sunday.

Feb 27

Cultivating Leadership Skills with Young Children

In Shorashim (‘roots’ for nursery) and Shteelim (‘saplings’ for Kindergarten), we have been working with a paradigm of leadership that connects to skills that the children are already starting to develop. That a leader is someone who works to make the would bette, using listening, partnership, courage and persistence.

One exploration that the children have been very excited about, is a community building game that we have been calling crossing the river. The premise of the game is that the group has to cross from one side of the room to the other, while staying inside a set of hoops for the entire crossing. In these photos you can see the children putting the some of the leadership skills (listening, partnership, courage and persistence) that we have been thinking about, into action.

This game can be challenging and requires a certain amount of bravery to rely on others to get across. The children also exhibited bravery in trying something brand new.

The children talked and listened to each other when they were figuring out who would stand in which hoops to best support crossing the river.

While the children were using the hoops to create a path, they needed to listen with their ears and eyes, not only to keep the hoops moving, but to make sure they were being safe. The children worked on giving each other enough room when they needed to stand inside the same hoop, together and also made sure that the hoops didn’t hit other children when they were passing them.
Sometimes being a partner meant coordinating with a child that was sharing your hoop. Maybe this meant turns passing the hoops, or maybe this meant passing the hoops together. Sometime it meant communicating with the child standing in front of you, letting them know that the next hoop is ready for them.
The children showed their persistence after deciding that they wanted to time themselves and see how quickly (and safely) they could cross together (they did so several times).

I can’t wait to see when else we can use our leadership skills.

Feb 26

We are getting ready…

The children of Nitzanim (“Buds” for 1st-2nd grades) are hard at work with Morah Shterna in the Yetzirah Studio on their final projects for the Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) theme!

They are synthesizing everything we’ve been talking about for the past couple of months: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Eliyahu HaNavi, leadership, listening, partnership, courage, persistence, folktales, text study, and exploration through movement and art. Whew!

As a group we are writing scripts for puppet shows, and creating the actual puppets and their theatres using a variety of media and techniques. 

We hope you can attend our next Family Exploration and Celebration on Sunday, March 15, at the Jewish Enrichment Center, to check out the children’s amazing creations!

Feb 20

Children Interviewing Grown-Ups

The children of Nitzanim (“Buds” for 1st-2nd grades) want to interview you!

This winter, we are exploring the character of Eliyahu HaNavi – Elijah the Prophet. Eliyahu reminds us to work for a better world. As part of this exploration, we invited parents and guests in so we could ask them questions about what they see in the world: 

  • What could get better in the world?
  • What is not fair in the world?
  • What are some things we can do to make the world better?
  • Why do you work to make the world better? 
  • What helps you stay motivated to continue to work to make the world better? 
  • What do you do when you feel overwhelmed by how much there is to do to make the world better? 
  • How do you keep going when you want to stop working to make the world better?

The children practiced first by interviewing each other. This includes introducing yourself, making eye contact, asking permission, and of course saying “thank you.”

Nitzanimers took turns asking questions and writing down the responses. 

We compiled the answers into one document.   

Through these interviews, children gain valuable experience. They hear what is important to the grown-ups around them, and they learn conversation skills. Nitzanimers will incorporate the answers into their final Eliyahu HaNavi projects. Stay tuned for details!

Feb 07

Shifts in Intensity

This week in Shorashim (‘roots’ for nursery) and Shteelim (‘saplings’ for Kindergarten), we have been working on our understanding of an intense experience that Eliyahu HaNavi has in our text.

11 [Adonai] said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before Adonai.”V’hineh, Adonai passed by!
A great and powerful wind ripped through the mountain, shattering rocks before Adonai– but Adonai was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake– but Adonai was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake there was fire– but Adonai was not in the fire. After the fire, there was a soft, small voice.

(I Kings, chapter 19 verses 11-12)

We wanted to find out what it would feel like inside to experience the shift in intensity between the wind, the earthquake, the fire and the small soft voice. There are two ways that we did this in partnership with our Yetzirah (arts/creativity) teacher.

The first thing we did was dance with scarves to music that gradually goes from being loud and fast to quiet and slow.

We also painted with the music to show the shifts in intensity:

Painting the fire with dried Lulavim (palm branches).
Using sponges to paint the earthquake.
Adding a layer of colored pencil to the “small soft voice” painting!

Feb 04

We Are Trees

Tu B’Shevat is coming, and we are getting ready! For the birthday of the trees, which this year falls on Sunday, February 9, and Monday, February 10, we are celebrating everything about trees!

Children in Nitzanim (“buds” for 1st-2nd grades) played a variation of the game known as Wax Museum or Sculpture Garden. They pretended to be trees, while each child had a turn to walk through the forest. If the walker saw any trees moving, the tree was out of that round! The children enjoyed trying to sneak up on each other. Ask your child to demonstrate.

On Tuesday some children in other groups joined us for this game. It was so much fun!

Stay tuned for more Tu B’Shevat news as the holiday draws closer!

Jan 31

Introducing Eliyahu HaNavi

This week in Shorashim (‘roots’ for nursery) and Shteelim (‘saplings’ for Kindergarten), we started to hear and talk about the character, Eliyahu HaNavi. We heard and introduction to the text, which comes from I Kings, chapter 19:

Eliyahu Hanavi was a leader. He was trying to make peace between people. (Eliyahu HaNavi was trying to make the world better.) But Eliyahu HaNavi’s ideas were different from the king’s ideas. The king was the wicked Melekh Akhav. The king did bad things to people who had different ideas. Eliyahu HaNavi got very tired of fighting with words. He was so afraid he would get hurt, or the people that he led would get hurt. Eliyahu HaNavi said he wanted to give up, and he couldn’t try to help the people anymore.
He goes and lies under the bush and falls asleep.

Some children choose to show their interpretations of Eliyahu HaNavi’s feelings:

Eliyahu Hanavi was a leader.
He was trying to make peace between people. (Eliyahu HaNavi was trying to make the world better.)
Eliyahu HaNavi got very tired of fighting with words.
He was so afraid he would get hurt, or the people that he led would get hurt.
Eliyahu HaNavi said he wanted to give up, and he couldn’t try to help the people anymore.

The children had so many ideas about Eliyahu HaNavi going to lie under a bush and going to sleep:

[Eliyahu HaNavi was] going and hiding from the wicked King [Achav] under the bush, he didn’t want to get hurt. Maybe he would change his mind and go back.

It’s not okay to hide, he should have talked about the problem.

Maybe the wicked King made him hide, he might be scared of the wicked King.

He [Eliyahu HaNavi] hid from the King, it’s bad. It’s not nice for him to give up and let the king hurt his people.

I look forward to reading more of the text with the children next week and learning more about Eliyahu HaNavi together!

Jan 31

Who Does It Take to Make the World as It Should Be?

For the last couple of sessions children in Anafim v’Alonim (“Branches” and “Oak trees” for 4th and 5th grades) have been exploring what their impact, their communities’ impact, and societies’ impact is in creating the world as it should be. Wow, the ideas were so powerful.

A long list was created after children participated in a chalk talk. A chalk talk starts with a question in the middle of a large sheet of paper. Our question was, “What do we need to do to make better in the world?” Children silently wrote down their ideas to the question. Five minutes in, I posed another question, “How might you work to make those things better?” Children drew lines connecting their new ideas to the initial words they came up with. Here are just a handful of the ideas from the chalk talk:

  • Get a compost bin
  • Don’t use plastic 
  • Throw less plastic in the ocean
  • Give food to the homeless and donate
  • Get a new president 
  • End climate change/global warming

Following the chalk talk children received a picture representing something that needs to change in the world. Children explored and answered these 3 questions:

  • What kind of Partnership would it take to change things?
  • Who needs to be involved in making things better?
  • What do they need to do?

Oh my, it’s chilling the powerful ideas they discussed. One of the examples showed Ruby Bridges entering the school (which was the first to be desegrated), with white protesters holding racist signs with angry faces. The conversation first started with “Well, we need to get rid of our president.” Okay, got it. I asked what needs to happen in order to do that? “Well, I guess people need to vote or write to people.” We kept breaking it down, “Well, okay, how do people get to the polling stations?” The conversation began to wind down. We had come up with ideas of what an individual’s role is in making the world as it should be, a communal role, and a societal role.

What a generative conversation. Stay tuned for next week when we bring in Rabbinic text to connect all of this exploration with partnership and making the world as it should be to Eliyahu HaNavi and the ways in which he works to make the world a better place.

Jan 29

On Creating Line Drawings (educational materials)

Hello! This is Morah Shterna (the yetzirah – art educator), here to tell you about the process of creating line drawings at the Jewish Enrichment Center.

When introducing a new Jewish text to the younger children (N4 through 2nd grade) we often create line drawings to help them follow along with the text. These drawings go up in the rooms, are held up when reading the text, can be drawn on, and usually have space for the children to add their own interpretations, such as a thought bubble.

Eliyahu HaNavi said he wanted to give up, and he couldn’t try to help the people anymore.
He goes and lies under the bush and falls asleep.

The Jewish Enrichment Center creates its own line drawings (instead of imagery that might already exist on the topic) because it is so important to us that the drawings allow for the children to have as much of their own interpretation (unhindered by our own biases and preconceptions) as possible.

As the yetzirah (art) educator, I think very deliberately about what the characters might look like and how to make them as clear as possible. I often come to text with embedded ideas of gender, race, religion, culture, etc., and it is important to me that the children can come to the text on their own, without my lens getting in the way. In order to create these drawings as unbiased as possible, they go through a drafting process and are seen and edited multiple times. It’s impossible to avoid any artistic decisions at all (such as a beard or robe) but I try to switch things up as much as possible, given that we really don’t have a strict idea about what these characters might have looked like.

Each text comes with its own challenges. For example, the text about wicked Melekh Akhav (King Akhav) had me wondering “What common cultural imagery exists surrounding an ‘angry wicked person’?” “What does a ‘good leader’ look like?” “How can I avoid falling into those harmful stereotypes or subvert them into something different?” When we continue to create the same one or two ideas of what an “angry wicked person” or a “good leader” might look like, it has the potential to create much bigger consequences later on…. real life is not so simple.

Speaking of yetzirah, please join us on Sunday, February 2, for Yom Yetzirah (day of creativity). After a potluck lunch (sign up here) at 11:45am, we will paint, glue, draw, experiment, explore, and generally be creative until 2pm. RSVP to I hope to see you there!

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