Friday, 31 October 2014

Experiencing Lech Lecha

Just as last week's classroom activities were connected to parashat Noach, this week we are connecting to Lech Lecha (this won't happen every week, as I will definitely not be doing korbanot). 

In parashat Lech Lecha, Hashem makes a number of beautiful promises. Two that we are looking at are: 

13:16And I will make your seed like the sand of the earth, so that if a man will be able to count the sand of the earth, so will your seed be counted.
15:5And He took him outside, and He said, "Please look heavenward and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So will be your seed."

Rabbinic commentary states these two options aren't only given to innumerate Avraham's progeny. It is also to show the potential of each Jew's fate. We can stay on the ground and be the sand, or we can work to elevate ourselves to the greatest heights and truly shine. My goal is to help each of your children recognize their potential and help them work to be a star. 

To understand the stars and sand at school this week, we are touching, playing with, and writing in sand.

Stars are harder to get in the classroom in the middle of the day. For now, we are looking at other glowing and wonderful items.
Lite Brite! You had a lite-brite as a child, right? And you loved it? So did Pre-K!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Experiencing Noach

I don't have as much time to blog or do projects with my children because I am busy with my class.
Parashat Noach is wonderful to teach. My pedagogical approach is three tiered; experiential, creative, and scientific.

Here is the experiential component this year with my pre-K class.

Building the Teva. I guess this is more creative. We built out of blocks too, but it fell before I caught it on camera. 

Testing buoyancy and building in the water.

Locating the animals in their natural habitat.

Loading the animals onto the ark.
The children turned this into a show and enjoyed watching each other on the Teva.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Yom Kippur Yonah Project- So Much Fun!!!

Two years ago I posted Yom Kippur Crafts X 3, which is one of my most popular posts. It is about to get SOOO much better!

This year I had my class make the big fish for Jonah [Yonah] to hide in, just like I described in the aforementioned blog. 

In short: 
Cut a big fish twice for each student.
Let them finger-paint on one side. 
Place the other fish on top and let them pat t down. 
Peel off and marvel at mirror images.
Leave the fish to dry.

I had very thick paper towel tubes cut to fit between the fish pictures to hold a 3-D Yonah. 
Then I had a brilliant idea and found some balloons.
I stretched the balloons over one side of the tubes.
When the fish dried, I stapled them around the tube. 
Meanwhile the students fashioned Jonah out of pipe cleaners and added eyes to the fish. 
Do you understand the brilliance of this project yet?
As The Book of Jonah [Sefer Yonah] recounts, after three days in the fish's stomach, Yonah was spat out onto dry land. 
Place pipe cleaner Yonah inside the fish. 
Turn the tube mostly vertical. Count to three for the three days (optional). 
Pinch a small piece of the balloon, pull it back, and release. 
Yonah goes flying through the air (and onto dry land)!

This is incredibly entertaining for ALL ages. (It was hard for me to put my fish down so I could type this. My toddlers claps with glee every time Yonah goes whirling through the air).

Shana Tova! Techatevu V'Techatemu.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Building up Ki Tetzei

It has been a very busy few weeks. We did not have the time to invest in this week's parasha like we did with this one on shiloach ha'ken or this one on beged ish
But sometimes simpler is better. 
Ruti was playing with the Polly Pockets and setting furniture on the Polly house roof. "You are playing so nicely with the dolls, Ruti," I remarked.
"They are having a birthday party up so high!" she explained.
"What fun. But a little dangerous. What if they fall?" I asked.
"They will be so careful," she reassured me. 
As I had hoped, the 'big girls' overheard the conversation.
"Ema! I learned in the parasha what we need to do! The Polly's have a flat roof-" Gabi started to explain but Cohava cut her off.
"It needs a fence!" Cohava yelled. 
They girls debated different building materials and finally settled on duplo blocks.
Tada! Now the Polly's are keeping the mitzva of putting a fence on a flat roof. But those Polly Pockets still need a lot of work on modest attire...

 Adding a roof to a structure is fun for kids in any construction medium and takes very little time. Once it has been built, the mitzva will be remembered forever. And building together always works on community building and negotiating skills. Everyone wins!

Hiding from Elul

When I realized we were entering the month of Elul, I was overcome with stress. Elul is a month of heightened spirituality, as people work on their Cheshbon Ha’Nefesh, their spiritual account, the assessing of interactions and misdoings with people and with God. Very heavy and daunting. Although one should always be analyzing their behavior, there is a greater emphasis now, in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Elul means preparing for the holidays spiritually, and physically, as I need to figure out hosting and menus and…

After a moment of thinking about what Elul entailed I wanted to run downstairs, hide, sleep, do anything to not have to face the stress of preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And then I realized something profound. During this season I have the pleasure of teaching one of the texts we read on Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah. Whenever I tell the story of Jonah, just before he is thrown into the water and consumed by the big fish, someone always yells out, “But you can’t hide from Hashem!” It is obvious to children, or maybe obvious in the Book of Jonah, but it isn’t so obvious to us in our daily lives.

My desire to hide from my physical and spiritual responsibility is exactly what Jonah experiences. Jonah appears both foolhardy and someone who experiences a great miracle, almost a parody of how we think a prophet should behave. But connecting to this today is not so far-fetched. We run and hide from our spiritual responsiblity regularly. Maybe we have run so far from it, we no longer realize it exists. We don’t need to find ourselves inside a fish, or in any other crisis to stop and take stock of what is really important in our lives. Throughout the story, Jonah struggles to ascertain what is important.

The reading of The Book of Jonah  on Yom Kippur is not arbitrary, although slightly unfortunate. The connection of Jonah’s struggles to our own spiritual journey is obvious. The unfortunate part is that by Yom Kippur afternoon, the inspiration from the text often misses its mark. Most people are distracted and hungry. Those who are able to connect to the message would have benefited most from internalizing the message weeks before and using it to prepare for Yom Kippur.

Jonah's struggle is very relatable. Avoidance and denial are useful in small doses, as taking on everything at once can be overwhelming. These help a person cope and work through situations at a more manageable time. But do not avoid indefinitely. You can take a boat ride but do not avoid something until you find yourself in crisis in the belly of a fish! Now is the time to start tackling the challenge.

I love the Book of Jonah. I am excited about Elul and the upcoming holidays.  But I would still like to go downstairs and sleep...

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Eat. Full. Pray. Parashat Eikev.

Last time I blogged about Parashat Eikev, we looked at the meaning of consequences and we made birkonim [benchers].  The reason we made birkonim is, although this parasha is almost 9/10s of the way through the Torah, we now learn the mitzvah to thank Hashem after we eat. The passuk simply states "וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ". 'And you will eat. And you will be satiated. And you will bless'.

"If this mitzvah was not stated in the Torah, do you think people would have thanked Hashem on their own?" I asked my campers. The answer was almost unanimously 'no'. When I asked them to clarify why, the answers varied.
"Cuz, you just eat and are done and move on."
"If it isn't a mitzvah, you wouldn't do it."
"You'd forget food is from Hashem."

Their answers really surprised me. I guess it is a good thing we are commanded.

It was two years ago that I last blogged about this parasha. The text of birkat hamazon I used was Ashkenazi. This time around, text is not straightforward, as I, and 1/3 of the campers, use Sephardic birkat hamazon.  And everyone already owns MANY benchers.

Instead we made holders for the birkonim. Some campers argued they already have one of these too, but no one already owned one for weekday, Shabbat, and Pesach.

 The campers each received three blocks of wood of differing sizes, with a large pile of extra wood pieces in the middle. Scattered around were cups of wood glue with paint brushes. The project was meant to be 'non-cookie cutter' and open-ended.

(You'll note the kids made great projects but clearly never learned about wiping a brush!)

We left our work to dry before painting them.

The work was varied and very beautiful.
 Then we started painting and glittering!


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Vaetchanan- Two of the very most important!

Parashat Vaetchanan  is full of wonderful content. It makes up for those weeks were teachable content for children is hard. But teaching all of it at once is too much. I decided to focus on the recounting of the Aseret HaDibrot and the words of Shema, two of the cornerstone of our Torah lives.

Can you name all of the Ten Utterances [commandments] in order? I am not a big believer in rote memorization but this is one everyone should know since they are the direct words of Hashem to us. It isn't like naming the presidents or capitals, or even the seven dwarfs. But memorization is only going to happen if it is fun. 

I started by teaching the kids the 'calling counting game'. Sitting in a circle, the group must count to ten out loud. But only one person can say each number. If two people call out 'three', you have to return to one. Understand?

Once the children got the hang of the game, we swapped out the numbers for the Utterances. We shortened them, to make the game faster. 

1) One Hashem 2)No others 3) His Name 4) Shabbat 5) Mother & Father 6) Murder 7) Marriage (the boys group said adultery but thankfully there was no discussion of the meaning or implication of either) 8) No Stealing 9) No Lying 10) No Jealousy 

The boys group got the hang of it pretty quickly. The girls struggled because everyone wanted to call out all the answers. But everyone had fun and most kids learned the order. The content of what each really means and all of the commentary on it was well beyond the scope of this lesson. They have plenty of time to learn all the details, but now they know the Ten in order. 

Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey, Happy, Sneezy, Bashful & Doc

Then onto Shema. I think most of the children have a solid knowledge of the words of Shema and their significance. But I was uncertain how many knew the words are from this week's Parasha. 
"Oh, is that the only part of davening that comes from the Torah?" one girl asked after I explained the origin. 

But everyone knew that the words of Shema are in the mezuzah. So we made mezuza cases. 

Because this was science week at camp, the cases were made out of test tubes. 
 With lots of glitter and glue and stickers, and stuff.

 Everyone enjoyed the creative time. 

 And the results were beautiful! We hot glue gunned the tubes to tongue depressors so they can easily stick to the walls. 
 "Hey, where are klafs? I need to fill mine," one camper asked. Sorry, that is the parents' responsibility.