Sunday, 31 December 2017

Preserving Miketz

In many ways this blog is for me to preserve my girls, their learning and growth. I forgot how powerful it was for Ruti learn this perasha last year and that was only a year ago. Having my brother visit us was four years ago.
But how does Yoseph preserve the food of Egypt during the years of plenty to save them for the years of famine? I dunno. We used the food dehydrator!

When planning Shabbat dessert I had an epiphany. These cookies are often called zebra cookies but could just as easily be called 'fat cow' cookies.

Eat fat cows and stay skinny!
Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, 8 December 2017

Vayeshev- Dreaming Big!

I was once reprimanded by a supervisor for teaching children parashat Vayeshev. Her premise was that the story was far too scary and completely irrelevant to small children. Obviously I disagree wholeheartedly. It isn't too scary, it is incredibly relevant, and early childhood is the time to begin Torah learning.
This morning I read a Disney princess book at a child's request. The stories were truly scary and the children were unfazed, accepting and processing difficult information, either deeming it all fantasy or realizing people face difficult situations and overcome them.
Parashat Vayeshev is about jealousy, sibling rivalry, and making sense of our dreams. These are topics children face on a daily basis.
The brain development in early childhood means the Torah they learn is absorbed and retained. They may not assess information on a more abstract cognitive level (that does not begin until age 7) but the plasticity of preschool brains means the neurons are cementing in the Torah. Here is a video of Ruti reciting all the books of Tanach in order. She doesn't know their content. This is just a string of sounds to her. But she will know it forever (and I didn't learn it then, so I don't know it by heart now).

This is a parasha I prefer to teach to all of the girls together. They think about sibling dynamics as they look at each other.
 We met all the brothers.
 Plotted the course of actions.
And visited Yosef in prison in Egypt as he interprets the dreams of his fellow prisoners.

"If your friend gets a new dress and you don't, how do you feel?" I asked the girls towards the beginning of the narrative.
"I am happy for her. I complement it and ask where she got it because maybe you'll get me one like it," Cohava replied quickly. To draw Tova in, I altered the scenario to a beanie-boo, the new coveted item.
"What if only one of your sisters gets one and not you?" I asked.
"That's not fair!!!!" yelled Tova. Through our discussion, I think they really understood the kutonet pasim, Yosef's striped tunic. This article of clothing and sibling rivalry was the focus of the blog here and here. The issues around sibling rivalry have not diminished for us since I first wrote about them five years ago. For siblings in general, it can be just as pervasive as it was for Yaakov's sons thousands of years ago.
I'd like to think we have made headway in the area of lying, as we talked about related to Vayeshev here.

This year we focused on the dreams, how our dreams make us feel, and made dream catchers.

Step one: cut the outer ring from a cheap paper plate.

Step two: decorate the paper ring and hole punch it several times. 

 Step three: Cut yarn and weave it through the hole.

Step 4: add feathers and beads

This is mine. The idea is the yarn on the dreamcatcher is Yosef's kutonet pasim and his prison bars. Around the circumference are the wheat bowing to him from the first dream. The sun, moon, and 11 stars will hang from the bottom.

This afternoon we saw these striped dresses in a store. Obviously everyone needed one.

I wonder if they remember an earlier time they all chose stripes for this parasha.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Vayishlach - Conflict Resolution and Cute Coffee Cups

The relationship between Yaakov and Eisav provides a lot of food for thought in sibling relationships. This week's Torah portion begins with the following:  
4Jacob sent angels ahead of him to his brother Esau, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom.דוַיִּשְׁלַ֨ח יַֽעֲקֹ֤ב מַלְאָכִים֙ לְפָנָ֔יו אֶל־עֵשָׂ֖ו אָחִ֑יו אַ֥רְצָה שֵׂעִ֖יר שְׂדֵ֥ה אֱדֽוֹם:
The first discussion began over whether the English translation of מַלְאָכִים֙ should be 'angels' or 'messengers'.  
"Messengers makes more sense," Gabi remarked.
"Rashi says angels," Cohava observed. "Maybe he normally would have sent messengers but this was his one big chance, like a 'phone-a-friend' so he used angels instead of people."
"Because it was his darkest hour he needed to call on his most powerful forces," added Gabi, using a Magic Tree House reference.
I was still in favor of messengers but we moved on to the next point, looking at Yaakov's methods of conflict resolution. 
 Cohava's list of everyone's observations in the text was:

  1. Give the person lots of personal space and alone time.
  2. The person needs to see the situation with their own eyes 
  3. Presents make everything better.
  4. Tefillah (Prayer)
  5. Make a mindful plan
In our experience
1. Most of the alone time for Eisav happens in last week's parasha but in our house it is a topic addressed almost daily, with boundaries, privacy,  body bubble, and personal space coming up as keywords.
2. Tova often makes a large dramatic performance over minor things (like losing a turn in a game). Recently Cohava's coat hit her and she cried a lot. Cohava ignored her until I showed her an object in her coat pocket actually bruised Tova's face. Until Cohava saw with her own eyes, she did not realize her sister's suffering was genuine.
3. Of course! But we encourage using them not as bribes.
4. All of the girls agreed that this is crucial in everything.
5. Cohava is my best planner and really values this step. The others were skeptical.

I am hesitant to write what happened next because it is pretty embarrassing. I had made big plans for the project but they weren't mindful. The girls got very upset, very quickly. I said I needed some alone time to plan something better. One of the girls refused to let me have a moment of alone time and yelled a lot. Then I yelled a lot. The situation was completely out of control. I failed on #5, she failed me on #1. The Ruti came to me, holding a rock. "Ema, this is my magic rock. If you hold it, you will feel better." I was absurdly skeptical but when a child offers you a gift (#3!) you always accept it graciously. The crazy thing was, as soon as I grasped the rock, I felt calmer. 

Calm enough to return with a new project.  Yaakov sent gifts of cattle. We would send gifts of cattle to our loved ones.  Obviously not real cattle.  Cup coozies with animals on them.  These are to beautify coffee mugs.  The Torah doesn't mention coffee as a tool for avoiding conflict, but it's implied, right?  'He-brews' 

Step one. 
I printed a selection of cattle cartoony images for the girls to use as stencils on felt.

 Cutting felt isn't easy but the girls enjoyed the challenge.

Step 2
Design the animal and start decorating it. With thick needles and embroidery thread, the girls began adding features to their animals. The older girls loved the activity. It was too advanced for the younger girls.
 Sewing with a needle is not something they have done for long before and there was a big learning curve in keeping the thread in the eye of the needle.

Step 4: I opened the ring from a disposable coffee cup and used it as the template. It is slightly curved.

 Sew the two halves of the sleeve to form a ring and sew on the animal. I need to get the images of their completed work.

The next step (which might not happen until early next week) is the actual 'Vayishlach' part. We will be sending them in the mail to family members. Usually we give things in person but Yaakov used messengers and so will we.  The girls began addressing the envelopes and I realized it is a life skill in which they are not yet adept. The theme of the postal system and Vayishlach could be great in a preschool setting. 

May you have great success in avoiding conflict and achieve resolution speedily and successfully when it occurs.

Shabbat Shalom!

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Vayetzei- a good night's sleep

The secret to a great night sleep is a pile of rocks. Or maybe just one rock. The perasha begins with Yaakov on the run from Eisav and stopping to sleep.   
11And he arrived at the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed [them] at his head, and he lay down in that place.יאוַיִּפְגַּ֨ע בַּמָּק֜וֹם וַיָּ֤לֶן שָׁם֙ כִּי־בָ֣א הַשֶּׁ֔מֶשׁ וַיִּקַּח֙ מֵֽאַבְנֵ֣י הַמָּק֔וֹם וַיָּ֖שֶׂם מְרַֽאֲשֹׁתָ֑יו וַיִּשְׁכַּ֖ב בַּמָּק֥וֹם הַהֽוּא:
Rashi explains that what started as multiple stones under his head fused into one over the course of the night.  The implications of this is the basis of many profound divrei Torah and something the girls addressed in perasha projects here and here

Recently Cohava was whining about her pillow being uncomfortable and I wondered was Yaakov the last person to say, "I'm tired! Where can I find a good rock pillow?" A little research revealed that hard pillows, made from rock, stone, or ceramics were the only options in the ancient world. Eventually the Romans and Greeks 'invented' soft pillows, although their purpose was for knees while kneeling and under the head of deceased, not for a good night sleep. 

Why were soft pillows not a logical choice? There were furs and wool readily available in the ancient world, not to mention leaves and pine needles (recommended for making a bed in various outdoorsy classes). 

Recently Cohava was whining about her pillow being uncomfortable and I wondered was Yaakov the last person to say, "I'm tired! Where can I find a good rock pillow?" A little research revealed that hard pillows, made from rock, stone, or ceramics were the only options in the ancient world. Eventually the Romans and Greeks 'invented' soft pillows, although their purpose was for knees while kneeling and under the head of deceased, not for a good night sleep. 

In antiquity, pillows were not for a cozy night's sleep. Pillows served two purposes, to keep insects away from one's face and as a status symbol. Yaakov did not let his position of being on the run, with no possessions of physical worth stop him from realizing his holy status in service of Hashem. He collected the rocks as a pillow as a symbol of his connection to greatness (and to keep roaches off his face-eewww).

For our project we decided to felt rocks. This was a project I wanted to try five years ago on Ki Tavo, but I didn't have any wool. This year Ruti got a present for her birthday which uses wool to make a stuffie. Theoretically it was a great gift. It has only one star reviews on Amazon, as people wrote that it deteriorated instantly and their children were heartbroken. I commented then that if it failed, we would use the wool to felt rocks.
It survived for almost 6 weeks!

Honestly, the felting of rocks didn't go much better.

 First the girls collected rocks from the garden.  Then the fluffed the wool from the deceased stuffie.
 Then we wrapped a rock in the wool, wrapped the woolen rock in tulle, and agitated in warm, soapy water.

The wool was enough for 9 rocks, so Ruti found 3 painted rocks (a different birthday present of hers) and declared them an improvement on the 12 rocks Yaakov arranged for himself.

We must have missed something in the felting process, as by the end of Shabbat only 1 rock was still covered in felt.

The girls also enjoyed constructing Yaakov's ladder from a variety of toys.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Toldot -- Getting Hangry

Toldot has three primary scenes. First the birth of twins, Yaakov and Eisav, to Yitzchak and Rivkah, then the selling of the birthright for a bowl of soup, and finally Yaakov and Rivkah trick Yitzchak and get the birthright he was sold.

I have always been bothered by how Eisav becomes 'bad'.  I asked the girls if they had thoughts on this.  Gabi contemplated it. Cohava ran off to ask my husband.  He came in the room and said, "According to the Rashi, these twins were pretty indistinguishable in their youth. As teenagers there was suddenly a marked distinction between them. Yaakov's nature of sitting and learning had been nurtured by his parents and education, forming him into the righteous person he became.  Eisav's nature was more wild, and this was not harnessed. His education was not geared to his personality and interests and he became distant and just pursued his wild tendencies in negative ways.  Each child must be reared according to their unique nature."

"Good. Now we know!" Cohava announced.
"Get the Chumashim. I want us to learn it inside. I have a new idea I want to share. It is a little silly but I think there is a lot we can relate to in it."
We began to read the scene of the sale of the soup.
30. And Esau said to Jacob, "Pour into [me] some of this red, red [pottage], for I am faint"לוַיֹּ֨אמֶר עֵשָׂ֜ו אֶל־יַֽעֲקֹ֗ב הַלְעִיטֵ֤נִי נָא֙ מִן־הָֽאָדֹ֤ם הָֽאָדֹם֙ הַזֶּ֔ה כִּ֥י עָיֵ֖ף אָנֹ֑כִי 

"What does 'עָיֵ֖ף' mean?" I asked.
"You are right, but is Eisav right? Does he need to soup because he is tired?" 
"He needs a nap if he is tired," suggested Tova.
"The word Eisav really means to use he doesn't know because it wasn't invented until thousands of years later. Do you know what 'hangry' is?"
"Happy and angry," guessed Ruti. I praised her guess and was amused that this is an emotion that is unique to her.
"Horribly angry?" Gabi asked. I was even more amused that her definition was something she knows so well. 
"Really hungry that you get mad," Tova suggested. I was astounded.
"Yes! Tova is right! It means so hungry you get angry," I explained. Cohava did not believe me it was a real word and looked it up online. She was shocked that it exists.
"Now that you know the word, can you think about how you feel when you get hangry and how it applies in the story?"
"Yeah, I make bad choices when I am too hungry," Gabi reflected.  "Eisav just got overwhelmed and made a bad choice."
Another proof on hanger being the cause of Eisav's downfall is that immediately after this story, the Torah recounts a famine in the land. 
How do we combat hunger? 
How do we combat hanger? 

B"H, for us it is not a matter of actually being able to afford food. It is eating well-balanced food items, in a timely manner, before hanger sets in. 
The girls and I embarked on menu planning. 

Truth: I am the one opposed to meal planning. To me it means pressure to have the right ingredients on hand, commitment to one item with no flexibility. I think I am in the minority as a parent opposed to organizing meals.

Eventually we came up with a plan that made everyone happy. The weekly menu is the same, but the flexibility is endless. In case you cannot read the dry-erase board on the fridge: 

Sunday- 'Sunday Special' all of Shabbats Greatest Hits on Repeat (aka leftovers from Shabbat).
Monday- Big Salad- this can be any kind of salad, the possibilities are endless.
Tuesday- Taco Tuesday- this could be tacos, spanish rice, nachos, burritos, any form of Tex-Mex.
Wednesday- Souper soup. Again endless possibilities. 
Thursday- Noodle night. Shabbat prep starts early. I will boil the noodles. If  have time it will be tuna casserole or something. If not, they can put on whatever they want.
Shabbat meals are Shabbat meals. That menu plan is always a google docs worth. 
I love the simplicity and open-endedness of this. The girls are very enthusiastic. 

Back on the parasha:

The younger girls are not as familiar with the parasha stories.
In addition to our Torah books, the girls enjoy watching this cute puppet show series. They like the puppets and want to do it themselves. I do have puppets and tell the story this way at school but there is never enough Rivkah to go around.
The girls enjoyed making paper bag puppets.

Shabbat Shalom!