In Eastern Massachusetts right now there are thousands of Jewish kids getting ready to resume their formal Jewish learning in supplementary Hebrew schools. For parents, it’s time to start organizing carpools and coordinating schedules. Which days does he have soccer? When is piano? How many days a week does she have Hebrew School this year? It’s a lot to manage.
Here are a few tips for getting both you and your kids ready for another year of religious education. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but does touch on the big topics that parents ask me about each year around this time.
The transition into Kindergarten is a huge one, for both kids and parents; adding in additional learning in the form of Hebrew School is no small challenge. That’s why most religious schools start with Sunday-only Kindergartens. Heavy on arts and music, it’s as much a social endeavor as an introduction to holidays and Hebrew learning, in addition to apple juice and crackers for snack. For kids who have gone to Jewish pre-schools, the Gan (Kindergarten) Hebrew school class is a logical next step. Here at Kesher we have a six-hour Kindergarten program, and I’m always amazed at the endurance of the Kindergarteners who end up being in school for almost nine hours on the days that they’re here.
No matter where your kid is learning, now is the perfect time to work on Hebrew with them. Simple activities like alef-bet flash cards, basic Hebrew reading books, or decoding practice can go a long way in getting a child back in Hebrew mode. Hebrew placemats and puzzles are also sure winners, particularly for the younger kids. For the more ambitious, popping some Israeli music on the iPod in the car, or engaging your child in some Hebrew conversation is both fun and productive. For my kids I have been using the Kesher Hebrew model at home all summer and it has been easy and enjoyable. Don’t know Hebrew? Then this is a perfect time to be learning with your kids or thinking about some formal Hebrew learning opportunities; there are a myriad of options.
There’s a reason why I get so many tutoring gigs these days… it’s hard to teach prayer and trope in a religious school setting. If you really want your kids to get familiar with the prayer service and with the sound and music of Judaism, the best way to do it is to go to services more often. It’s not easy, especially on a Shabbat morning or a Friday evening, to get the whole clan out of the house, but if you make it a regular thing, then you will see the payoff. Start the year by making a commitment to going at least once a month (if not twice a month) to whatever temple, synagogue, minyan, or chavurah you go to. If you are still shopping around, now is the perfect time to go to open houses and see if you can find a good match.
“But I don’t WANT to go!”
This was the classic refrain of my youth, and I’m sure it sounds familiar to many of you. You may not be able to change this overnight, but from a parent perspective the single most important thing that you can do is to affirm the importance of religious education. If you aren’t serious about supporting Hebrew school, then your kids are not going to buy into the idea either. This I can tell you from both as a parent and as the director of a school. If you want kids to embrace learning, then being positive about Hebrew school and encouraging attendance is both easy and essential.
Special Education in Hebrew Schools has seen a dramatic increase in both funding and staffing in recent years. There has been a much greater amount of professional development in this area, and organizations like Gateways have been brought in to continue the push to make Hebrew schools more inclusive. If your child is on an IEP, please share it with the principal and teachers so that the school can have a full understanding of how to best teach your child.
Teachers and parent involvement
Most teachers in Hebrew schools care deeply about Judaism and kids. Taking the time to say hello to them is a great way to build strong relationships and keep lines of communications open. Take advantage of special events like family education programs, back to school nights, and parent-teacher conferences as they arise, and sign up to volunteer in the classroom. If you’re like me, any chance to see your kid in action is a treat; Hebrew school should be no different.
Make the right choice for your family
At the end of the day, you want your children participating in a learning experience that is enriching and rewarding, and to be part of a community that is supportive and shares your vision of Jewish Education and Jewish literacy. Luckily, in Boston there are many wonderful schools, both synagogue-based and not, which are doing excellent work. If you are at a synagogue with a great school, you’re probably all set. If you belong to a smaller congregation or chavurah, or are thinking about opting out of the school in your temple, then it might be time to check out Kesher Newton or Kesher Cambridge, BJEP, or the Sunday School for Jewish Studies, or to think about Prozdor for your older students.