By Erica Stempil Schwartz
Picture this… A group of multi-age students, grades kindergarten through 12, coming together first thing in the morning for a rousing pep rally complete with Morning Prayer, singing and dancing! The students are interacting with each other — laughing, clapping and joyful — all for their love of being Jewish!
As a Jewish mom, a Jewish woman and a Jewish educator, it is my hope that all Jewish students will feel (spirit) ruach when they attend limud. Students will associate Judaism with joy, hope and pride through camp-like experiences. I believe that the positive experiences our children have at summer camp can be recreated in the supplementary education environment. We can tap into the strengths of the Jewish camp movement, which creates an atmosphere of Jewish living. Experiencing the joy of Judaism, the camaraderie with fellow Jewish people and an appreciation for the richness of our heritage. All of these will come together to make supplementary Jewish education something Jewish children will cherish.
The literature states again and again that play is the natural learning setting for children. Through the use of games and friendly competition, children will learn in a stimulating and fun environment. Teaching Torah through puppet shows or dramatic enactments, helps the stories and lessons from the Torah come alive for our students. They are engaged in the action in front of them and listening to a telling of the stories that uses more than one of the senses — sight, hearing, movement and touch.
Using modern technology, the children can create a movie or power point presentation that provides them the opportunity to stretch their executive function muscles — learning, organizing, creating and editing a piece that can be used to teach others. Creating large scale experiences based on holidays or stories from the Torah — like a Torah hero museum or a re-enactment of Egypt at the time of the story of Passover — provide rich experiences that mean so much more than reading the story off a piece of paper.
By teaching modern Jewish music, Israeli dancing and Hebrew vocabulary for every day words and ideas, children will develop a sense of Zionism and love for Israel before they even know where the Jewish homeland is on a map. But, when they are ready, using maps and the wonder of the internet, students can see where our homeland is and what it is like to live there. They will get a feeling for how our brothers and sisters live and work and keep our (community of Israel) Kol Yisrael safe.
When my children came home from summer camp, the experiences they had—whether it was eating, arts and crafts, sports or swimming — were shrouded within Jewish garb that they may not have even realized. To me, that is what Jewish supplementary education can be; less learning plus Judaism and more Jewish-infused experience.