We teach rituals and prayers, create ritual objects, and we make up our own songs and plays about bible stories in our religious school. That knowledge lasts for the time it is being presented and then what happens to it? When “real-time” connections are made by home ritual, coming to services or holiday celebrations, lasting connections are made.
According to studies done regarding brain-based learning, connecting knowledge to things already experienced or repeated practice and experiences enhances the educational process. This enables the learner to further explore information presented and allows for a deeper understanding of how ideas relate to one another.
For example, we expose our young children to services around holiday times because they are “fun”. As the child ages, he/she enters Religious School. They learn that the language of the Jewish people is Hebrew. Our primary focus is Hebrew as it is used in prayer, as that is where the majority of our students will make a connection to Hebrew. We begin with the alef-bet, and associate the letters with prior knowledge, that is the prayers they will have heard as part the service or home ritual. We utilize different modalities of learning by introducing chanting of the prayers, expanding the knowledge and furthering the connection. The next logical step would seem to be that the information is put to use either by regular home ritual or practice and/or regular service attendance. This allows the brain to cement the connection because there is practical application.
We make ritual objects, such as a menorah, having a great time with clay, wood, paint or whatever. The student takes the menorah home. Parents will ooh and ah, and, hopefully, use the menorah as part of their celebration. This creates a wonderful connection that will linger long after Chanukah is done when we use something they have created.
In Preschool, we provide wooden Shabbat, Chanukah and Passover play sets for our students to use as part of their everyday experience. Our hope is that parents will continue the rituals at home. We even model some of the rituals for parents during our Preschool Kabbalat Shabbat on Fridays.
We can and should work together to help our children to make stronger connections to Judaism. It takes a team, the clergy, the teachers, grandparents, neighbors, friends and YOU! As we begin this year, may we all make a commitment to help our children and ourselves strengthen connections to Judaism.