Tuesday, October 24, 2017

“Oh, this is going to be easy,” the children boast to one another. Two classes of 3- 6-year-old preschoolers are in a line and eagerly await their turn to carry a gallon jug of water across the length of the gym and back. A few days ago, their morahs recounted the story of Rivka’s chesed, loving-kindness, and how she drew water for Eliezer and all his camels. Today, they will experience an important part of that story.

One of the greatest challenges for teachers and parents is how to successfully impart Torah lessons and wisdom drawn from the lives of our ancestors. As much as children enjoy hearing stories over and over again, they really learn by doing. We find this truism in Pirkei Avot, where Rabbi Shimon ben Rabban Gamliel is quoted as saying, “Study is not the primary thing, but action.”

At Yeshivat Netivot Montessori, teachers incorporate “action” lessons to bring the Torah alive for students. They use a four-part approach to achieve this aim. First, they dramatically narrate the story at circle time, and second, they use hands-on materials to help students better understand the story. For example, 4-year-old Mikayla chooses the lesson’s parsha basket, meticulously lays 10 camel cards across the length of the rug and then starts placing a clay jug in front of the camel until she reaches the number 10. After counting out a total of 100 clay jugs, Mikayla has an appreciation for the magnitude of Rivka’s actions.

In the third step, a physical lesson is introduced to leave a memorable impression. In our example, preschoolers carry a gallon of water to feel what it was like for Rivka to carry the heavy jug of water back and forth between the camels and the well. Lastly, the class regroups and discusses the experience. The morah asks, “What was it like for you?” and one student explains that some friends needed to stop and take a break before continuing, another expresses how heavy the water was and yet another observes that some friends asked for help because they didn’t think they would make it back. The students are able to identify and connect with Rivka and her greatness through their experiences.

In this way, a Torah story ignites the imagination and inspires the heart, and then action creates a personalized experience to propel a student to realize his or her own greatness.

Morah Batsheva Moully is a Netivot Judaics Montessori teacher with more than 13 years of experience in early childhood.

 By Zita Weinstein and Morah Batsheva Moully