Engaging Children and Teens in Jewish Learning
As much as we try to make it fun and engaging, Hebrew school is not always the best place for Jewish learning. We lose too many students after their Bar or Bat Mitzvah passes, and they are not inspired enough to continue their learning. The seeds planted during the Hebrew school years are certainly worthwhile, and Jewish education is in the midst of tremendous reform in order to accommodate the changing needs of families.
This is not an article against Hebrew school but an appeal to families to make life long Jewish learning a part of their family system. I have some suggestions on ways to engage your children in Jewish learning.
Watch movies in Hebrew. You can find Sesame Street in Hebrew for early learners, Hebrew movies with English subtitles, or well-known American movies translated into Hebrew.
Set aside Shabbat afternoon for family learning time. Read pertinent books with younger children. Engage in text study with older children. Study Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), a Shabbat custom, with the entire family.
Discover online learning. Most children today are not afraid of technology. You can find Jewish songs and prayers on YouTube, Hebrew flashcards and other language games, and animated recaps of the Torah portion. Children are engaged when they are online, and you can be relieved that they are using the computer for learning.
Join with other families to create learning experiences. Take advantage of your friend’s skill sets. Put together a day workshop right before the holidays. Pick a topic and study it in depth together. When children are getting together with their friends, they are more open to learning.
Tie Judaism to everything you do. Before you eat, recite the blessings over the food. As you are leaving home for a family vacation, spend some time learning and discussing the traveler’s prayer. Plant a garden and learn what Judaism has to say about farming, eating, and keeping your body healthy.
Join Jewish social groups. While their activities may not always be educational, the social connection to other young Jews is important too. Creating a community of engaged learners will help your child or teen stay connected.
Do as you say. If it is important to you that your children learn about Shabbat, observe Shabbat. If you want them to know about the traditions of the various holidays, honor those traditions in your home. What you do, your children will learn. What they learn will become a part of them and of their future.
Let your children see you learning. Whether it’s at home on your own, on an online class, or at your synagogue – when they see you learning, they will become inspired as well. Share some of the things you are learning with your children – talk about it and let them see your excitement.
We are never done learning. There is always more. Engaging children in Jewish education creates adults who are passionate about their heritage, tradition, and religion.
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