Children’s learning best happens through the combination of hands-on experiences and positive feelings. When these experiences occur both at home and at school, the learning is reinforced and exemplified. This is particularly apparent as young children are actively engaged in Jewish activities. Young children who attend a Jewish preschool, such as Temple Beth Israel Preschool, are introduced to the weekly Shabbat experience in a myriad of ways. Friday mornings might include Shabbat stories, music, bringing tzedakah or baking challah. It can include a special opportunity for participation in a school activity. Above all, preschoolers are sharing in Shabbat experiences with their peers, promoting their communal involvement every week.
The best part of the Shabbat Experience is that it happens weekly. Those who care for young children know the importance of routine in a child’s schedule. As children are consistently engaged in a routine that has guidelines coupled with enjoyment, the extent of their experiential learning is deepened. At Temple Beth Israel Preschool, all of our children come together for a short Shabbat Experience every Friday morning. They are introduced to the Rabbi, Cantor, and the expected behavior in the synagogue. Hearing a story, singing a song and reciting the Sh’ma are followed by a morning snack of challah and juice. Each week there are three blessing helpers, and the honor rotates among all of the children, from two years old to five.
Thus, the highlight at the end of a busy school week is when all of the children gather for our Shabbat Experience. An extension of honoring the Sabbath at school is incorporating the Shabbat observance into family life. Just as the connection between home and school is essential for consistent developmental guidelines, the value of home-school connection is important for introducing religious customs and building community.
Family observance is only dictated by what works for each family.
For many parents with young children, religious traditions and rituals often evolve as a family grows. Parents recognize the values that are important to instill in their family life. Just as having a school routine is something that children rely on, so too, can family routines be a source of warmth and meaning which children come to expect. Family observance is only dictated by what works for each family. A family’s schedule, ages and attention spans of the children and the significance of the rituals are ever-changing and adaptable. Beginning to include Shabbat observances at home might seem daunting at first, but, as with anything, taking small steps can be the best way. Some ideas for introducing a weekly Shabbat observance in one’s home might include:
• Having a family dinner, where everyone eats together at the table (without tech devices)
• Buying, or even baking, a challah to have at dinner
• Reciting the blessings over the candles, wine and challah
• Joining together musically, listening or singing some favorite tunes
• Choosing a favorite activity, which might include reading a special book with the children or playing a game together
• Contacting extended family, such as grandparents, to say, “Shabbat Shalom”
The joy of being together, ending a busy week of work, school and daily routines by having some special family time can be the beginning of a meaningful Shabbat Shalom. _
Deborah Pruitt is the Director of Temple Beth Israel Preschool in Pomona, a Jewish preschool that has been serving the community since 1988.