Being the Agent of Change

 

“Make G-d a verb, not a noun”

I recently attended the Third Annual Paradigm Project Conference, where about 160 people who are passionate about Jewish early childhood education (ECE) gathered for a three day conference. This is a unique conference, the only one that I am aware of that brings together people from all aspects of Jewish ECE. Everyone from Directors of schools, teachers, education specialists, university researchers and professors, to consultants and artists gather to learn together. Even more unique is that all ranges of Jewish observation are represented. Members of orthodox communities, Chabbad and yeshiva schools, JCCs and Conservative and Reform synagogues share experience and knowledge and work together to create high quality ECE practices and standards.

During the conference, there are a number of sessions to choose from. Whenever I attend any conference, the most stressful part for me is choosing between sessions. If it is a good conference, there are inevitably too many choices and I don’t want to miss out. I try to pick sessions that offer something that I don’t have a lot of expertise with. When I work with schools and educators as a consultant, I offer an experiential approach, such as play based workshops exploring materials, but I’ve rarely used cooking as a tool in teaching. I love using kitchen tools in the classroom and was interested in learning more about the actual process of cooking with children. This led me to choose my first session with Danny Corson of Culinary Kids Academy. His philosophy is to use cooking as a tool to teach “valuable lessons covering a broad array of subjects.” He integrates history, math, science, social/emotional lessons and standards; when teaching a Jewish audience, he bases his lessons around Jewish values and traditions.

One of the most apt statements Danny Corsun related during the session was “Make G-d a verb, not a noun.” I thought that this was a perfect sentiment for the conference and the mission of the Paradigm Project. Essentially this expression is encouraging one to take action and make the changes that one sees as necessary. The story of Nachshon* is often referred to when relating this idea of taking action and not sitting idly by waiting for change. When I heard Danny bring up this reference and the plea to “take action” it resonated even more for me given the setting and the company. I was surrounded by some of the most passionate, dedicated, hard-working educators and ECE activists in the US and Canada who embody this sentiment in real life.

The Paradigm Project community like to say #makeshifthappen. This puts the sometimes onerous task and responsibility directly on the individual. It is up to each person to make the shift and to take responsibility to be a leader that makes the positive and necessary changes. There is no better way to get the strength, knowledge and power to do this than learning with a community who has a shared vision of creating the best Jewish ECE centers possible. The Paradigm Project Conference offers a gathering place for the community to come together and #makeshifthappen. Each community and school represented at the conference is different. The schools and organizations represented vary in terms of their geography, finances, affiliation, educational philosophy, religious observance and so on, but they all have a shared vision of creating their best version of Jewish ECE and #makingshifthappen.

*During the story of the Exodus, Nachshon walked into the sea of Reeds before the sea had split and had faith that G-d would help. After Nachshon took action, G-d sea split the sea when Nachshon was almost fully emerged in the sea.

Inclusive Family Trees

My family participates in a wonderful program called PJ Library. Their mission is to help build a foundation of family and community through literacy and increase knowledge of and exposure to Jewish traditions and culture through books. In addition to sending a book every month, in some months we receive a music CD or an activity to build on a specific value or theme. This month we received a family tree project.

I was delighted to see a family tree that was free form, one that we could build and design according to our family structure. Long gone are the days of the “traditional American family” consisting of a mom, dad and 2.5 children. The traditional family tree design is limiting and does not allow for the intricacies of modern families. This new design, something more akin to what a tree actually looks like, allows for many modalities and ways to connect each member of the family. I encourage schools, organizations and families, regardless of religious affiliation, to adopt a more inclusive family tree model and approach.

Feeding your Chemical Engineer: Customizable Noodle Kugel

Children love mixing, creating and customizing things, especially food. My daughter is no exception. Whether it is paint colors, ingredients for baking, or dirt and sand outside, she seems to find interesting objects to mix together to create something new. I like to say she is a budding chemical engineer. My daughter’s favorite ingredient is sprinkles of course. What could be better than brightly colored pieces of sugar in fantastic shapes! Like many children, she also likes to customize and create things for specific people: Dad gets the salad with tomatoes and Mom gets the one with the cucumbers. Whether you have picky or specific eaters, I like to refer to them as connoisseurs with a specific palate or children who love to mix and create, I have a holiday solution for you.

Here is a super simple and easy recipe for a traditional holiday food, noodle kugel, that can be customized for every taste in the house. Using cupcake tins, instead of a bundt pan or baking dish, is an easy way for children to get creative and create many different flavors of kugel.

Recipe: Noodle Kugel
1 package of 16 oz wide noodles (follow directions on bag to cook noodles)

In a bowl combine:
1 cup white sugar
1 stick butter (or pareve margarine)
3 eggs
¼ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons oil

Add noodles to mixture once they are finished cooking and mix all ingredients together
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Pour about 3/4 cup of the noodle mixture into 2-cup pyrex measuring cup or small bowl and add additional ingredients (see examples of ingredients below)
Pour from small bowl or measuring cup into cupcake tin and repeat until entire cupcake tin is filled
Cook in oven at 350 degrees for 60-90 minutes or until tops are golden brown and most of the liquid is gone.

Yields about 18 individual “cupcake” kugels

file_000-4Additional optional ingredients to mix in:

  • Diced apples
  • Pineapple
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Cherries
  • Other fruit
  • Raisins
  • Walnuts or other nuts
  • Sprinkles
  • Chocolate chips
  • Cereal (corn flakes or crunchy flakes of any brand)
  • Cinnamon

 

Newest Art Studio: The Kitchen

I love the Denver Art Museum (DAM) and on a recent visit my daughter and I were delighted to find a wonderful art room where visitors can explore different art techniques with loose parts and found materials. Regular readers will know that I am a huge proponent of using loose parts with children  (see related articles materials, Passover, story stones, loose parts, and recycled art).

It is important to offer children an opportunity to explore different materials in an open-ended setting. Allowing children to use their imaginations and creativity with materials (especially in ways other than the original intended uses) helps encourage many skills, not least of which is creative problem solving. When children are able to envision many different possibilities and outcomes they can approach and solve a problem by trying alternative strategies. One way to encourage this in young children is to offer nontraditional art tools, what I like to call BPB (Beyond Paint Brushes).

At the DAM, two of the art tables featured materials typically found in a kitchen. Salad spinners covered one table to create spin art. This is a great activity for kids, particularly young children. Spin art requires a variety of gross and motor skills and a child has to go through a certain number of steps in the correct order. The young artist has to carefully place paper inside a basket, squeeze paint onto the paper, line up the top so that it closes properly and then push down on the button to make the basket spin. Not only is the child exploring art concepts like colors, color mixing, and shapes, but also science themes like centripetal force, friction and momentum.

Spin artwork:

Another table featured a variety of BPB tools, including sponges, loofahs, toothbrushes and other metal tools typically found in a kitchen. It is important to offer materials of varying textures to children. Having varied materials can encourage exploration of cause and effect and give children an opportunity to hypothesize, and later test, what the resulting prints and art work will look like when they use the different tools.

This lovely kitchen exhibit demonstrates that giving children an opportunity to explore art using different materials can be easy and inexpensive, and for educators it shows how providing new and different materials in the classroom throughout the year keeps children engaged and excited.

Exploring Passover in the Classroom

Passover is a Jewish holiday rich in tradition and content. The unique traditions practiced and foods eaten during the holiday can offer an exciting and enriching experience within the classroom. Combining the traditional ritual objects associated with Passover with loose parts can offer an open-ended opportunity for children to explore the holiday. For more on loose parts in the classroom, see our earlier post on play and loose parts in the classroom.

Here are a few examples of hands-on exploration ideas from a professional development workshop I recently led. 

The child safe grain grinder and wheat berries above from Kodo Kids offer an opportunity to investigate the process of making Matzah from start to finish. Highlighting and showing children each stage of wheat is a great way to develop STEM skills in the classroom. The children can see and touch the different stages of wheat from green grass to dried stalk to wheat berry and then they can grind the berries to make flour.

wheat grass

 

 

Wheat grass grows incredibly fast. The picture on the left is after 7 days of growth. If you have wheat allergies in the classroom you can use another type of grass and grind a different grain to make a wheat-free matzah.

 

 

 

 

Using wheat berries in a tray or sensory table.

Using loose parts to create a visual representation of the story of Passover. Above left: Colored sand, stones, shells and plastic people to create the parting of the Red Sea. Above Right: Blue and clear glass stones, plastic frogs, fish and plants, shells and a baby in a “basket” create the scene of baby Moses in the river.

In the pictures above, wheat stalks, white glue, wheat berries, matzah, paint brushes and liquid water colors were set-up on the table. There were no instructions or directions given to the educators about how to use the products or what to create. This provocation allowed the educators to explore the materials in any way they wished. Some used the wheat stalks as brushes. Others painted directly onto the Matzah, while others glued the materials onto the paper to create a collage with texture and color. Food coloring or dyes made from vegetables can be substituted for the water colors if children want to eat the matzah after painting on it.

Please share any of your hands-on explorations of Passover as we would love to see them.

The Secret Sauce

One of my best friends in college was a fiery Persian Jew from Los Angeles; she reminded me of Princess Jasmine from Aladdin, if the princess had a potty mouth and wore less clothing. One Passover, Jasmine and I were trying to make our respective family charoset recipes. There was just one problem: neither of us actually knew the specific servings of the ingredients. We knew the general recipe and what it should taste like but otherwise we didn’t have a clue (generous helpings of the the Passover drink of choice, Manischewitz, didn’t help the matter). We both grew up making these dishes with our family every Passover, but the recipes were transmitted orally and through the shared experience of cooking together.

No matter, we forged ahead. I found myself covered in the fallout of Ashkenazi ingredients–shaved nuts, pooled honey, wine, apple slices, cinnamon, and nutmeg–while my roommate was painted in the dates, banana mush, ginger, cardamom, and pomegranate juice of Persian charoset. Sauced on sweet wine and befuddled, we exercised every college student’s best option and called our mothers for help. To this day I remember her response when pressed on the specific ingredients: “I don’t know, just taste as you go.”

One of the great ways Jews create community is through food and cooking. Instead of writing down exact prescriptions, people are the keepers of the recipes. This cleverly ensures the need for humans to participate in the process, demanding not only communication, but also face-to-face interaction. The key to a successful recipe is the presence of the “keeper of the recipe,” and as a result, our families were ensuring the continuity of community and tradition. Whether our parents and grandparents realized it, they were making their physical presence a necessity.

The tradition of oral law and storytelling has a long history in Judaism. It exists to create and sustain community. For many generations, the only way to learn the traditions, laws and customs was from the community. Now that I have my own daughter, I can’t wait for the first Passover that she asks me how to make my famous charoset and of course my answer will be, “I don’t know, just taste as you go.”

This time of year can be crazy and overwhelming: Purim celebrations rush quickly into Passover preparations and the stress of expelling every tiny crumb from the house. It is easy to lose track of the ties that connect us to each other. But the demands and traditions of the holiday are also a terrific excuse to reach out and reconnect. Go call your mom, grandma, dad, best friend etc. and share something special together this holiday season. Happy Passover!

Ingredients for my friend’s Persian Charoset:
Dates, apples, banana, walnuts, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, pomegranate juice

Ingredients for my Charoset:
Apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, walnuts, honey, Kosher sweet blackberry wine

Reimagining the Materials in your Classroom

“Provide materials that leave room for the imagination and sufficient time to innovate with these materials.”

– David Elkind

The types of materials used in the classroom can have a huge impact on learning and development. The challenge is to reimagine and rethink classroom materials and how they are being used in order to explore possible new and open-ended uses. Just think of the endless opportunities to create, explore and learn using recycled materials or  “mundane”, everyday objects if only viewed from a different lens.

I recently led a workshop on exploring open-ended materials used in a play based curriculum. It was an opportunity for teachers to explore, create and use materials in a completely new and different way than their intended or original purpose.

Offering alternatives to traditional tools, like paintbrushes, can encourage exploration and creativity. In the pictures above, flowers, flower stems, pinecones, and foam shapes that were once packing material were used instead of brushes to apply homemade “puffy paint” (white glue, shaving cream and liquid water color). The teachers explored the different textures of the non traditional tools and the images created.

Play dough is another wonderful activity to have in early education classrooms. It offers open ended exploration of colors, shapes, textures and encourages development in fine and gross motor skills, as well as developing physical strength (think about all the times you have seen a child use their entire body to flatten a ball of dough). Materials with different shapes and textures such as, shells, star fish, corks, and packing cardboard are just a few examples of items that can be paired with dough. They are a great alternative to the traditional plastic play dough toys and cookie cutters.

Providing materials that encourage exploration in areas of STEM in classrooms, especially ECE classrooms, is also critical. It can be as easy as bringing in a few plastic tubes, balls and cardboard tubes cut in half. These resources can be found at resource recycling centers such as the RAFT (Resource Area For Teaching) and are very inexpensive.  The materials provide an opportunity to engage in trial and error, engineering, and cooperation.

Children are incredibly creative and imaginative. It is important to provide a wide array of developmentally appropriate materials and the time and space for children to explore, create and discover using those materials.