Wait; I’m Not Ready or Stop and Smell the Honey

Idie Benjamin and Dale Sides Cooperman

Idie Benjamin & Dale Sides CoopermanAlmost three years ago, TAPBB published the first “Stop and Smell the Honey.” It was time for a re-write, because September 2013 has the same calendar as in September 2010. YES, Rosh ha-Shanah begins on the Wednesday night after Labor Day. Here is a second edition of, “Rosh ha-Shanah—Stop and Smell the Honey,” 3 years later, revisited with a fresh look and some new ways to consider the importance of how we should envision the beginning of a school year that literally begins with the celebration of a new Jewish year.

We can feel it in the air. For some early childhood educators, there is tension and dread and a rising panic. Its coming and we won’t be ready or accomplish enough or make enough stuff. The children won’t know enough about it.

Will we feel as if we are off balance–starting on the wrong foot, or will we see this as an important opportunity to start the year on the right foot? After all, the High Holidays are all about restarting and getting back on the correct path. Perhaps, this year’s calendar and the immediacy with which we will need to respond will teach us a lesson.

It will be the first week of September. In most places, school will have barely begun.

Everything will be new.

We won’t know the children.

We won’t know the parents.

We won’t have a sense of the group yet.


Wait! Stop and smell the honey!

New, yes, very new. New is good! It marks the beginning, a start of a journey. Is the journey about making a new year’s card or about something much more sacred?

  • The world will not end if a child does not make a New Year’s card or a paper shofar this year.
  • Our priorities in the beginning should always be to help our students to become comfortable in the classroom and to begin building a classroom community.
  • A curriculum has to be meaningful and developmentally and chronologically appropriate.
  • Confusing children is never a good idea. What is learned when stories, songs, activities, projects, etc. are all jumbled on top of one another?
  • If a child can’t make meaning out of what we are teaching, why are we teaching it?

Rabbi Tarfon taught: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either” (Pirkei Avot 2:16).

Rather than a crisis, this is an opportunity to examine our teaching, our vision of Jewish early childhood education. This year’s calendar helps us to reflect, as we figuratively hold a mirror up to our own practice. What do we see? Do we see an educator who sees children as strong and capable of directing their own learning? Or do we see the teacher who sets the agenda and controls the curriculum? We call them closet teachers. These teachers have a box in the closet for each holiday and a predetermined plan that is the same year after year. We know that this is not an emergent, child centered curriculum. We know that thinking outside the box literally can be refreshing and restorative.

What is the crisis anyway? Surely, this will not be the last time our students encounter Rosh ha-Shanah.

This year, more than other years, we can determine what is important for young children to know about Rosh Ha-Shanah. What is possible to introduce to children given the limited number of classroom days in September? What is reasonable? And most importantly, what is the focus?

Instead of anxiously listing everything you think you are supposed to be doing and making, consider the essential elements of what we want our students to “experience” about Rosh Ha-Shanah, as we help them to build their own knowledge and connections this year. Consider not doing! Remember, less is more. Keep it simple. Focus on welcoming the children and new families. Isn’t that celebration enough?

Consider this an exploration of perhaps a month or more. There is no finish line that must be crossed when the sun sets on Yom Kippur. Given what you already know about your class and if you believe it is appropriate, provide meaningful experiences that will help to scaffold these ideas. Please notice that we did not say projects. And then, do less, do it well, and do it with deeper meaning.

  • New: The New Year, what does “new” mean? Everything is new to our younger learners right now, isn’t it? They are wondering about what will happen this year. As they begin this journey with us, how do we set the tone that our classrooms are safe places to explore all the aspects of “new,” including and encouraging them to take risks in their own learning? We would suggest that the security of a new lap, a warm hug, and a welcoming and sincere smile teaches more than gluing on an apple shape.
  • New: Observations, symbols, concepts: (shofar, round hallah, Torahs dressed in white): Who is the shofar calling? Why is the hallah round? What is the symbolism of Torahs and clergy dressed in white? Helping the children to gain some familiarity with these symbols will create meaningful connections with what is happening around them.
  • Sweet: Why are we eating honey and hallah with raisins and honey cake? How is the concept of “sweet” relevant to the sensory experience of a learner? The sweetness of the sacred space you create says that this new community is one where everyone is safe and supported.
  • The birthday of world: Why does the world have a birthday? How old is the world? What present does it want? What are Jewish “gifts” we should offer the world?
  • Celebration. Something important is happening in our family and in our community. How are we all a part of it? Why do we come together to celebrate? How does this new community celebrate and partner with parents?

Necessity is the mother of invention. The calendar this year is not a cause for panic but an opportunity to take the lessons of the New Year to heart. We are called to self-examination, a heshbon ha-nefesh. Being a Jewish educator is a part of who we are. Our students deserve that we give our professional selves the same consideration and self-reflection that we give to the rest of ourselves at this time.

As early childhood educators, we ARE ready. Now, just stop and smell the honey!

Shanah Tovah