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Hazak, hazak, v’nit-hazek: May we go from strength to strength

We recite these words collectively, as a community, in synagogue when we complete the reading of a book of the Torah. As this school year draws to a close, let us be strengthened as we reflect on the year, and recognize how the experiences of early childhood strengthen the foundation of the Jewish people.

Very young children have little understanding of time and do not think about departures and endings the way adults do. While story-time and music have their designated ending times, preparing young children for the separation of summer and a transition to a new class requires greater intentionality and planning, in order to help children feel safe making transitions.

Early childhood educators carefully plan for the end of the year. So many things are different now than they were at the beginning of the year. The children have grown dramatically – physically and emotionally. The emergency clothes brought by the parents at the beginning of the year are laughably too small.  Children have mastered the routes to the bathroom and the head of school’s office. Blessings unknown at the beginning of the year now roll off their tongues. The time to shift gears, end an experience, prepare for separation and lay the groundwork for new attachments is at hand.

Books that gently introduce growth and change are helpful conversation starters.  Eric Carle’s A House for a Hermit Crab is one good example. As they read about the crab that is growing and must find a new shell, it is easy for children to see how much they have grown and think about what they can do now which they could not do when school began.

Pictures help children review the year they are saying good-bye to.  An album of pictures taken during the school year is a popular selection in the class library. Pictures hung at children’s eye level remind children of all they have done during the year.

A class that has been collecting coins for tzedakah throughout the year must now make a class decision of how to use the money, and as concretely as possible, fulfill the plan.  For example, if the class decides to help animals, they might contact a local animal shelter, find out what they need, and take a field trip to purchase the supplies with the tzedakah money.

When possible, the teachers from the classes the children will be entering can visit the current classroom. They can answer questions and tell children about what fun they will have next year. Ideally, children will also visit next year’s classroom. Children in kindergarten can write notes or create books or even blog posts to welcome children from the EC and describe what they might expect.

Of course, learning, growing and the development of a child’s Jewish identity do not slow down in the summer when the child is not in school. Now is your opportunity to share resources with parents to help them infuse the summer with a Jewish rhythm. Children can be surrounded by Jewish books all summer long.  Some great suggestions include Bagels from Benny by Abrey Davis, Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman and Love Me Later by Julie Baer.

Weave Jewish songs into the summertime repertoire.  CDs like Oy Baby and Oy Baby 2, Joe Black’s Aleph Bet Boogie, and My Jewish Discovery by Craig N Company will keep children dancing all summer.

As our children grow, the entire school community can join in to add to the experiences which strengthen the foundation of each child’s emerging Jewish identity, and indeed, the foundation of the Jewish people.