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Gan Hayeled: Note from Noah

04/03/2020 09:05:43 AM



Dear Gan parents,

The children are all home! As was recently reported, there are currently 1.5 billion students out of school, or 87% of the world’s children and young people. You each have one or more of those 1.5 billion students in your home right now. This puts many of us in an impossible situation: work remotely, parent proximally, and never sleep. We simply can’t do it. I imagine many or most (or all!) of us might nod our heads along with the now-viral Israeli mother’s rant against homeschooling or the op-ed piece by a professor of educational leadership who “refuses to run a Coronavirus homeschool.” And in a household myself with two newly-minted work from home parents, two young children, and two more on their way, I am nodding along with you.

Yesterday in my weekly “open parents forum” (access here) a Gan parent asked: “What’s the bare minimum, educationally, we should be doing at home? My kid’s watching way more TV then normal and we’re not doing any app-based ‘learning’ programs.” This encapsulated what I’ve heard from a lot of our parents recently, and so I’d like to touch on this question for a bit: when stretched thin, what is the bare minimum we should be expecting of ourselves when it comes to our preschoolers’ education?

Crayon jar: In a central place in your home or apartment, plop down a jar with a few crayons and a couple pencils or pens. Next to it, leave some scrap paper, old mail, or index cards. A few times a week, use this area to jot down a note (“Ran out of milk”, “walk the dog”, etc). The key here is to do this while your child is watching, or better, next to you. And then…well, that’s actually it. You’ve done the bare minimum. You do not need to pause and teach your child how to spell the word you’re writing or how to hold their crayon better. You are already their superhero and they desperately want to mimic whatever it is you are doing. Just leave the jar out, and every couple of days check to make sure the crayons and paper haven’t all wandered off. Do not fuss about the “product” your child makes. For preschoolers, scribbling is writing. Remember how your infant’s babbling turned into talking and crawling turned into walking? Their scribbling will become letters. Trust me on this one. (If you’re looking for extra credit here, take a look at the “teaching writing at home” piece I wrote two weeks ago)

Visual discrimination: OK don’t let the jargon toss you. It means looking at things, being able to tell them apart, and organizing them mentally in a meaningful way. As adults we are able to do this seamlessly (“The street sign is red, has six sides, and says STOP – that means I should put my right foot on the car brake”), but children are just learning this. This is an enormously important step in your child’s cognitive development and at the core of so much of what we do at school. It leads directly to math, science, and literacy in later school grades. Children learn and use visual discrimination when they clean up (stacking Magnatiles into piles of specific shapes), read their name (a “B” has two curves while a “D” has only one), or even find their favorite stuffed animal (Elmo is red while Big Bird is yellow). So, here’s the bare minimum: try, once a day, to model for your child how you use visual discrimination: “I’m looking for my black shoes – have you seen them? I know my blue shoes are right here – but I can’t find my black ones” or “I’m putting away all the silverware from the dishwasher – the knives are the straight ones and they go here, the forks have the points and they go here, the spoons are curved and they go here.” And then – well, actually, you’re done. You’ve modeled for your child a very important cognitive task. They will know what to do from there.

Boredom is good: For strange societal reasons, we have convinced ourselves that children need a high degree of stimulation; for the same strange reasons, we have decided that this stimulation comes either in the form of smart adults telling them what to do or in toys that have batteries and lights. Children don’t need any of that to do what they do: explore, be curious, and learn (I wrote more about this in a note last year). Quiet, non-stimulating boredom is essential for children because they need time to slow their brain down and mull through the day’s events. Children don’t hurdle through life, learning-as-they-go, ever-ready for the next activity. Learning is not a footrace, it’s more like red-light green-light: after you do something, you need to just pause and stand still for a bit for the learning to sink in. If it’s always “go go go” the child’s brain just doesn’t quite catch the learning. Boredom allows children to review recent events, connect a few dots, replay a few scenes, and consider some new ideas. So if you’re noticing your child just kind of rolling around on the floor, not doing much of anything, you’ve done the bare minimum: provided them with some quiet time to soak up all the stuff they’ve seen recently. They need it.

I will write more next week on other “bare minimum” pieces for our children’s education that we can all do from home without adding to our already full plate. If there are elements you would like to see addressed, please let me know. If you have specific questions about your child’s development and learning, please of course reach out directly to your child’s classroom teacher, school leadership, or sign up for Stephanie Slater’s office hours.

As has become our rhythm, we will again send an email this Monday with an update about our new framework – CONTENT, ROUTINE, and CONNECTION – as well as a Passover schedule. In the meantime, tune in for Shabbat Sing at noon today!

Sending warm wishes to you and your family. Shabbat shalom,



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