Dr. Scott Goldberg, Director of the YU School Partnership, recently sat down with New York-area educator, blogger and radio host Miriam L. Wallach to discuss how parents can create “teachable moments” at their upcoming Pesach Seders. Recordings of Miriam’s popular show, “That’s Life With Miriam Wallach,” can be found here: http://bit.ly/GRL2Ba.
Miriam: With Pesach looming, I know that my role as a parent and my role as a teacher in the classroom come to a head at the Seder.
Scott: Absolutely, the Seder is the paradigm of teachable moments. The entire structure of the Seder is set up such that we want children to participate and ask questions, and we lead them in that direction. That’s what Pesach is all about.
Miriam: Explain to me how parents can use the Seder as a teachable moment. There are different kinds of learners out there—tell me a little bit about the different types of learning.
How can we take the different approaches to learning and build them into the Seder?
Scott: It is not a simple question, and it is one that we will surely explore more over time. Generally speaking, I think it all comes down to approaching the child based on what you know about him or her. It’s not necessarily that there is a visual learner who never learns anything in an auditory way, or a learner who has to touch everything. What one should look at is a parent or a teacher is the profile. How can you create the best framework for learning for your child?
For example, if I know that my child responds more to having a conversation, then presenting them a book to read and saying, “here, go ahead and do this” just doesn’t make sense.
When we think about the Seder there are opportunities for reading, there are opportunities for speaking, there are opportunities for acting out, there are opportunities for being silly, and there are opportunities for being serious.
I think it is really incumbent upon parents to know their children, and know the variety of children and adults around the table so that they are all engaged in the mitzvah of telling the story about the exodus from Egypt, and the other mitzvoth of the day.
Miriam: The funny thing about the Seder to me is that as I’ve had more kids and had more years of parenting under my belt and greater time in the classroom, I’ve begun to make the Seder more fun and less serious. There is an order of things, and I do not cut corners in terms of what I am serving and presenting and how the table is set—there is a formal aspect to the Seder. But I’ve also become more excited about getting those little plastic jumping frogs and using them during the Seder, or putting on masks, for example. I have learned that engaging your kids in any way shape or form when it comes to the Seder or anything we do is as important as anything else.
Scott: I think you are really getting at the heart of what I would say is the difference between teaching and learning. The notion of a teacher teaching a curriculum as opposed to a teacher teaching a child is a yellow flag. When we have parent-teacher conferences and the teacher is merely speaking about what is going on in the classroom in terms of the materials or the curriculum, as opposed to the child; or the teacher who looks at the test and says, “what’s wrong with the child here,” as opposed to what went on in terms of the teaching, what went on in the classroom environment, what’s going on with the test perhaps. Just because a teacher taught something, just because we went through the motions at the Seder table, doesn’t mean that we actually met any goals that we had set and thought about.
For me as a parent, I think that this is the time. It’s not a matter of just cleaning our homes. Even those who go to hotels should be thinking already about how they prepare for the Seder and what they want their experience to be on a personal level and for their children. It’s not just a matter of going through the motions. It’s about creating an environment in which the plastic frogs make the children laugh or learn, and appreciate frogs, and what happened in Mitzrayim. For every family, for every child, it’s going to be different. And it’s not only about Pesach, it’s about bringing that into the Shabbat table as well.
Miriam: How hard is it for you to sometimes take off your educator hat and just be a parent at your Seder?
Scott: I think the key is to take a deep breath and remember that the Seder is not just about the matzoh and the charoset, but it is about the children, and what they get out of the experience. For many of us that don’t spend enough time with our children (quality time and quantity time), the time spent together during the Seder represents an opportunity. Revel in the moment; get to know your kids better. Smile and let them get to know you better.
Miriam: What would be the first step towards taking that deep breath and appreciating as a parent that at the Seder, any kind of experience can be made positive?
Scott: I think that as a first step, right now (a few weeks before the holiday), parents should ask their children what they are preparing in school. It’s best not to show up on Seder night and be surprised by what the child has to say and has learned. Speak to your children now and ask them about the projects they are working on. Keep in mind that that not everything has to be done at the Seder- there are lunches and other meals as well. There are opportunities for sharing and learning throughout the Pesach experience. Thinking about that now, and setting your goals as a parent, putting yourself in a mindset of listening as opposed to speaking, is valuable. In my house, we always want the children to speak significantly more than the parents at the table. There’s no rule that you have to have a long Seder. The goal is to keep the children engaged, so the Seder should be scheduled properly.
Miriam: The Seder is the perfect child-centered activity. The process is made for the child.
Scott: The term ‘facilitator’ is key at the Seder and in the classroom. The parent should try to take a step back and make sure that they can play that role for the children, so that the learning is child-centered.
Miriam: How do we make sure that the Seder meets the needs of the different age groups at the table?
Scott: That is the million dollar question! I think that the key is listening to your children. What excites them, what do they want to share? They will want to participate in different things. Think about when your children shine, in what capacity and with what material. How will their siblings react? Coach them and help them understand. Have the oldest play an active role in coaching the younger children.
This year I have been thinking a lot about the role of preparation in Jewish life, from tefilah, to learning, and getting in the right mindset. (We can draw a parallel to the world of athletics and pre-season training.) The mind needs preparation too. The more preparation you can do in advance of the Seder, the better it will be to meet the diverse learners of the people at your Seder.
Miriam: Not everyone makes a Seder at their home. People neglect the importance of taking their kids’ projects with them wherever they go. This can be damaging.
Scott: You know your children best, and you know what they connect with. Certain projects will be important to them, and certain projects won’t. It’s about balance.
This Q&A was excerpted from a March 22, 2012 radio interview on the program “That’s Life With Miriam Wallach.” You can listen to the full program here: http://bit.ly/GRL2Ba.
Visit Miriam L. Wallach’s website at http://dearthatslife.com/wordpress/.
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