By Laura Seymour
A week ago, all Jewish early childhood teachers in Dallas were given a gift: Schools were closed for three days so that we could attend the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) Conference which was held here. Every teacher from every school is grateful to our families for affirming the importance of our continued learning. The various sessions were amazing. The Jewish Early Childhood Network presented at the conference and the Sherry & Ken Goldberg Family Early Childhood Center hosted a special evening to share our journey.
I attended some wonderful sessions but one impacted me as a Jewish educator. The session was led by three people in the field of researching “faith formation of young children.” All three identified as Christians and we can and must learn from all people (Ben Zoma in Pirke Avot: “Who is wise? One who learns from all people.”) Here are some thoughts:
- Theoretical Ideas from the researchers: James Fowler says that faith is formed in stages similar to Piaget. John Westerhoff speaks of the phenomenon of faith versus stages — hmmm? Vygotsky teaches the importance of thought and language for shared understanding.
- Doubting or questioning is part of faith development, yet our American culture is often afraid of questions.
- Children, even before they can speak, learn from experiences and exposure makes a big difference in their faith formation.
Now as you read this, I wonder if you have a similar response as I did. We Jews don’t usually talk about “faith formation” — we do talk a lot about identity. Is that the same? Our Jewish learning for children is about the rituals and practices — even the focus on learning Hebrew is often decoding rather than understanding. This is true for many of us who did not grow up in a Jewish Day School setting and for our children today who attend public schools. Where does faith (where does God) fit into our practice of Judaism?
Just ideas to think about for all of us — no answers from me! The speakers shared a metaphor that resonated: Take a tree — it was a tree when it was small and it is still a tree as it grows big and tall. The tree does not lose its “treeness.” However, when you cut the tree and look at the rings you can see years of growth and years when there may have been a drought. It is the same with us and our connection to our Judaism and to God: some years are filled with growth in connection and belief and some years we step back and struggle. Yet we are still Jewish. I hope this all gives you some thoughts to ponder.
Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is Director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.