Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How to Teach Kids to Daven

As a parent, I have found the book "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" (1980) an amazing resource for developing new ways to communicate. Since starting to think more strategically about davening and how to evaluate success in teaching kids how to daven, I value Faber and Mazlish's insights that much more.

As adults, we presume much about the experience of prayer and how it is to be imparted to children. For those who attend a synagogue regularly, prayer behavior is modeled consistently and it is hard to judge how successful and/or uninspiring it may be for those not in tune with what is going on in people's heads and souls. If you want to teach the rules of how to move one's feet, or when to bow, then your work won't take so long. On the other hand teaching a child, old or young, to be sensitive to Gd, in touch with their inner prayers and needs, and how to maintain a perspective when good/bad things happen to good/bad people, things get VERY complicated.

I will be commenting on a few aspects of Faber and Mazlish's unintended advice to davening instructors, but will share only one for today. To listen to children you need to be sensitive to their feelings and hear their concerns. Too often parents 'know' the solution to their child's problem without giving the actual child the room or skills to prevent the situation from happening again. Especially since prayer is so ritualized and happens on a regular basis for so many students, it is incumbent on teachers to give some latitude to allow for students to address their own prayer needs. There is an obvious tension between the individual vs.community as well as traditional and more modern expressions, but isn't davening supposed to be transformational? How can you make the prayer experience in your school something that has a positive identity about it? Here's a tip, ask your students!

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