Director's Review Week of November 26, 2019 / 28 Cheshvan 5780 How to Raise a Mitzvah Maker
Spending Mitzvah Day with the PAS community left me thinking about the ways we encourage children to give and to care. Our school and the entire PAS community places significant emphasis on inspiring these qualities in learners from early childhood to adulthood. At the ECC, we create a strong foundation for teaching mitzvot at a younger age when there are not as many competing academic demands and standards. Observing young children and their families today inspired me to think about the ways we work together at home and in school to raise “mitzvah makers”.
Modeling is a fundamental technique for teaching young children. Today at Mitzvah Day, parents modeled the importance of doing good by spending time at PAS, on a Sunday, exclusively to help others. It is equally important for adults to model this behavior daily and in small moments.
We greet one another kindly every day with a smile and by name. When one of our families experiences a celebration, we celebrate with them, and when they feel pain or experience hardship, we stop to care and to give our time. As you know, our children call their friends whenever they are out sick as part of bikur cholim.
Just like adults, children have multiple interests and as parents and educators we need to provide a variety of ways for children to show care and to give to others. Mitzvah Day was the ultimate example of this as there were multiple stations and activities. While it is challenging to replicate that daily, our program tries.
Weekly or daily, children can bring tzedakah and see how their contributions are used to buy food for our Teen Food Pantry. Our art closet reflects a dedication to Bal Tash’hit so that when children want to create, they scan an inventory of reused, recycled materials. We talk candidly with our children about those who do not have as much or who are not as fortunate, and we give them opportunities to help. We look forward to wrapping presents together on December 13 for children at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and we will donate pajamas to celebrate Read Across America.
These experiences leave lasting impressions on our children that we hope lead them to continue to do good long after they leave the ECC.
Educators in the ECC believe that children learn to care and to be kind in difficult moments. As parents, our response when we witness our child do something “unkind” is to insist that he/she immediately say, “I’m sorry.” At the ECC, we believe that children learn empathy by pausing, looking at the child who they hurt physically or emotionally, and noticing how that child feels. We ask, “What do you notice?” and we teach how to help resolve the situation. We will give the child actionable steps such as, “Why don’t we go get your friend ice?” or “You know where the tissues are. Why don’t you bring your friend one to dry his tears?” In this way, we empower the young child to change the course of events in a positive way.
In conclusion, Mitzvah Day is a reminder of the solid commitment we make at PAS to do mitzvot. And practicing menschlich behavior every day is an important way to raise “mitzvah makers.”