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Tuesday
Jun302015

CHASSIDISHE CHINUCH FOR THE SUMMER

All agree that ten weeks of summer vacation is too much. What can be done so that the Chassidishe chinuch our children receive the rest of the year does not go down the drain at this time?

“Abba, when am I going back to school?” my four year old asked me. Two weeks of vacation were enough for her. During these two weeks, as planned, she worked every day on many creative projects. She drew pictures, she built and dismantled popular building toys, we went to a petting zoo, to a playground, and she spent four days with her grandparents.

We did not leave her with an empty minute because we did not want to hear the dreaded words, “I’m bored.” Despite that, by the beginning of the third week of vacation, she wanted to go back to routine.

All attempts at finding who came up with the idea of this long summer vacation failed. It seems likely that if you were to ask those who work in education, of any background, do you think this long vacation is beneficial or harmful, that they would all agree that such a long break is harmful.

After giving out a questionnaire to children of all ages, I discovered that my daughter is not unusual. 90% of the children preferred to go back to school, with all that entails – homework and tests. If you thought parents are the main ones who suffer; today, more and more research shows that children suffer no less than the parents do. Even among the secular population there are many educational programs which operate throughout the summer.

The Rebbe was strongly opposed to this vacation. He asked those in education to utilize these days for buttressing traditional Jewish education. In sichos and letters, the Rebbe asked principals to open their doors to those who attend public school the rest of the year, and he asked teachers to take responsibility for their students even when they were not in school.

In Eretz Yisroel, the Education Ministry has instituted another month of school which our boys’ yeshivos already have. In most schools now, children in first and second grade have another month of school. The schedule and format are more easy-going. The plan is to extend this to all the grades.

VACATION – POTENTIAL FOR EDUCATIONAL DAMAGE

Why does a long vacation adversely affect the work put into the students the rest of the year?

If we think of our child as a young sapling, just as a sapling needs daily care, so too, a child needs a structure which will provide him with confidence and daily chinuch “care.” A long vacation ruins the message of consistency and it goes counter to the central message on which the work of chinuch is based.

This is one of the reasons why the mitzvos of the Torah are done regularly. Every day, we daven three times a day, we wash our hands, we give tz’daka. Can anyone say he’s going on vacation for two months and won’t be doing these mitzvos? Torah and mitzvos require constancy and consistency.

In addition to doing what Hashem wants, fulfilling mitzvos creates a change in the person who does them and a real change does not happen in a day or with one action; it requires consistency. This is true for our children too. A real change is created by repeated, consistent actions. A long vacation interrupts this.

Anyone involved in education knows what havoc is wreaked during a long vacation. A child does not come back from a long vacation better prepared for the school year ahead; he’s more confused. It can take a lot of work to get a child back to where he was before the break.

A wise person compared the ramifications of a long vacation to the work of a chef. Would a chef working on a cake take the cake out of the oven in the middle of baking, for a “break?” Obviously, you would not want a piece of that cake.

A cake or cooked dish that was not fully baked or cooked can be fixed or replaced, but a mistake in the education of a child cannot be undone.

In Lubavitcher (and frum) chinuch in Eretz Yisroel, the situation with the boys is better than with the girls. The elementary schools have always had another month of school and during the three weeks of bein ha’z’manim, many attend a camp.

The girls have a two month or longer vacation and most of them have nothing to do. Mrs. Nechama Chaya Navon, principal of Ohr Menachem for girls in Tzfas, did something about the problem.

“Sixteen years ago, toward the end of the school year, I wrote to the Rebbe and asked for a bracha. The answer was about the need for us, those in chinuch, to take care of students during vacation. I am ashamed to say that I had no energy to take on a project like this and I told the Rebbe that I understand the need but I cannot do anything about it.

“I opened the Igros Kodesh again and the answer was in Yiddish. One line in lashon ha’kodesh stood out: ‘I was not created except to serve my Maker.’ The message was clear, but my animal soul worked overtime and I asked the Rebbe again and again to absolve me of this burden. But whenever I wrote to the Rebbe I opened to answers about educational work during the summer.

“In one letter, the Rebbe wrote that even if the child learns more secular studies during the school year, if he learns more kodesh subjects during vacation, the effect will be felt the rest of the year. In another answer the Rebbe said that the lessons during vacation should be experiential and appealing to the children. With the eighth answer, I gave in. I informed the Rebbe that despite the difficulty, I would take on the project.”

How do you undertake a project in a school with about 400 students, in a few days?

“That’s the amazing thing. That same day, I sat down and within half an hour I came up with a program and told the teachers about it. I told the entire staff that this is an experiment and the project was underway. The first year, the girls continued with us for another two weeks into vacation. In the years that followed, we gradually increased the number of days and now we operate for about a month of vacation time. The program is called ‘Torah Fun’ and the idea is for the students to learn in a fun way without tests and homework.

“Each year, a coordinator is chosen to run the program. The girls are given a nourishing breakfast. We allow them to come without their uniform and every year they make an album of pictures of the Rebbe which the girls get; they compete among themselves as to who will finish their album first. The teachers prepare fascinating lessons in subjects they don’t usually teach during the year, and it’s all presented in an enjoyable, experiential way.”

“In recent years, the school expanded the program to include the two weeks prior to Pesach, and in Tishrei, for the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos. We were happy to find out that more and more schools for girls are adopting this model.”

Some educators and psychologists think that vacation benefits the child, for when boredom sets in, his creative juices start flowing.

Mrs. Navon disagrees. “It’s all a matter of the dosage. Vacation is a positive thing, on condition that it is used properly and does not stretch out for too long. This is the reason that ‘Torah Fun’ starts a few days after vacation begins and ends a few days before camp begins.

“As to your comment/question, maybe in the past, when the street was less of a threat and there were no computers at home, children were able to occupy themselves constructively. But today, in the best case scenarios, children sit for hours at the computer. The bottom line is, the Rebbe opposes long vacations and that’s that.”

Vacation, in and of itself, is a positive thing. Now and then it is a good idea to take a break from the intensity of the daily grind and get a change of scenery. The issues are the length of the vacation and what is being done during that time. Is the time wasted without any learning or strengthening of Torah and mitzvos and hiskashrus?

These days, the best option is to send children to Chassidishe summer camps which instill Chassidishe values in the children. The Rebbe, by visiting children’s summer camps, supported this.

A proper understanding of the goal of vacation explains the Rebbe’s approach. Vacation is not a break for the sake of a break, stopping the hustle and bustle of life and lying around with nothing to do. Vacation is a rest from the demands of everyday life and a time to gather strength to continue a life of Torah and mitzvos. Just as sleeping is not meant as an escape or a disconnect from reality but is vital for the human body to continue working properly, so too vacation is positive as long as it is used properly. Otherwise, it is a great loss or worse, it causes serious damage.


TEN TIPS FOR PARENTS

 

1-On the very first day of vacation, make a points contest with a list of jobs and a prize announced ahead of time.

 

2-Spend time every day with each child, asking him or her how the day went and listen to what they say.

 

3-Take care of their physical needs. Prepare their clothes the night before and make sure there are three regular meals each day.

 

4-There will be times a child will be bored and look for something to do. Make sure they are bored in a safe environment, not a dangerous one, and in general, it is worthwhile to train the children to occupy themselves in positive ways.

 

5-Usually, during vacation, the entire family is at home which increases the number of arguments and fights among the children. Be patient and resolve conflicts wisely.

 

6-Look for a Torah topic that interests the children, one which is not usually learned in school, and teach it to them during your free time.

 

7-Chinuch that is hands-on is so important. Take your children on nature outings and be a role model of how a Chassid goes on a trip. It is very important to clarify up front what the expectations for the trip are for each family member.

 

8-At the beginning of vacation, in consultation with your child, buy him a good game or toy or something that will occupy him in his free time.

 

9-Limit the amount of time a child sits at the computer. Hours playing computer games will not develop any significant skills; on the contrary. Help him with activities that will have a positive impact on him and his emotional state.

 

10-At the beginning of vacation, prepare a program for every day of vacation, and hang it up in a central place in the house. Children’s behavior is better when they know what to expect.

 

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