Adventures in a Jewish pre-school
By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO—Preschool teacher Sara Kaminski spotted me one Friday night at Shabbat services at Tifereth Israel Synagogue and asked if I would come one day to the kochavim (little stars) class and tell about newspapering. After I agreed, I wondered just what aspect of newspapering four and five-year-olds would be interested in. I decided that they probably would enjoy an “interview” with their teacher, and thus a “lesson plan” was born.
Sara’s class in the Silverman Preschool was joined by the class of Polina Polyakov, all of their students being four- and five-year-olds, or more simply “pre-Kindergarten students.” The students sat on a rug in front of me, their faces upturned expectantly. “Don’t let me disappoint them!” I remember thinking. I told them that many jobs have tools. For example, I asked, “what kind of tools might Bob the Builder take to a job with him?” The children correctly answered “hammer,” “nails,” and “saw.” I asked what kind of tools might a newspaper (or internet news site) reporter might take with him.
Well, said I, newspaper reporters interview people—that is, they ask people questions so that they can write stories about them. In order not to forget what people say, journalists (I introduced a new word) will often bring a tape recorder. I held mine up. “What’s your name?” I asked their teacher. “Sara,” she replied. “What’s your last name?” “Kaminski,” she answered. I played that back to the children, and many of them laughed with delight at hearing the conversation replayed.
“What else might a journalist bring to an interview?” I asked.
“A camera?” asked one youngster tentatively.
“Right,” I responded, fishing into my camera bag. “And here is one.”
I asked if they would like me to interview their teacher. They agreed enthusiastically.
“Sara,” I asked, “when you were a little girl the same age as these children, what kind of games did you like to play?”
She responded that when she grew up in Israel, kids used to play outside. One of the games she liked to play was shevah avanim. (Seven rocks). It involves running around a circle.
(I later learned that one piles the rocks on top of each other, and a person breaks the pile of rocks by throwing a ball at it. The ball ricochets and other players try to catch the ball and tag the runner before he or she runs around seven stations back to home plate.)
Could she demonstrate it?
Sara chose seven children to serve as the seven stations and together they pantomimed the game.
Another game she played in Israel was shevah maklot (seven sticks). In this one, one person has a big stick similar to a baseball bat. Another person tosses a much smaller stick to him, and he tries to hit it and run around different stations. Instead of three strikes as in baseball, a person gets to swing at seven sticks.
Now, it was the kids’ turn to ask questions of Sara, as Phil Donahue-style, I went into the audience and had them take turns speaking into the microphone.
A question from “Ben”: Did Sara grow up in Israel?
Answer: Yes, through high school and the military afterwards.
A question from another child: “Ahhh, mmmmm, ahhhh.”
Answer: Keep thinking about a question, and we’ll come back to you.
At public forums, there is a tendency during question and answer sessions for people to deliver comments, rather than ask questions.. I learned that this tendency develops in pre-schools.
“Do you know why Sara grew up in Israel?” asked another boy named Ben. “Because she now knows Hebrew and is a teacher and works in this Jewish school and teaches Hebrew to all these kids who don’t know Hebrew so well.”
“Good, Ben, and do you have a question?”
“Sara is a very nice teacher!”
Other students also decided to convert their questions into testimonials for the teacher they love.
“Sara knows Hebrew and she is a kind teacher and she is helpful for us,” commented Caroline.
A girl whose name, I think, was Ilona asked why Sara played with rocks.
Sara responded that “we didn’t have toys and we created this game and we needed to play with something.”
Zachary wanted to know why how big the sticks were.
About five inches long, responded Sara.
Eli Malachai commented that Sara is a very good paper airplane maker, and asked if she would demonstrate. After carefully folding it just so, she tossed the plane – and it fell at her feet.
“I think I forgot how to fly this,” admitted the teacher.
A girl named Sara asked Sara the teacher whether she knew any other games.
The teacher responded that in Israel children also played ‘Ima, Ima, ma ha sha’a.’ – Mother, mother what time is it? And if the mother says it’s five o’clock, the children will take five steps towards her.
One child said this sounded very much like a game she plays called “Mr. Fox.”
“What happens if you say it’s lunchtime?” the girl asked.
Sara chose some children for the game, and demonstrated. When she said ‘lunchtime,’ they cheered and swarmed her.
After resuming the question-and-answer session, one child whose name I did not hear, harkened back to the beginning of the lesson. What ‘tools’ does Sara need for her job? she asked. The teacher responded that she likes to have a supply of books, markers, songs, and learning puzzles – “all the stuff we see in the classroom.”
“And Hebrew?” the child asked.
“And Hebrew,” Sara agreed.
To finish the ‘interview,’ I asked the students to imagine that Sara was their age and had just arrived in the United States. What games would they teach her?
“Hide and seek,” said one. “Someone hides, and then someone counts and tries to find ‘em”
I wondered aloud about what’s the best place to hide in the classroom.
“Under the bunk bed,” the students agreed.
Another student suggested that Sara should learn tag. “You run around and you catch them – and then tag them. And then they do the same thing!”
“Duck, duck, goose,” said yet another student. “You go around in a circle, pat someone’s head, and say duck, then another duck, and another, until you say goose. Then that person has to try to catch you before you can sit in that person’s chair.
A game was quickly organized to demonstrate.
I finished the lesson by explaining that there are two things that are very helpful to do at the end of an interview.
First, I said, one should ask the interview subject if there is something else they would like to discuss—something they would like the readers to know.
Sara said she would like the readers to know that she hopes there will be peace in Israel, and that everyone should help attain it.
“Finally,” I said, “there’s something very important one should say at the end of the interview. What is it?”
The children didn’t hesitate, even for a second.
“Say ‘thank you’!” they said
And I did.
I’m not sure how much the children really learned about journalism.
But I feel like I’ve learned lots about games – and about preschool!
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World