Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Elul 5759 - September 8, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
'Fun' Time
by R' Zvi Zobin

[Vacation is over and it's time we reevaluated our attitude towards certain activities]

"Good morning, children! As you wake up in your `fun' bed with its `fun' blankets, you will wash your hands with your `fun' cup into your `fun' bowl, get dressed into your `fun' clothes, eat your `fun' cereal, and go to your `fun' school in your `fun' schoolbus. At school, you will listen to `fun' lessons and take your `fun' pen and write `fun' exercises in your `fun' books. Have a great `fun' day!"

There are some items missing from this `fun' diary. Do the children daven their `fun' davening from their `fun' siddurim? Will they learn chumash from their `fun' chumashim? And when they get older, will they learn `fun' Talmud from their `fun' gemoras? Will Rashi ever become `fun'? Can we look forward to `fun' Ketzos?

The non-Jewish educational system has become preoccupied with motivating children by promising them a life of fun. As the boundary between education and commercialism becomes increasingly blurred, more and more educational resources are become `fun' oriented. We, therefore, need to consider how we need to relate to exposing our children to `fun.'

Before the era of commercialized education, one of the prime goals of education was to train the child to persevere, overcome trials and tribulations and to keep going until he achieves success. This followed the Biblical philosophy of "One who sows with tears, reaps with joy!" And, as Chazal say, "The reward is according to the anguish." Even athletes exercise to the dictum of "No pain, no gain."

The most popular hobbies were those based on developing skills and artistry through constant practice; embroidery (samplers) and tapestry, knitting and crocheting, woodcarving (whittling, cornhusk carving), basketry, model making, pottery, chess -- the list was long. Even if a child was not interested in any of these pastimes, he grew up knowing that skills develop slowly and only after consistent effort.

Nowadays, the spirit is, "Use once and then discard." Resources come pre- printed, pre-scored, pre-cut, ready to use straight out of the box. The child is shown what to do, how to do it, with minimal effort so contrived that he is guaranteed to produce a perfect item immediately.

"Look, Mummy! Look what I did!"

Perhaps it is a beautiful painting made by mindlessly filling in numbered areas with paint according to the diagram which comes with the kit. Perhaps it is a complicated model made by clicking together pre-cut, ready-painted, numbered parts, "Fit part A into part B as shown... etc."

The pay-off is the familiar whine which comes when the child does not understand something the first time, or when he needs to practice something more than once. "I can't do it. Ain li koach! I don't wanna do it again!"

The instant gratification of the `fun' approach does manipulate the child into doing what you want him to do -- for awhile, but the end result is, "One who sows with joy, reaps with tears!"

Deep down, the child knows he did not bring about the end result. He knows he cannot do those things by himself. He knows he does not have the skills to really make what he is being maneuvered into appearing to make. The child gets depressed, feels unfulfilled, lacks self-confidence and develops all of those negative feelings which is becoming endemic to the children of our era.

In contrast, at an "Early-Developmental Skills" group held recently for young children in Jerusalem, parents reported how they saw their children flower as they learned to develop basic skills "the old way" through practice and encouragement to "try again." The children became happier, gained self- confidence and improved in areas of their schooling which were apparently unrelated to the activities of the group.

Recently, Mr. Reuven sat down to so some reading drills with Rochele, a typical spoilt little girl who could not be bothered doing anything. After two `runs,' Rochele gave up. "I can't do it anymore!" Mr. Reuven promised Rochele that if she did it a few more times, he would make a box for her. Filled with curiosity, Rochele complied. Mr. Reuven then made a box by folding a square piece of paper. Rochele squealed with delight. "That's neat! Please show me how you did it!"

Mr. Reuven then taught her the `magic' of folding a plain square piece of paper into a box. Rochele practiced a few times until she got it right. Within a short while, Rochele was tearing paper into squares and making box after box, ignoring the computer games, organ and a host of other sophisticated "guaranteed success" toys which filled the house. That was probably the first time Rochele had experienced the joy of making something from raw materials, with her own hands.

Children do enjoy being creative and they are prepared to invest time and energy into rote drillings and developing skills. But that usually is not something the parent needs to buy. Raw materials are cheap. Industry needs to sell items at the highest possible price, for the greatest possible profit. Hence the great race to sell parents expensive `educational' games and kits, textbooks that can only be used once, and all sorts of equipment designed to last as little time as possible.

Industry justifies them with their style of educational psychological philosophy. They claim that you have to make things as easy and effortless as possible for the child so that they can experience immediate satisfaction. What they really mean is that you need to make it as profitable as possible for the manufacturers and retailers.

Incidentally, equipment for the "Early Developmental Skills" group comprised not much more than bits of wood, pieces of string and rope, items cut from cardboard, balloons and home- made bean bags.

And how to make that box which Mr. Reuven folded from a square of paper? Well, you can get a book on paper-folding which describes how to make tens or even hundreds of different models and you can practice on pieces of scrap paper. Or you can buy a kit of pre-folded, printed, fancy colored paper, guaranteed to fold into the right shape the first time you try.


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