When you think of the way you approach your work as a Jewish family educator you might think about the outreach aspect of it – marketing to and welcoming families with young children. Or you might ask yourself the Jewish question – “How much “Jewish” is appropriate for families today?” Or you might even consider the elephant in the room – evaluating the success of your efforts.
Any one of these is a logical place to go for a Jewish family educator. However when I was challenged to recommend a book for the Coalition of Family Engagement Innovators to read together, I ended up going past those topics altogether and selected the book, Creating a Beautiful Mess: 10 Essential Play Experiences for a Joyous Childhood, and here’s why:
- In the complex arena of Jewish education, we sometimes forget the impact playful experiences can have on the participants. Learning should be fun and families look to have that fun together, whether they are at the park, the bouncy house, over a friend’s house, at school, or participating in an experience an educators sets up to engage them. They want to have fun! And they want to do it together!
- You might be the first “educator” they feel close to and therefore may ask you, “what do you think about a play-based preschool for my child?” Although the book is not about promoting a play-based curriculum in a school setting the author is an experienced early childhood educator and it’s from her experience that she draws important connections between play and learning. This is a topic we can all benefit from learning more about!
- Play IS the learning. Yes, children will learn something about their Jewish tradition when they hear a classic song or pass around an etrog this Sukkot. But the way a child personally messes about with that classic song to be silly, or the way they may want to turn that precious etrog into a flying lemon or experiment with it by rolling it down a hill, is the developmental way children learn. Reminding ourselves why children interact with materials the way they do is a great way to see the objects we use with children in a whole new light. And how we might create meaningful Jewish experiences for them.
- Depending on the age of the adults in your families, they will recall the days when they played with a wide variety of toys. Today, parents are concerned over technology and the interactions children have with devices such as iPads and electronic toys. In Creating a Beautiful Mess, Gadzikowski revisits 10 familiar play experiences (some of them specific toys, but not all) and shares why she thinks they are still valuable today. Having a broader understanding of the value of today’s play experiences will help you have these conversations with parents as well.
- This is where preschools are at. Educators and Directors of schools think about the play experiences of children a lot! And they design their schools to support their current knowledge about brain development, social-emotional intelligence, and supporting healthy lifestyles and family relationships. Your program might be that step before a family enters a preschool or it might be an addition to their school experience. Therefore I think the more connected our experiences are to the experiences they have in those settings the more we’re able to create comfortable experiences for children and families, ones that don’t seem so archaic and unrelated to their lives today.
- Although the topic may seem a bit simple, I believe we can easily challenge ourselves as family educators to see the connections between the play experiences Gadzikowski visits in the book and how we might redesign our family experiences to include these activities or materials. What would that family experience look like if we incorporated more of these “essential play experiences”? I don’t have the answers. But I’m betting together we can figure it out.
Click here to purchase Creating a Mess: 10 Essential Play Experiences for a Joyous Childhood.
Or check out these other books about play:
Related Post: Why Selling Play is So Hard