I admit I don't usually read or quote Hebrew articles. However, Yedidyah Meir wrote an article in Be'Shevah newspaper after Simchat Torah that I feel is extremely important (you can read it here). Although a few weeks have passed since, the issue is as timely as ever.
I'm a very emotional person. Despite teaching for almost 40 years I still get teary eyed at the end of the year parties, or when I greet Kindergartners starting out on their road to reading. My favorite part of Simchat Torah is when all the children gather together and are blessed under the tallit. I always make sure to have plenty of tissues with me. Apparently, I'm not the only one. Yedidyah Meir told of the exact same situation which probably took place in every synagogue on Simchat Torah. All the children were gathered under the tallit. Little ones and babies. However, in this synagogue, in the middle of the blessing, suddenly a rumor is spread - the other synagogue is giving out a better bag of candies. Immediately, children abandon the tefillah, focused on getting the most candy possible.
What have we done wrong, wonders Meir, that our children seem to think that candy and sweets are so essential? Why do we tend to bribe them all the time, plying them full of sugars and chemicals? Why are children being surrounded by all of these treats all the time?
My daughters tell me how much of a struggle they contend with to prevent my grandchildren from eating junk. Every Friday, my nursery school aged grandchildren receive two candies - one from the Abba of Shabbat and one from the Ima of Shabbat. Every walk to the park reveals dozens of children milling about with bags of bamba, bisli and biscuits, generously distributing their piles of sugar among all the children. On every Shabbat and in every synagogue someone (or a few someones) make sure to present the children with marshmallows, lollipops, candies and other mixtures of sugars and food coloring. All day long our children are inundated with candies and junk food.
Like all teachers, I too reward students efforts. I believe that parents too, can benefit from rewarding children when appropriate. But not with sugar! In this series I'll share with you what I do, how I do it and what is the most effective way to reward different ages of students.
Why do I believe in giving children rewards? A reward is a recognition of the efforts put in to attaining a certain skill. A child deserves positive feedback for learning how to correctly do a task or studying lots of material. The real question is what is sufficient feedback for the child's accomplishments. Satisfaction of completing a task can be enough of a reward. But until a child is mature enough to feel it from the work itself, while your child still needs encouragement for each small step of the way - rewards can encourage them till accomplishment of the task. Thus, the question is what are the rewards that we can give them and what is overkill?
I believe it still possible for us in this day and age to reward children's accomplishments in the educational field without sugar. In the next two weeks I'll share a few of my secrets with you.
Gaila has almost 40 year of experience teaching and runs A.H.A.V.A., a non-profit to promote English literacy. Would you like to ask Gaila a question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message. Look out for more Dear Gaila columns