Sunday, October 4, 2015

Teaching Hebrew to My Preschooler

Guest post by Rachel Chaput, author of Alef-BetHebrew Letter Primer and Alef-Bet Hebrew Letter Tracing Book. Rachel is a mother and Jewish educator with over 20 years of experience as a Hebrew teacher at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas. She and her husband, who is a Jew-by-Choice, are the parents of two young children, and they all love playing soccer and traveling the world together.

It simply did not exist.

That was what I said to myself when I went searching for a board book to help teach the basics of Modern Hebrew to my then preschool-aged son. It was important to my husband and me that we start exposing our children to different languages when they were young because we believed the potential for children to learn new languages was limitless.

Every parent buys ABC books for children to learn the English letters. But what’s the difference between 26 letters, 50 letters, or more. Children don’t know the boundaries of learning, and the boundaries are only set by what we choose to expose them to.

I was surprised to find little available outside of standard textbooks. So I decided to utilize my 20 years of experience as a Hebrew teacher at a large Reform congregation and experience as a mother to write and illustrate a fun and interesting book for young and old alike.

I know what it's like to be a Jewish student in Hebrew school, and I found I could easily relate to the students. Over the years, I have taught children in Kindergarten to 6th grade, children with learning differences, and bar and bat mitzvah students. It is important to me to give back to the community through teaching and I have always been determined to make learning Hebrew fun because learning new languages CAN be fun!

One of my favorite parts of being a Hebrew teacher is when I teach the foundation of the language…the letters. I teach the letters using mnemonics or "memory tricks" using pictures, alliteration, and letter association. If my mnemonic doesn't work for them, I encourage them to create their own. After a while, they stop relying on the mnemonic and just remember the letter and the sound the letter makes. Then they can put the letters and vowels together to form words and those words to form sentences, which make up the prayers they study for their b’nei mitzvahs. The book I wrote is a culmination of what I have taught AND learned from being a Hebrew teacher.

Utilizing my experience in the classroom, I created a fun and engaging resource for the introduction to Hebrew at the preschool and primary grade levels. Studies have shown that young children have incredible early learning skills and are uniquely equipped to learn the building blocks of one or more languages starting at birth. Furthermore, young learners have a natural curiosity about learning that is evident when they engage in learning a new language.

The more I discussed my project; I realized that there were parents and grandparents in Jewish communities across the country who didn't have a sufficient background in Hebrew. These adults embraced the opportunity to learn alongside their children. Furthermore, I discovered that there were many interfaith families and Jewish families like mine with grandparents from another background, who wanted to share the gift of language with the young children in their lives. They hoped to instill a love of language and learning at an early age.

In my house, we cherish the time at night to unwind before bed. We read with our children and have our children read to us. My goal with Alef-Bet is to enable families of all backgrounds to learn Hebrew and spend time together doing it.