by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

It is really exciting to be part of the jkidphilly team launching jkidphilly Venturers this summer. We’ve created a list of kid-friendly activities based on Jewish values that you can do together as a family.

I’ve been teaching kindergarten and first grade children in our congregational Hebrew school at my synagogue Mishkan Shalom for nearly 20 years now. A core aspect of our curriculum is learning about mitzvot that are developmentally-appropriate for young children to do at home, school or in the community. We’ve made a mitzvah tree to add leaves to each week, so that each child can share the ways that we’ve helped the world through the week and have created murals with mitzvah stars that light up the world with our helping actions. But the most effective way that I’ve discovered for children to reflect and share about helping others is a very simple way that parents can do at home with their kids…it is making time to ask the question, “What did you do this week to help a friend, help a classmate or help the world?”

In our busy lives and in a culture focused on achieveing and academic accomplishments, we as parents have an incredible opportunity to nurture our children’s emerging sense of empathy and compassion by both doing social action together–and talking about our actions. By asking our kids about how they’ve helped someone or some part of the community, we create an opportunity for them to reflect on their actions. Helping others becoms part of their identity. In my class, kids might share everything from picking up litter while taking a walk to cheering up a friend who was sad. In our mitzvah sharing conversations, we listen to each other, give lots of high fives and encourage our friends who can’t think of a way that they’ve helped during the week to keep on thinking. Usually by the end of the circle, everyone has shared something and often hands keep shooting up as children remember more and more ways that they’ve helped the world over the week. The feeling in our circle is hopeful, energized and definitely excited.

The question that I ask my students is something that you could integrate into a bedtime ritual or share around the Shabbat table. I always include myself, the adult, in the sharing; modeling is an important way to show that helping the world is a lifelong way of being Jewish in the world.

If you need ideas or support as your jkids become Venturers this summer, don’t hesitate to contact me or the jkidphilly team!

Making A Mitzvah Mural.

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer directs Whole Community Inclusion at Jewish Learning Venture.