Hey, Adults! It’s Time to Listen to Kids

by Emily Aronoff Teck

I keep hearing grown-ups say things to kids that I doubt they really mean.

“If you don’t behave, the rabbi might get mad and kick you out of services.”

“People are here to pray, so you shouldn’t be making any noise.”

“Temple is a place to show respect, which means you stay still and quiet.”

As a music educator and service leader, I spend most of my days working with young Jewish children. I often ask kids to listen, to sit on their bottoms and pay attention to what I have to say – but more often, I invite kids to share their ideas, make noise, dance and move.

I’m not arguing that children shouldn’t be taught proper decorum and good manners. I’m merely suggesting that we become more thoughtful about the way we teach children to relate to the space that is their house of worship – because if I believed synagogue was a place where I had to stay still and quiet, where the threat of eviction always loomed and other people’s prayers were always more important than mine, I would be hesitant about attendance, too!

The congregations that bring me into their communities are those that are actively trying to engage young children, where someone with decision-making power has coordinated the implementation of programming for young kids. However, the positive effects of these good intentions can be quickly reversed when other members of the community revoke the feeling of welcome from young families, often unintentionally.

The life of a young child is a balance between learning though doing, thinking, playing, and listening. If we want our children to love temple life, then they need to be able to engage with temple life in developmentally appropriate ways. This could mean a variety of things: providing a space where moving is a part of learning, integrating language that is accessible to young children into community functions, facilitating small or large group discussions with children so that their ideas can be explored and expressed, implementing parallel programming so that different levels of learners can each learn through thoughtfully customized strategies of engagement or simply being thoughtful and transparent about the expectations of community behavior in the temple.

These are just a few ideas, conversation starters to a conversation that I hope your congregation will start to have. What are the unwritten rules in your community? Should they be written? How can you modify your space or expectations to insure inclusion of the youngest members of your congregation in developmentally appropriate and respectful ways?

“Miss” Emily Aronoff Teck is a Jewish music educator who believes wholeheartedly in the power of informal education and utilizes music as her tool of choice. Her primary career focus is early engagement of young Jewish children and their families through developmentally appropriate, enjoyable and meaningful musical experiences. Visit missemilycelebrates.com for more.

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One Response to “Hey, Adults! It’s Time to Listen to Kids”

  1. avatar

    I think often the intentions are earnest but the expectations are those of an adult. We have a Friday evening ‘family service’ for 0-8 year old children, then at 6pm dinner, and at 7:30pm a regular Friday night service. We encourage overlapping! (Come to the family service, stay for dinner and go home or come to the dinner and stay for the service afterwards so that we all meet over dinner.)
    Seems to work nicely.

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