A Note From Noah

Here comes June, here comes summer, there goes the school year.

This time of year, it is easy to marvel at our students’ – your children’s – growth and maturity. Each and every one of them is now doing things they were not doing at the beginning of the year. Two year olds are taking turns, three year olds are pouring their own water at snack, four year olds are doing their own zippers and buttons, five year olds are writing with inventive spelling.

Each growth – each gain – is hard-fought and hard-earned. The long, slow, steady march of development does not come easy. A two year old taking turns is the result of hundreds (thousands) of moments of grabbing and yelling; a three year old pouring water only comes after months of spills and paper-towel-cleanups; four year olds only zip up their jackets after a whole winter of practice; and five year olds begin to spell only after three years of turning the lines and curves of their scribbling into letter-like shapes.

None of this, in other words, is a “light switch” – you don’t turn skills on suddenly after a dormant period. They are always emerging; a young child is always on the precipice of her next major breakthrough. She’s in her Olympic training period; she’s putting in her 10,000 hours.

You know how you can “star” an email in your gmail inbox? I have 74,146 emails archived in my JCC account. I have starred exactly one of them. I refer to it irregularly throughout the school year, as a guiding light for what children need as a key ingredient in their growth. The email is from June 28, 2012, during the beginning of a summer I spent directing Camp Settoga (then known as Pearl River; Adam Metzger, Room 5 co-head teacher, is our Camp Settoga director – reach him at ametzger@jccmanhattan.org!). Lucy Cohen, a specialist on camp staff that summer, sent me the following email:

Thought you'd appreciate this line from Henry, age 5:
"I'm so tired because today I tried my hardest"

That’s the whole email. That’s all I need as a reminder for why you send your children to JCC schools, camps, and programs. Growth is hard – and it also happens to be the major task of all young children! As we turn to summer and leave the classroom behind, I want to highlight a crucial way in which “I tried my hardest” is inextricably linked to personal growth and the development of new skills.

The jargon for what I’m getting at is “frustration tolerance.” A phrase that speaks for itself, strength in this area provides a fertile landscape upon which all other skills can be nurtured. Frustration tolerance is the three year old attempting to pour their water knowing it will likely spill; it is the four year old stubbornly refusing assistance with their zipper, determined to get it right this time. It is your toddler barking back at you, “Me do it!”, on tasks you know they can’t yet do. It is the ability to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on it – whatever “it” is.

As adults – as busy, New York City parents – we are all too prone to step in, to intervene. To button the jacket, to resolve the dispute, to snap the Legos together. The beautiful thing about frustration tolerance is that we can help grow this in our children by…doing less. By biting our tongue, by sitting on our thumbs, by quietly backpedaling just as the going gets tough. This approach to child development acknowledges that growth is hard, but also that children are persistent and capable; it rests on the fact that there is no “light switch” to the acquisition of skills and maturity – there is only trying (despite what Yoda has to say on the topic – though his “unlearn what you have learned” comment itself is worthy of much commentary when it comes to parenting!).

So, here are some suggestions for how to support frustration tolerance in your child – for giving them the opportunity to try their hardest. Each of these revolve around the core notion that when we intervene too early in our child’s struggles, we rob them of opportunities to develop frustration tolerance. Your child is already motivated – that’s why their trying to do whatever “it” is! Our early intervention sends the clear message, even if unintended – “We both know you can’t do this, so I’ll do it for you.” Here are some strategies for building frustration tolerance in different categories of action and effort:

Task completion: Pouring water, zipping up a jacket, building a Lego tower, scaling the climbing structure at the playground – anything that involves physical manipulation of, or around, material objects. As your child struggles with completing the task, with reaching his goal, simply back off. Recede into the distance. Instead, after a few times of watching them fail and try, offer them verbal encouragement focused on their effort and strategies, not the outcome: “Wow, you’re trying so hard! I can tell how much you want to do [this]. It looks like [this] is really hard!” If they can’t do “this” after several times, ask them, “What other strategies can you try? Is there a different approach you can take?”, or even give them more explicit pointers, highlighting new strategies they could take. And absolutely essential for this approach: if after some real effort by them and strong (verbal) support from you they still can’t complete the task, that is OK. Children need to learn how to walk away defeated by a task, knowing they tried their hardest. “You tried so hard and I’m really proud of you. It was really great to watch you try [that]. I know one day you’ll figure it out.”

Emotion and desire: Big emotions! This is the lava spewing from our volcano-children as they erupt in fits of passion. He has light up shoes and I don’t, and I want them now! Or, I’m scared of blood and needles and so I’ll scream until the whole pediatrician’s office knows exactly how I’m feeling! Or, I waited this whole time for a ride on the carousel, but you made me leave before I could ride it!

In each moment, depending on resources available, we could give our children what they want. Often our knee-jerk reaction is to yank our children out of their emotional state: “Sweetheart we’ll get you those shoes next time, promise.” “Here’s a lollipop and sticker” so you don’t have to think about your fears. “Fine, your dad will take your brother since he needs to go, and I’ll stay here with you longer.” An approach that strengthens frustration tolerance looks very different: “I can tell you’re really [frustrated] [sad] [mad] right now.” Period. End of sentence. Deep breath. Pause. Big hug, and a big “I love you. I’m here with you.” Another deep breath. Ten more deep breaths. Another hug, another “I love you.” And then, backing off and letting it go. Our children need to know that big emotions are OK. It is OK to feel mad, to yell, to cry. These are not emotions to be scared of, to eradicate. This is where “frustration tolerance” is used quite literally. Later that day, in a quiet, calm moment: “I noticed you were really frustrated earlier. It’s hard when we don’t get what we want. I’m so proud that after you finished crying, you got back off the bench and kept playing with your friends.”

Peer interactions: OK we all know this really means “peer conflict”! Your child is tussling with a peer over who gets to use the sand pail, the soccer ball, or go down the slide. Just like above, you could jump in and “solve” the problem: “He had it first, and when he’s done he’ll give it to you.” Or, “We’re leaving if you can’t calm down.” Or, “I’m not letting you use the slide since you pushed him.” A different approach: “I know you guys can figure this out. I’ll be over here if you need me.” The key here is to offer two ingredients: trust and independence. Verbal coaching helps here as well but only if you’re actually coaching – and not solving the problem for them. And like above, if the children can’t “figure it out”: “I’m so sorry that this is making you both cry. I know how hard it is. You have to decide if you want to stay here and work on it, or if you’re ready to move on and do something else.”

All of these moments – task completion, emotions and desire, peer interactions – are the front lines in your child’s daily work of “growing up” and mastering new skills. And yes, even in moments you KNOW they won’t be successful, they still don’t need our intervention. The whole point of this approach is for children to be given moments to practice their emerging skills, to get their 10,000 hours, to learn how to sit with their struggle. To tolerate their frustration.

The thing to marvel at, this time of year, is not the new skills our children show off, but at just how hard they worked to develop them.

As we turn towards summer, I encourage you to keep “frustration tolerance” in mind as an invaluable tool in all your child’s learning and growth.

Shabbat shalom,
Noah

A Note From Noah

To honor the weather, I’m going to keep it light – let’s talk about playgrounds! With the summer looming, here is a collection of awesome playgrounds that will get your child exploring the city. Arranged (mostly) south to north, you won’t find anything on this list in the Upper West or in Central Park.

South St Seaport:

Imagination Playground – Down by the Brooklyn Bridge, right on the water. Your child will recognize right away that this playground uses the same blue blocks that we have in our 3rd floor gym. Along with the blocks, there is a nice water feature which has a shallow wading area perfect for infants and toddlers. The sand box dominates the rest of the playground and encourages children to be creative in the ways they use it. There are large ship-like masts that make it fit right in to the Seaport area. A highlight is the large yellow slide. After the playground make sure to walk out on the water front along Pier 15 for fantastic view of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.

TriBeCa:

Pier 25 Playground – Extending right out onto the water from N Moore St, this is a neat playground with whimsical water features that surprise you by dumping water from quite high up. Keep going further down the pier for a mini golf, further for a beach volleyball court, and further still for an oyster bar on a boat! A skatepark right near the entrance adds even more fun people-watching.

Rockefeller Park – A personal favorite for me and Jonah; walk west on Murray St until the river. The playground is part of a larger waterfront park that really offers everything, including sports equipment and board games on loan from the park office, and a large grass field overlooking the water with a view of the Statue of Liberty. The playground itself has an old-school vibe, and features Manhattan’s only pedal-powered carousel, a must-try.  There is also a small water feature and two sandbox areas. Ferries and Water Taxis come and go from the dock right next door.

Teardrop Park – A hidden gem! Walk west on Warren St and turn left just before the river. This is a tiny, quirky playground, tucked in between apartment buildings. The attraction here is a longgggggg slide, depositing you right into a sandbox. The whole playground is integrated into a rock feature, providing plenty of chances to explore, scamper, and hide out. There is no “climber”, just the rocks. The water feature comes right out of the rock, with gently dripping water to play with. This is less of a “destination” then the others and more likely something you could tack on to another outing.

SoHo:

Vesuvio playground – An old-school playground with one outstanding feature – a public pool 3’ deep! Adults are required to enter with children; rinsing showers and restrooms available as well. The playground itself is fairly basic, so go with the pool in mind. At the corner of Spring and Thompson.

West Village:

Bleecker Playground – this one’s more about the neighborhood vibe then the playground elements. Locals have taken to leaving used toys and trikes for all to play with, giving it a very homey feel. Located in the triangle between Hudson, Bleecker, and 11th St.

Pier 51 playground – Two blocks south of the Whitney, right on the river; pair the two together for a full day’s outing. The playground features a lovely, winding water element, creating a river throughout the other elements. Right out on the pier, showcasing water views in every direction.

Lower East Side:

Hester St Playground – Similar to Bleecker, the playground doesn’t jump out at you but the neighborhood does. An old-school vibe on the climbing elements, the playground is tucked right in the thick of the Lower East Side, at Hester between Chrystie and Forsyth. Walk north a few blocks for Russ & Daughters or the Tenement Museum.

Union Square/Madison Square:

Evelyn’s Playground – Right inside Union Square Park, a tiny playground full with fun features. Cleverly designed, there’s a lot to do, climb, and explore. It all looks like a modern sculpture garden and a playground were mashed together

Moira Ann Smith Playground – Right inside Madison Square Park. Nothing fancy here, your basic playground elements (water feature but no sandbox). You already know there’s a Shake Shack right there!

Chelsea:

Chelsea Waterside Park – Tucked between 11th and the highway at 24th St. Come here on a hot day and enjoy the many different water features. This is a small playground but packs a powerful punch, with multiple water elements throughout. Pair this with the Highline nearby.

East Side:

Carl Schurz Park – The largest East Side playground. Great river views, and a huge space to run around inside the playground. A fantastic water feature. Covering 84th to 89th east of East End Ave.

Harlem:

Playground 123 Bear Park – In Morningside Park at 123rd St. Fun water feature with tall spray elements, and a river with a bridge. No sandbox, but a basketball court.

Northern Manhattan:

Anne Loftus Playground and Jacob Javits Playground – these two playgrounds bookend Fort Tryon Park to the north and south, respectively. They both have older elements, so nothing fancy, but a great reason to make a trip to Fort Tryon. Take the train up to either one to get started, and then spend an hour or two exploring the park while walking towards the other playground. Make sure to walk through Stan Michels Promenade for gorgeous flowers and sweeping views of the river and the New Jersey cliffs.

I'd love to hear other non-local playgrounds your family likes, and want to hear if you make it to any of the playgrounds on this list.

Shabbat shalom,
Noah

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Wednesday, May 30: Join us for wine and welcoming new parents at our New Family Cocktail Party, 6:00-7:30pm in the JCC lobby. If you are a “buddy” for an incoming family we especially hope to see you there.

A Note From Noah

We are pleased to share that this morning at Field Day, a check will be presented from our PreK students to a representative from the American Jewish Committee (AJC), culminating our inaugural Penny Harvest. AJC NY works to combat anti-Semitism, counter the spread of radicalism and extremism, and promote Israel’s place in the world, through working on the local level with elected officials and interfaith leaders.

While the Penny Harvest is another example of our school’s commitment to tikkun olam – the Jewish notion of “repairing the world” – it is also, significantly, a display of how our school views children. On your admissions tour, way back when, you heard me describe children as “our youngest citizens” who we see as “capable” of contributing to the world around them and making a meaningful impact. This project was a wonderful reminder of just how young citizens interact with their world.

In the Reggio-inspired model, child-as-citizen means that children not only learn about social responsibility, but partake in meaningful acts of social responsibility. School, then, is a vehicle through which young citizens gain access and exposure to core notions of community and democracy – the ideas that their voice matters, their efforts count, and they are responsible for caring for others.

It has been joyful to watch our “penny jug” in the Common Space fill up, one coin at a time, over the past four months, as children poured in coins from their tzedakah boxes, their parents’ pockets, and from friends and neighbors. Our youngest-citizens’ involvement did not stop there. Earlier this month, Meryl Brown and Jordana Kritzer, who spearheaded this project, joined in class to discuss four different charities with the PreK students. The students then discussed the project at home with their parents, and arrived at our PreK Shabbat dinner ready to decide to which charity they would donate the money. Just before lighting Shabbat candles together, four students stood in front of a crowd of their classmates’ families and described the mission of the different charity organizations. Each child then voted on their preferred charity, and ultimately the American Jewish Committee was selected.  Lastly, the students have helped this week in the Common Space to organize, count, and roll the coins. Making five stacks of ten pennies for a 50₵ cent roll is no easy feat for a five year old! I have been so impressed – but not surprised – with our students’ commitment to this project through every stage.

With the last coin rolled and tallied, our students collected:

16,216 pennies

1,402 nickels

1,810 dimes

1,547 quarters

17 $1 bills

1 $5 bill

...for a grand total of... 

$822.01!

Each penny counts. Each action we take as citizens – including our youngest citizens – matters. I am so proud to be part of a school community that sees our children not only as learners but as doers, not only as young but as powerful.

In our family recently, the idea of individual responsibility towards making the world a better place has come through by reading Miss Rumphius, a gorgeously illustrated children’s book in which Alice Rumphius heeds her grandfather’s charge to make the world more beautiful. Alice plants flowers, one seed at a time over several years, and transforms the countryside into a beautiful landscape.

The Penny Harvest has been the same for our students – each individual coin dropped in has been a chance to help make the world a better place, a more tolerant place, a more beautiful place. I invite you to use the project as a chance to talk with your children about how they can make the world beautiful. Consider putting coins in a tzedakah box every Friday night; volunteer to clean up your neighborhood park; donate old clothes, furniture, or toys; use a birthday party to collect items to donate instead of receive presents; or have a family challenge to do kind things for strangers such as smile, hold the door open, offer directions, say Thank You to police officers or others in service professions, etc.

Lastly, thank you to Jordana Kritzer and Meryl Brown for their effort and enthusiasm in seeing this project through from ideation to completion, and to Christine Young for leading our efforts this week to count and roll the coins.

Shabbat shalom,
Noah

A Note From Noah

Having spent my last two Notes on broad community values – anti-racism and gender construction – I’m returning this week to some of the “basics” of early childhood development.

Executive function is a foundational set of skills that sets the foundation for later academic development. Children’s use of executive function skills plays a crucial part in their capacity to self-regulate as they interact with the overwhelming amount of stimulation, instructions, and information they encounter in school and throughout their life.

In fact, executive function (EF) skills “are more strongly associated with school readiness then IQ or reading or math skills”, and have been show to “significantly predict math and reading skills at ages 7 and 21…[as well as] greater odds of completing college.” Studies such as these focus on EF in the preschool years because it has been shown that children develop EF skills between the ages of 2 and 5 at a far greater rate than any other time in their life.

So, what is EF? Colloquially, executive function can be defined as “getting your act together” (Lynn Meltzer), or, “the notion of acting with purpose rather than acting on impulse” (Howard Gardner). It is the capacity to override your body’s initial instinct or reaction, in order to take control of your actions in a purposeful manner as you determine the best course of action in any given context.

Apt metaphors for this include an air traffic controller, responsible for efficaciously coordinating multiple systems with changing demands, or a librarian, responsible for not only having information but knowing how, when, and why to access discrete pieces of information. Think about either of those systems – an airport runway or the stacks of a library – without a central control system. Despite having all the key ingredients, the system breaks down. Planes can’t safely take off without coordination; information is inaccessible if it’s lost in a vast sea of books.

EF is that control system for your child. They may know their numbers and letters or the sequence of behaviors needed to navigate peer conflict – but they also need an organizational system for procuring those skills, and knowing which ones to use when. Knowing how to read doesn’t count if you’re daydreaming during class! EF is so crucial in the academic years because it allows your child to access and use all the discrete skills needed to perform complex academic functions – decode and process words, think algorithmically, respond critically to an essay, generate a hypothesis given a data set, and on and on.

EF is broken down into four inter-related domains:

Attention & Focus: Here we’re talking about “selective attention” – the capacity to determine what your body pays attention to. Think about reading a book on the subway, talking to your child while a firetruck drives by, or writing a Note while 60 children sing Shabbat songs outside your office!

Behavioral Inhibition: This refers to the ability to interrupt your body’s immediate desire – your autopilot – and preform an intentional rather than instinctive action. Think about biting your tongue rather than saying what’s on your mind or not eating more dessert than you should. This is also where the famous “marshmallow test” about delayed gratification comes into play.

Working Memory: In contrast to long term and short term memory, this is the “mental workspace” in your brain. This is information that you are not storing but rather manipulating – think about mental math, or keeping track of a grocery list in your head as you shop, or sorting through LEGOs figuring out which pieces you need.

Cognitive Flexibility: The ability to adjust to changing demands, shifting priorities, or revisions in rules, instructions, and schedules. Think about a project at work changing based on customer needs, a playground birthday party getting rained on, or a child wanting to play with a toy only to find their classmates are using it already.

The ability to perform successfully in each of these areas is the common thread of pausing to think before committing yourself to action – of interrupting the body’s autopilot. “What should my body do here, and how can I successfully do it?” is the question at stake in each of them. By placing our children in circumstances that highlight these scenarios, and offering them a mature model to guide them through, we can help support the growth of these EF skills.

We can help our children do this in a variety of ways:

Lifting the curtain on our own mental operations: As adults, we take for granted all of the above skills – but our children struggle with them. Talk them through how your brain walks, and be explicit. “We were planning on going to the playground today but it’s raining. I’m realizing we have to change our plan. Because it’s raining, our new plan will have to be indoors. Some of the indoors choices are playing in our apartment, going to the playroom, or going to a friend’s. Let’s make a new plan since our old plan has changed.” Or, “I know that the trucks make loud noises. Let’s remind our brain to pay attention to the sidewalk so we don’t bump anyone while we’re walking. You get to control what you pay attention to, you just have to remind your brain. Try it with me – say, ‘brain, pay attention to the sidewalk!’”.

Playing games with shifting rules: Traditional games are a great way to learn rules – but if you tweak the rules mid-game they are a fruitful ground for EF skills such as cognitive flexibility and behavioral inhibition. Starting with a classic – Candy Land – after your child becomes familiar with the rules, change them. Come up with a new system – an orange card means go to green, a green card means go to blue, etc. Display the new rules either by pairing cards together or drawing out the color-codes on a piece of paper. 3, 4, and 5yr old children will struggle initially but with repetition you’ll see improvement – with plenty of frustrated giggles along the way. Talk it through with your child: “OK this will be hard! But our brain loves hard things. It’s like exercising the muscles in our brain. Let’s remind our brain that we changed the rules. Now when we see a card, we don’t just go there right away – we have to pause, look at the new rules, and then decide what to do. Let’s make sure our brain pays attention to the new rules!”

A simpler version for our 2, 3, and 4yr olds: make two piles of any colorful object (beads, blocks, etc), one color for each pile (i.e., one pile of red objects and one pile of blue objects). At first, go for autopilot – this is the easy part: “Here’s the game – I’ll pick up a toy, and you say the color of the toy I pick up.” Once established, change the rules: “OK now comes the hard part – pay attention because I’m going to change the rule! Now, when I pick up a blue piece, you have to say the color of the toy that I did NOT pick up (red). Usually our brain wants to say what it sees first – but you get to be in control of your brain! Make sure you remind your brain the new rule – “Look at the piece, pause, then look at the pile I did not take from, and then say that color.”” I also do this with simple finger-games: “Do the opposite of what I do – if my thumbs go up, your thumbs go down, if my thumbs go out (to the side), your thumbs go in (point towards each other). Remind yourself – look at my thumbs, pause and think, and then do it with your thumbs!”

Use this template for really anything you do regularly with your child – once you establish a rhythm, a routine, an autopilot – think about a fun way to break or re-arrange the sequence, and guide your child threw the new one. Then, refer back to this “muscle” when they encounter organic changes in their life. Remind them they are in control of their brain and can respond to new rules or new situations successfully.

Break down tasks into discrete steps to relieve the load your child’s working memory: We’ve all seen our children falter or balk when asked to do tasks we know they can do. They may be overwhelmed by the amount of thinking that goes into these tasks – thinking that as adults we take for granted because we have a higher capacity for working memory. Show them how to break down complex tasks into discrete parts. “The first thing you need to do is stand up. Let’s do that – stand up. Next, we’ll each pick up triangle blocks and put them into the basket. Let’s do that now. I’m noticing there are still square blocks left. Let’s each pick up square blocks and put them into the basket. I know squares sometimes look like rectangles, so I’ll move all the rectangles to the side. OK, great – now that you’re done with the squares, let’s move over here, where I’ve put the rectangles. All you have left to do is put the rectangles away. Now that you’ve done that, please put the lid on the basket. Let’s see – the whole rug looks clean. Your last step is to push the basket back into the corner it came from.” Setting the table is another great task for this. As an adult, you can simply “set the table”. But for your children, you’ll need to walk them through – first we’ll get plates, next we’ll get napkins, etc. Think about how this skill will come into play in later academics: “First check your homework organizer. What do you need to do tonight? Choose one task first. OK, so get out your history textbook. You’ll have to read the chapter, and then fill out the worksheet. Just take it one question at a time.” This is a much more successful approach for a child to take then a broader, “Time to do your homework!”

Give strategies for mindfulness and being present: Deep breaths, being patient, being aware of our surroundings. These allow us to regain control of our mind and body during new or exciting situations. “Wow this birthday party is really exciting! There’s so much going on. Let’s take three deep breaths together. All we’re going to do now is breathe (do this with your child). Now, let’s see what’s going on. Where would you like to go first?” Creating space for this “pause” shows your child that they can collect their thoughts, assess the situation, and make an informed, intentional decision. This all feels very different then running into a crowd without a plan. Remind your child of this next time something new or exciting happens: “Let’s just take a deep breath and pause. Let’s figure out what you want to do first, and then we’ll go do it.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic – what strategies have you found successful at home? What have you struggled with?

Shabbat shalom,
Noah

A Note From Noah

Resist the shush factor!

Cutting through a lot of the jargon and theoretical debates, this line was one of my big take aways from this weeks’ Parent Association Social Justice Panel, dedicated to “How do we talk to children about race?”  As the evening unfolded, it became clear to me that we had mis-titled the panel. We shouldn’t be limiting this conversation with our children to “race” – which the panelists described as the potentially simplistic-and-naïve sense of, “Some people have black skin, some people have white skin, and we’re all equal, and it’s beautiful” – but should instead be explicitly talking about “racism.”

Each of the four panelists – Bonnie Cushing from Border Crossers, Megan Madison from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Gab Sussman and Molly Raik from the SEED program and classroom teachers at Rodeph Sholom School – encouraged us to name race with our children, to teach children the word “stereotype”, to talk about our whiteness and our privilege, and to not shield our children from the ugly effects of racism in our world.

Bonnie Cushing shared with us the apt metaphor of the Sleeping Beauty story. An evil fairy curses newborn Princess Aurora, foretelling that before her 16th birthday she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel with disastrous consequences. The King and Queen immediately decree that all spinning wheels in the kingdom be burned. On her 16th birthday, the fairy magically produces a spinning wheel, which Auora – having never seen one before – is fatally attracted to. She approaches the wheel and her curiosity leads her to prick her finger and fall into eternal slumber (until of course she is saved from her passive state by her aggressive male hero but I’ll let my last Note speak to that narrative element!).

Bonnie’s point is that race and racism are the same way. She encouraged us to “resist the shush factor” and instead dive head-first into this tough topic. Rather than offer my interpretation of how to do this, here are my notes from what each of our four panelists said:

-Name race. Talk about it. Label your ethnicity. “As a white mother/father/teacher, here’s what I think…”

-If we don’t explicitly combat racism, and instead rely on a general liberal environment (such as the JCC or the UWS) to teach our children values, our children will, simply and plainly, soak up the systemic racism inherent in American culture.

-Conduct a “racial biography” and an “inventory of bias.” What personal biases do you carry around, perhaps without even recognizing it? Where in your life does race matter? How does your skin color impact your daily experience? Explore white privilege: make a list of ten ways in which your life would be different if your skin color was different.

-Shift what you do, not only what you think. Children watch more then they listen.

-Young children are able to think about big ideas (you’ve heard me say that before!). Don’t let complexity be your enemy. Don’t be shy about things you don’t understand. Your child is likely already thinking about them. Not talking about them doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about them – it just means they’re lacking your guidance.

-Ask critical questions around media literacy. While watching TV or reading books, ask your child, Whose voice is included? Whose is excluded? How is beauty defined? Why are all the characters white? How would this book/show be different if the characters were black? Did the author/producer decide to make them all white?

-Grab a hold of the racist elements of society and include them in conversation. If you feel your child is old enough, when they ask about a homeless person of color, don’t only talk about, “That person doesn’t have enough money and so they are asking others for money to buy food for their family.” Include, “I notice that person’s skin is black, and I know that across our country, having black skin makes it harder to get a job and make money. That’s called racism, and it’s a big problem.”

- As Ruth Messinger succinctly put it, perhaps half-glibly and half-sincerely, “institutions that aren’t anti-racist, are racist.” Members of the panel shared that 20% of the American Jewish population are estimated to be racially and ethnically diverse. This is not reflected in our school body. What active, explicit, transparent measures can our own school do to combat racism and the homogeneity of our school? As one of our panelists (a Jew of color) put it, as she was looking for an UWS synagogue to join and didn’t see any Jews that look like her, it is a problem that “Jewish spaces” are also “white spaces”, and we can start by naming it.

Throughout the conversation, tears were shed and emotions were unstable. I am so proud of our parents who joined in the conversation, asked hard, thoughtful, pointed questions, and resisted the urge to hide from our privilege and instead expose it. Thank you to Meryl Brown and Jordana Kritzer for coordinating the evening, and to Betsy Goldin and Donna Sheynfeld for making our PA a space for this type of conversation. I am looking forward to continuing the conversation with our teachers, parents, and JCC staff.

Shabbat shalom,
Noah