The preK humantashen sale in the Common Space this week had the students running the show, carefully using napkin-covered fingers to place each treat in a bag for their customers. The plastic cash register, retrieved from their dramatic play corner, rang with each dollar that came in. Behind them hung a large poster advertising the sale, written in the tell-tale wobbly letters of an emerging writer. The line to buy a humantashen was longer then the line to buy a Levain cookie, at least for one morning.
“MM-MM-R-I-M; MM-MM-R-I-M; and PURIM was it’s name, o!”
Another preK class marched through the Common Space, loud as could be, singing their Purim song to the familiar tune of “Bingo.” They waved groggers, stomped their feet, and grinned ear to ear. They were participating in the joyfulness of Adar, the Hebrew month that Purim falls in. Purim infuses the month with a sense of silliness and happiness, and the children were eager to partake.
“Mine’s the dinosaur-hot-dog hair!”
In a three’s class, the children spent the whole morning with the silliest hair they could think of. And as a boy that age, what could be more attractive than a dinosaur-hot-dog? Our three’s classes also held “topsy-turvy day” and “backwards day,” in which children (and teachers!) wore their clothes backwards, painted on the under-sides of tables, and ran their class schedule backwards.
Why not just read the megillah (traditional Purim story), toss on some costumes, and call it a day?
John Dewey, the founding father of the progressive movement over a century ago, wrote extensively about the need for school and the world to be viewed as separate. He held that in his day, schools were seen as isolated institutions in which discrete content and skills were transferred from teacher to pupil, to later be applied in their life. He saw this is a critical failure, and urged teachers to bring in elements of authentic life to their classroom. For his audience, this meant a sort of home economics of the time: churning butter, sewing clothes, husbandry and horticulture. For us, this week, it is baking humantashen and spinning our groggers. He argued that for children to learn these essential concepts, they must happen in school, not only be learned about.
Dewey’s ideas resonated with a nation of teachers and parents, and have largely molded progressive education through our day. It is his ideas that have led to our bake sale, marches, and silly hair days. It is our identity as a progressive school that moves Purim off of the megillah scroll and into our bodies, thoughts, and actions.
We believe that giving children the experience of Purim and other holidays is the most effective way to cultivate a positive Jewish identity. We believe that the ridiculous costumes, noisy groggers, and dry humantashen are more than child’s play. They are the foundational experiences that will help our students bloom into Jewishly engaged adults.
I am looking forward to seeing many of you participate in our silliness today in your classrooms, and was thrilled with how many of you came out for your Tuesday/Thursday classes yesterday. I ask of you – partake in the topsy-turvy attitude your children have adopted this week. Show them you are part of their experience, and they will return the favor as they grow into their Judaism for years to come.
Shabbat shalom and Chag Purim Sameach,