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Insights from the Intersection of Childhood and Education

Friday, April 12, 2013

On Making Prayer More Engaging


7th and 8th graders work with 3rd and 4th graders to
assemble a puzzle that will give them a message
about prayer.

Daily prayer (we usually use the Yiddish term “davening” or the Hebrew term “tefillah”) is an integral part of the Akiba-Schechter curriculum. School days begin with morning prayer, which we hope is a meaningful and powerful experience for our students.

The goal of daily prayer is to establish a connection with G-d and to view it as a daily conversation—a chance to talk to G-d in a structured environment and to impart the idea that G-d is always there to listen. However, after years of daily prayer, some of our 7/8th graders felt it was getting repetitive and lacked meaning in their lives. So davening teachers Baila Brackman and Alise Gold decided to look for ways to make daily prayer more exciting and relevant for the students.

Our current tefillah curriculum is based on the model of the Or Chadash Kaleidoscope foundation, an educational facility based in Israel. Their model focuses on connecting social skills with the tefillot we say each day. The hope is to teach students that davening is not just a half hour out of their day, but rather a constant presence that connects to all their daily interactions.

In practice, we have taken some of the ideas from this program and fit them into our unique and special school environment. At morning prayers, the 7/8th graders now spend at least a few minutes each day with Mrs. Brackman and Mrs. Gold discussing a new theme or idea connected to praying. The topics vary from themes such as happiness and gratitude, or focus on one prayer, such as Ashrei, or the morning blessings. These discussions provide a forum for the students to identify the themes of prayer that are also present in their everyday lives.

A program for the 7/8th graders to mentor 3rd and 4th graders was also added to our davening curriculum. Each week, the 7/8th graders prepare a discussion, applying the theme they have been focusing on so the 3rd/4th graders can relate to it. For example, they might read a story and discuss connections between the story and their own davening. Other times, the 7/8th grade mentors will lead a hands-on project or activity. Most recently, they worked on putting together a puzzle with the 3rd and 4th graders in order to decode a hidden message about davening: "Sometimes it takes time to piece our moments of inspiration together. But if we give up, it will be an incomplete picture."

We continue to explore ways to make daily prayer more relevant and exciting, and it is our hope that students will find the connections between davening and their daily lives and look forward to their daily conversations with G-d.

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