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The Power of Popsicle Sticks

By Tara Siegel, Coalition Educator

PictureIt has been a few weeks since the first Family Learning network of the year took place in Great Neck on Long Island, but I have not stopped thinking about it and I am anticipating the next meeting! Suri Jacknis is the hostess and facilitator of the Family Learning network on Long Island and I am honored that she asked me to share this experience. I was also proud to stand next to Shana Zionts, my fellow Coalition Educator as she led this powerful family learning workshop. Shana brought us back to Sukkot, as this particular holiday lends itself to discussions about stability, foundations and “home”, all critical facets of family life and family learning.

The activity part was both physically and spiritually engaging; there was a lot of laughing, oohing and ahhing, and deep sighs of thought…Participants (education directors, teachers, cleargy, etc.) were asked to build a sukkah out of popsicle sticks, and were allowed to use any other resources they had on the table or could find in the room. Easy for Michael Whitman who, as our host at Temple Beth El, Great Neck, knew what was in all the cabinets in the room we were working in!  While he may have had the advantage, every group came up with a creative and impressive way to build a popsicle stick sukkah. This very workshop has been done with both adults and students, each group coming up with a new strategy and emotional symbolism.  Shana assured us, and we all agreed that students are able to think freely when engaged in a meaningful experience that they can relate to and imagine multiple possibilities.

PictureEvery group in our learning network had a structure that could have held up in real life, but more importantly they had meaning behind their construction and worked as a collaborative group to implement the physical and spiritual aspects of a shelter.  There was of course a debrief of the activity which took us in all sorts of directions. Gerry, a music teacher and educator in Roslyn said, “building a sukkah every year brings my grandparents back into my home.”  While others commented on the larger picture of family learning, as Cantor Gustavo said “Judaism is not a one person journey; working with families is powerful because they are on the journey together”.

Educators had an opportunity to ask each other questions and make suggestions about family learning.  In fact, we went over time and no one jumped up to leave as they were engrossed with the suggestions of their colleagues – this is the true picture of a learning network.  The hot topics of the reflection time were in regards to authentic holiday learning and the role of parents in family learning.  These are important topics to unpack as we strive to create bold and innovative learning experiences for our students, adults and families. I am looking forward to the next Long Island Family Learning Network experience on February 6th at Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn.

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