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Collection of articles
printed in the
Preparing for the Future
Israel Weekend Edition of
The fun in making mistakes I*
The fun in making mistakes II*
LCD and CRT*
Checking the eyes*
ýýSpecial, "Special" and finding a Shidduch*
The "Asprin" effect*
From the stomach to the brain*
Making my son the Great Talmid Chochom*
English versus Hebrew*
Saying whole words*
Reading - It isn't so simple!*
Living and Learning*
Scented insecticide and sugar-coating the pill*
Nine portions of speech*
A Mother's Unconditional Love*
Kingpin of the Educational System - the Aleph-Bais Melamed*
Belonging - the Kehilla Spirit*
The Kindergarten Age*
Good Manners Helps Good Thinking*
Words - the building-bricks of Wisdom*
Using Your Mouth*
Helping a "Poor" Memory*
I'm Glad You're You*
Talking to your 1-year-old*
Detecting the Innocent Fakers*
Being Careful and Being Nervous*
The Messages in Clothing*
Having a Ball*
Screening for the Future*
The Wages of Din is Deaf*
Unburdening your Heart*
The Gentle Art of Saying "No!"*
Avoiding the "Shidduch Grading System"*
Things don't always work out "Okay"*
The overlooked letters of the alef-bais*
Swinging into easy-street I*
Relating to the reality of words*
Looking Like I Am*
What would you like, Tattella?*
Mind over body*
Reading to Win*
Burning the Matzos*
Making it easy to be right*
Building-blocks for the future*
Phonetics Not Such Fun*
Some stars of 5757*
It wasn't so long ago*
Bringing a computer into the family*
The Four-Day Diet*
The Process of Vision*
Pictures in the Mind*
The Vanishing Lullaby*
Working at Torah*
The fun in making mistakes I
"Oy veh! He's done it wrong again! He keeps making mistakes! Isn't it awful? My one-and-a-half-year-old is trying to learn to stand up and he keeps on falling down! He's been trying for two days and he still only totters around!"
Dear Parent, please do not panic. That is how a child learns to stand. He needs to try to experiment and make mistakes, because this is the way he learns. Every mistake is a step closer to "getting it right". The process of learning is a process of trial and error. The child is probably the most successful scientist the world has ever seen. He experiments, learns from his success or failure, he has almost limitless patience, is not daunted by failure, never gives up and enjoys the thrill of success, of learning new skills and is ever ready to try extend his sphere of knowledge.
This primal state is called by researchers in advanced learning systems "The State of Childness". This is the state in which the mind is most receptive to learning new information and techniques. The child's ability to learn starts to deteriorate when adults start giving him the message that it is wrong to err and stumble; when the learning process becomes a stressful activity.
Most super-learning techniques are based on training the student to reaquire his state of childness. They often use music to help relax the student and aim at creating a non-challenging learning environment in which the student feels free to experiment and risk making mistakes.
"Oy veh! He's done it wrong again! He keeps making mistakes! Isn't it awful? My thirteen-year-old is trying to learn Gemora and he keeps on getting wrong p'shut! He's been trying for two years and it still takes him a while before he understands the Gemora!"
Dear Parent, please do not panic. That is how a talmid learns to learn. He needs to try and experiment and make mistakes, because this is the way he learns. Is p'shut like this, or is it like that? Let us see how both fit in. Perhaps they're both wrong. But if we don't try, we won't know! Every mistake is a step closer to "getting it right". The process of learning is a process of trial and error. The talmid chochom is probably the most successful scientist the world has ever seen. He experiments, learns from his success or failure, he has almost limitless patience, is not daunted by failure, never gives up and enjoys the thrill of success, of learning new skills and is ever ready to try extend his sphere of knowledge.
The fun in making mistakes II
Last week we discussed the importance of the child retaining his stress-free attitude to the learning process. In fact, the baby's diligence in learning is almost unmatched. Every moment of his waking life is spent in experimenting, trying new activities and expanding his area of awareness.
If you spend a few moments looking a the way a baby moves around, you will see the way he is constantly trying and learning. He tries to touch this, move that, lift this, taste that, feeling, experiencing, weighing, measuring, judging, learning, learning and learning.
This is the stage when the kitchen becomes a major learning laboratory. There are many educational toys on the market for developing a child's basic skills, but few can mata spread of pots and pans on the kitchen floor. See how the baby lifts and bangs each pot on the floor. He is learning concepts of mass and enertia and sound-producing properties of each type of material. He is experiencing the differences between metal, plastic, wood, paper and anything else he can lhis little grubby hands on.
The cheap abundance empty plastic containers provide a wealth of educational material. Empty cheese containers, with their lids, are wonderful stacking toys. You can start him off by getting down on the floor and making the highest tower possible - then you give a swipe with you hand and knock the whole thing down, Whoopee! Then sit back a see how the child learns the basic elements of balance, construction, and destruction (Yes! Also an important lesson - and this is a cheap way to learn it!).
The colorful covers of aerosols are marvelous for teaching colors. Begin by sorting them into sets of matching colors - then see how the childs experiments. You can also use empty plastic bottles (well cleaned of harmful contents)
The great advantage of using these throw-aways is that you couldn't care less what happens to the toys while you watch the child playing with them. They didn't cost you a small fortune and you won't care if they get lost, broken, dirtied, scratched, torn or chewed. The child is beginning his learning life in a totally stress-free environment. Chazal tell us to buy potterey and give to the child to smash. That is also part of growing-up
Learning Gemora is a multi-tasking activity in which the talmid needs to concentrate on doing several things at once. He needs to identify each letter of each word, note the position of each letter in the word, try to fit vowels onto the letters to form a word, understand the word, see how it fits into the words around to fit into the sugya, try to punctuate the text, and more and more.
Reliable identification and memorization of words also reqires a total awareness of right and left. Of course, most people will correctly identify their right and left hands if you ask them to, but in a multi-tasking activity, the correct awareness can deteriorate. The problem is that we remember the beginning and end of a word because one is on one side and the other is on the other side. So if someone has a shade of doubt regarding which is his right side and which is his left side, he will tend to reverse the order in which he reads and remembers words.
A significant number of talmidim who have not been successful in attaining proficient skills in learning Gemora have been found to be deficient in these two primary skills: the ability to multi-task and awareness of right and left hand. Corrective therapy for these deficiencies are exercises which resemble many of the games which were common before LCD games and computers came on the childhood scene.
Bouncing a ball from hand to hand, bouncing a ball while repeating a rhyme (nonsense or otherwise), skipping to a beat, singing and dancing, all develop basic skills in coordination, body orientation and other essential skills. Even the old favorite "Pat-a-Cake" is a valuable exercise for teaching coordination, multitasking and crossing-the-midline".
Playing games with others also develops basic social skills and helps teach the player to be considerate to others. Competitive games also teach the players to accept failure with a good heart - never mind - better luck next time!
It is a pity if a talmid needs to spend valuable learning time doing therapy. He would have enjoyed doing it much more fourteen years earlier - it would have been as much fun as playing games!
LCD and CRT
Of course, we want the best for our children and are prepared to invest whatever is needed to ensure their success and fulfillment in life. And if that means buying a computer and/or sophisticated LCD machines for their educational games and cources, okay!
Or is it okay?
As always, we need to exhibit extreme caution before incorporating new waves from the non-jewish world into our own system of education. Usually, it takes tens of years for the secular world to detect the faults in their new developments and fashions. However, regarding the adverse effect of computers and LCD games, research has been hot off the mark. Already there are masses of studies which show how dangerous these useful tools can be.
Radiation from the cathode-ray tubes was one of the earliest targets of criticism and warnings. Since the viewer of a computer screen sits much closer than a viewer of television, he was subject to much higher levels of radiation than those watching TV. The industry responded by producing low-radiation screens and selling add-on radiation shield. Okay! So now a user of a computer is exposed to less radiation than a few years ago. But still, exposure is not recommended for pregnent women and, presumably, young children.
Focusing intently on a screen can cause severe short-sight (myopia). The nature of the cathode-ray tube screen (CRT) and liquid-crystal display (LCD) is such that the viewer needs to look more intently at it than when looking at a page of print. Also, the interactive nature of the display causes the viewer to focuss with extreme intensity on the display for extended periods of time.
The image displayed on the screen is a flat, 2-dimensional image. But the image it represents is often a 3-dimensional image. This especially true of more sophisticated programs. In fact, the more sophisticated the program, the more "realistic" it is designed to look. This is problematic because it trains the brain to interpret a 2-D image as a 3-D image. This means that when the person looks at a real 3-D image, the brain's ability to interpret the image properly will be jeopardized.
The nature of educational programs can also be a source of concern. The vast majority are based on high levels of visual and auditory stimulation and immediate rewards for correct answers. Of course, such methods are effective for many applications, but they are not necessarily the best preparation for learning Chumash, Mishnayos and, ultimately, Gemora. For any child who is reared on computer games, the high point of his day is when he gets onto his computer - can a regular Gemora shiur compete?
There is legitimate place for computers in corrective situations, but, like any medicine, using it for a healthy child is open to dangers.
Checking the eyes
Regular check-ups for the eyes are, happily, like for teeth and hearing, now a regular feature in the child's yearly calendar. Good eyesight is essential for stress-free learning and the main source of stress is from the lens not focussing accurately onto the retina. Inaccurate focusing causes the person to see a blurred image.
Because of the wonderful way in which the eyes and brain work together, a person can see often quite well even though his eyes do need correction. However, the extra work the brain has to do to try to compensate for the problem puts stress on the reading proces. Therefore, a child might never complain of poor eyesight, nor might he exhibit any apparent signs of poor eyesight, but he will not enjoy any task which demands intensive viewing, such as reading.
A regular eye-check usually comprises checking that the eyesight is sharp and that the person sees a clear image with each eye. However, the process of seeing is so complex that there are many other aspects of vision which can be problematic. And any problem can contribute to making reading a stressful and unpleasant activity.
Each eye sends one image to the brain, which then fuses these two images into a single 3-D image. In order for the brain to be able to fuse these two images, the two eyes must coordinate together and producing matching images. This means that the six muscles of each eye which "aim" the eyes must work together in perfect coordination.
If the the muscles do not work coordinate, the brain will not be able to fuse the images together. The brain can then react in one of several ways. Ifthe images are drastically different, the brain simply represses the image of one eye. The person then sees through one eye and, of course, the image is only two-dimensional.
If the differences between the images is less drastic, the brain sends a message to one eye that it should "get out of the way and stop interfering". A child will then becocross-eyed and an adult will develop a wall-eye and, again, the person effeuses only one eye for his reading.
If the difference is only minimal, the brain tries to tolerate the double-image formed by the two eyes. For reading, this is the most stressful situation, because the brain is constantly sending messages to the eyes that they should "get their act together" and produce a better match.
Other aspects which can cause stress is the ease with which the eyes can rotate from side to side and the ease with which they can change focus from far to near and from near to far. These are all problems about which a child child would not complain, because he knows no better! If you do not look for these problems, you will not find them.
Nearly always, problems such as these can be corrected with glasses and/or visual therapy. Usually, the visual therapy comprises quite straightforward exercises, but if prescribed, it is important that they be taken seriously and done consistently until the course is completed. If the situation is not dealt with thoroughly, the problem can catch up with the child when he becomes a bochur and tries to learn Gemora.
One of the latest devices to capture the public's imagination is the brainwave machine. The machine usually comprises a set of goggles and a set of earphones which plug into a microprocessor unit. Through the earphones and goggles, the unit sends out programs of flashing lights and sounds.
The principle behind the machine has been known for thousands of years. Everyone knows how music and drums and flashing lights can alter a person's mood. These machines have it developed to a fine art. The theory is based on the fact that electric currents are constantly flowing through the brain. As a person's mood and state of alertness changes, the frequency of the brainwaves likewise changes.
Frequencies between 0-4 Hertz are normally associated with sleep and are called delta waves. Beta waves, which are the frquencies of wakeful alertness, are frequencies of above 12 Hertz. When a person is relaxed and thoughtful, he is using alpha waves which in the range between 8 and 11 Hertz. Theta waves of 4 to 8 Hertz are associated with trancelike, dreamy states.
Usually, the person himself controls his mood and state of wakefulness and so controls the frequencies of his brainwaves. However, if an outside source pumps stimulations into the brain at a regular frequency, as by sounds and/or flashing lights, these stimuli can entrain the brainwaves and cause them to follow the frequency of the outside source. The person will then find that his mood and state of wakefulness is changed correspondingly.
Machines like these have been used theraputically for many years. Some years ago, research using ECG machines to measure brainwaves discovered that many people with inabilty to concentrate were unable to produce alpha waves. Brainwave machines were then used to train the brain to produce alpha waves. The people then found that they were able concentrate and their scholastic achievements improved.
Since then, the use of these machines extended to many forms of therapy. One major use is to get the patient to relax into a deep theta state. Then the machine, or a linked taperecorder, plays subliminal messages for deep-level psychotherapy. Anyone using such a system should, of course, be careful to check the kashrus of tapes used. Furthermore, one experienced therapist reported that the machine got his patient into such a deep hypnotic state it took him a long time to get the patient back to normal.
Adverts claim that the machine can be used on children to cure complaints such as bed-wetting, but the wisdom of using for children is very questionable. Most of the research has been on adults. However, ECG studies on children show that the child's normal state is very different to that of an adult. Whereas the normal waking state of an adult is in the alpha or beta state, the child is normally in a theta state.
Of course, this explains why children are so "spacey" - why they can dream and be so easily distracted and why they are so open to suggestion. Their normal mental state, in an adult, would be called a trance! Programs which come with these machines are generally designed for adults. Attempting to manipulate and mold the brainwaves of children is a field that has not been extensively investigated!
ýýSpecial, "Special" and finding a Shidduch
Our Moishi was doing fine until a few months ago. Then the rebbe phoned us up and told us that he has become a bit of a problem. He does not concentrate. Instead, he plays around and disturbs the other children. At home, he never picks up a book and reads and now he complains when the time comes for him to go to school. The rebbe suggested that we take him to Machon Fixkid for an evaluation but you know what types of children go there. Moishi says that he will not step foot inside the place because if he does, all his friends will laugh at him. To tell the truth, we agree with him - and who would want marry a boy who has a learning disability and has had to go to psychiatrists and all that. Our Moishi is an intelligent boy and we don't want anyone to try and convince us that he is sub-normal!
This type of all-too-common story is riddled with tragic fallacies. The first fallacy is that a learning disability implies lack of intelligence. This is of course totally untrue. Everybody has some sort of learning disability (can you speak seven languages, perform differential calculus in your head and play the violin?)! Many learning disabilities stem from insufficient training in certain basic skills. If the student completes the appropriate program, he can then join the rest of his friends and access his true potential.
The second fallacy is that Special Education is a form of psychology. This is like saying that a car-mechanic is a driving-instructor. When you take your car to the garage, is there any implication that you cannot drive the car?! Learning and developing skills is a normal, healthy process which, hopefully, will continue all our lives. However, if an inefficiency in a basic skill is overlooked, the result will be that the child will be laboring under a greater load than other children. He will find it hard, or even impossible to keep up with his friends. This will then rebound onto the child and might do severe psychological damage. So, by the parents refusing to face up to the problem, they will probably cause the very fate they wished to avoid!
A child who is realizing his potential is a happy and fulfilled child who will grow into a well-balanced adult. He will give his parents nachas and be sought-after as a shidduch. But a child who is trying to hide a learning-inefficiency will be living a life of presssure, guilt and unaccomplishment. He will feel unfulfilled, become bitter with life and who knows what sort of husband and father he will make?
The child, his parents and his friends should realize that partaking in a Special Ed. program is no more demeaning than working-out in a gym or learning to swim.
The "Asprin" effect
For many years, asprin was regarded as a safe remedy for many aches and pains. Then doctors discovered that asprin can cause a variety of illnesses, including stomach ulcers. Asprin is still a valuable medicine, but the doctor prescribing it must realize the side-effects and take them into account when considering it for treatment.
One of the most confusing aspects of chinuch is the fact that there are many honored opinions on so many aspects of chinuch - and they are all effective for some people.
There are so many factors to be taken into account when considering to teach or how to deal with a problem that it is almost impossible to give "blanket" advice which will be effective in all situations. So much depends on the nature of the teacher/rebbi, the nature of the talmidim, the environment, the resources available, and so the list goes on...
The mechanech who is actually in the "driving seat", or directly in charge, should hear as much advice as possible, but ultimately he must make the final decision as what system he can use best. Intrinsic in the decision is the realization that thesystem will probably not be effective for a percentage of the class. He should also realize that some systems, like asprin, should be used despite the fact that there might be undesirable side-effects, but the mechanech should be aware of the side-affects and try to compensate for them. He must be alert for the side-effects and do his best to minimize or negate them.
Our major problem is how to help those for whom the "system" does not/did not work. The fact that a child does not develop under one particular system neither labels the child as being "bad" nor as being "learning disabled". But he does present a challenge for his mechanchim for them to find the approach which does suit that child. That is why it is important for a mechanch to have a repetoire of teaching techniques. He can thereby incorporate some degree of customization into his teaching and so help as large a percentage of the class as possible and also give customized assignments to those who cannot be helped sufficiently during the class.
A major factor in achieving success is the talmid having a positive attitude towards his developing skills necessary for learning Gemora.
Why is it necessary to learn Gemora? Why doesn't reading through the Shulchan Aruch suffice? Why should I need to learn about a cow falling into a pit when there are no cows for miles around? In past generations, the need for proficiency in learning Gemora was accepted as being vitally necessary for the Jew. But nowadays, values and norms are changing so rapidly; what used to be understood automatically must now often be painstakingly explained.
Furthermore, the current disrespect for authority invalidates the classic, "Do it because I tell you to!" and "It's like that because I say so!" and "You will see in the end that it is the best thing for you". Complicating the situation is the unfortunate tendency for some talmidim to be untrained in principles of logical reasoning. These impose severe limitations on the ability of the mechanaich to answer such a talmid.
In many other fields, perhaps one can justifiably ask oneself, "Why bother?" Why bother to practice the scales on a piano when an electronic organ can almost play itself! Why practice drawing when computer programs can help you produce a masterpiece? Why learn to cook when you can buy food ready-made? So why should I learn Gemora if I can look up the din in the Kitzur and I am not going to become a Rabbi?
Another mixed blessing of modern society is the drive for personal comfort and minimal-effort. The Cholvos Halevovos explains that the reason why children suffer from so many childhood illnesses and discomforts such as from teething pains is so that the child should learn that Olom Hazeh is not a "bed of roses". But nowadays childhood diseases have been virtually eliminated and even medicine tastes delicious. So children are growing-up in a world where there is minimal tolerance to pain and discomfort.
Furthermore, much of technology and education is directed to making things easy for the adult and the child. To compensate for this, the parents and teachers need to specifically direct their attention to helping the child develop certain basic skills which in former times the child acquired automatically as he was growing up. The child needs to learn how to expend effort and time in working towards a goal even to the extent that it is no longer enjoyable. He needs to learn how to deal with discomfort, stress and failure. He needs to be assured that if he cannot complete a task first time, neither the package nor he is necessarily wrong!
There does not seem to be any easy answer to this problem. But perhaps now more than any other time in our history, we need to give time to our children and talmidim, to honestly answer their queries and to relate to their difficulties. If we do not know an answer, we need to do our homework, ask around and find good answers to good questions. "Meeting a challenge" is a common cliche, but it implies a degree of exertion, expending personal effort to overcome difficulties to attain a clearly defined goal. It is easier to just turn over and go back to sleep. Why not?
The general impression is that teachers are in the classroom to teach and pupils are there to learn. In fact, whereas this does apply to some children, there is often a significant percentage of children who are in the classroom only because their parents send them there and their main occupation is to get through the day as easily as possible.
Such children can go through many years of tuition picking-up only a minimum of learning skills. They become expert in avoiding confrontation. They learn to use a variety of tactics to home-in into the correct answers without having any idea about how they are attained. They can come out of school barely able to read or reason. They are not equipped to deal with "learning by themselves" and so they might try to continue their tactics in the bais hamedrash.
Perhaps tragically, the more intelligent the child, the more skilfully can he "deal" with the classroom situation and the teacher. Therefore, often, those who manage to come out of the lower levels of school with least skills may actually be of above-average intelligence.
When asked a question, instead of looking at the text so that he could work out the answer, Asher consistently stared at the face of the rebbi. After a while, the rebbi realized the Asher had trained himself to look for clues to the correct answer to a question from the expression on the face of the teacher and had avoided actually working out how to answer questions directly. The rebbi then further realized that Asher actually hardly knew how to solve problems but relied on clues from the teacher, hunches and wild guesses.
In a situation like this, the rebbe needs to patiently teach the talmid how to think his way through problems. The rebbe needs to be patient and supportive, encouraging the pupil to be creative, original and to be prepared to risk getting a "wrong" answer.
If the talmid does give the wrong answer, the rebbe should not simply dismiss the answer as "wrong", but should think into the answer and try to analyze how the talmid reached such an answer. He should then try to guide the talmid from his "wrong" answer to the correct one.
A tendency for teachers to acknowledge only correct results encourages the talmid to ignore intermediary steps and to rely on intuition or guessing. Often a talmid can home-in to a correct answer simply by studying the teacher's reaction to other answers. Multiple-choice exams reinforce the attitude that THE correct answer is the only goal in the process of education.
Talmidim are therefore often baffled when they are asked to work through a sequence of rational deductions, when success depends on the ability interpret accurately and to think logically even though it can lead to several possible conclusions. If they are shown how several commentators each learn a sugya in different ways and come to differing conclusions, they ask, "But what is the real p'shat?".
Both talmid and rebbe should be prepared to invest time and effort in attaining the correct answer, because when the talmid does finally reach his goal, he will have improved his ability to deal with problems, not only in the Gemora but in life in general.
Though social and environmental problems seem to be irrelevant to the process of learning, nevertheless, they canaffect the pupil by preventing him from utilizing his capabilities to their full extent.
Emotional pressures from the family or from some other source prevent the pupil from being relaxed and able to concentrate.
Children from broken homes or who have been orphaned or enstranged from one or both parents can suffer from reading and other learning pwhich can remain even when they grow up. Similarly, children of parents who suffered during the Holocaust can also suffer from learning problems. Such children will require particularly-careful attention.
More unusually, a child from a "normal" home can behave as if he comes from broken homes if one or both were/are too busy to give the child the attention he requires.
These "outside" factors can prevent the pupil from confronting his situation and hinder efforts to help him.
Dan was a quiet, intelligent, withdrawn boy. He clearly suffered from some emotional problems which prevented him from doing well in class, but he could not be brought to face them. His father was a successful rov of a busy community. On being questioned about an interesting part of his father's life, the boy admitted that he hardly spoke to his father and knew nothing of his father's past.
If the mechanech suspects the presence of a socio-environmental problem, he should tread carefully before taking any drastic corrective action. Teachers and tutors should be informed of all socio-environmental problems before they attempt to help a pupil.
Reb Zaiv was hired to help a talmid with preparing his Gemora. Reb Zaiv's method was to encourage the talmid to work through problems buy offering as little assistance as possible but, instead, to guide the talmid to produce solutions through his own efforts. The talmid reacted very badly to Reb Zaiv. When Reb Zaiv explained to the Rosh Yeshiva how he was trying to help the talmid, the Rosh Yeshiva told him that the talmid's father was of a very domineering nature and the son was emotionally enstranged from his father. Therefore, presumably the talmid was seeing that same nature in Reb Zaiv and so was reacting against him. The Rosh Yeshiva recommended that Reb Zaiv change his style of tutoring to become more openly caring and supportive. However, the damage was done; the talmid could not change his feelings towards Reb Zaiv and finally the yeshiva had to find a different tutor. Had the Rosh Yeshiva told Reb Zaiv about the talmid's background, he would have initiated the tutorship with a completely different approach.
Theoretically, the teacher should love all his talmidim equally. Sometimes, the teacher can find this dictum difficult to achieve. In fact,the teacher might even take a disliking to one of his talmidim.
Whatever the situation, the teacher must realize that his talmid is a yiddishe neshoma who will develop into a fully-practising Jew.
Everyone who has worked with talmidim can tell stories of children who have become "turned off" because of teachers who were abusive and of talmidim who were inspired or saved by teachers who treated them well.
Reuven's son first went to cheder when he was three. After several days, he refused to go back. Eventually, after about six months, Reuven managed to convince his son to go to a different cheder.
The child was happy in the second cheder but after several years it became apparent that he had a severe learning disability.
Encouraged by a counselor, Reuven asked his son exactly why he didn't like the first cheder. Eventually the child blurted out, "If I meet that rebbi again I will want to kill him!"
Reuven was aghast at the venom with which his son said that, which was completely against the child's usual quiet nature. He asked his son for more details. It turned out that on the second day the teacher had rapped him sharply across the knuckles with a wooden ruler and almost drawn blood.
No matter what the situation, the teacher should never be abusive. Even if corporal punishment is required, it should be delivered with respect. After the punishment, the teacher should make it clear to the talmid that the punishment was given for the talmid's benefit and not for any personal reason.
The teacher should always stress that only when there is hope is the talmid punished - a teacher will not punish a talmid from whom no more can be expected! Sarcasm and cynicism are powerful weapons which, if used at all, should only be used with the utmost care. Below a certain degree of maturity (which is very difficult to gauge) a child will not appreciate them but take them literally.
Even if a teacher cannot bring himself to like a talmid, he should be able to at least enjoy a civilized working relationship with him. If the teacher cannot even achieve that, he should seek advice.
But what should the parent do if he suspects that the teacher is not behaving properly? Of course, initially, the parent should go directly to the teacher and if he does not get satisfaction, he should discuss it with the teacher's Principal. Meanwhile, the parent should refrain from complaining in front of the child. However, that does not mean that he has to condone a teacher's unreasonable behavior, otherwise the child can grow up thinking that that is way a teacher must behave.
Undoubtedly, most teachers are reasonable and have the pupil's interest at heart. They are doing our job for us - really we should all be teaching our own children.
A major cause for discontent among children is the lack of people with whom they can discuss their problems. Parents are often too busy to listen to their problems; grandparents and aunts and uncles often live far away.
The need for counselling and "role-models" is especially acute during the 'teen years when the talmid is encountering the outside world and becoming aware of his own emotions. Nowadays, parents cannot assume that their children automatically dream of emulating their parents. Nor can they assume that their children will automatically turn to them for advice and confide their innermost thoughts with them.
In some Yeshivot the practice is for the maggidai shiur to come in only to deliver their shiur and then they leave. They assume that all counselling is the realm of the mashgiach.
Theoretically, the mashgiach's job is to be available to bochurim to offer guidance etc., but often he too is fully occupied. Furthermore, no matter how good the mashgiach is, there are often some talmidim who do not feel comfortable with him.
In contrast, other yeshivot encourage the maggidai shiur to be in the bais hamedrash for much of the seder and to make themselves available to their talmidim. Yet other yeshivot incorporate a kollel in the bais hamedrash so that the kollel-members are available to the bochurim. With this type of arrangement, usually, a bochur will feel at ease with at least one member of the hanhala or kollel and go to him with his problems.
Counseling is especially important for helping the youngster distinguish between how he should feel and how he does feel; what he can do and what he should do. In the open society we enjoy nowadays, we cannot rely on hackneyed cliches to satisfy an enquiring mind. A child needs the support of a strong hashkofa which can meet the challenge of anything the mass media can throw at it.
From the stomach to the brain
A bad diet can affect a child's behavior and ability to think clearly. Depending upon the sensitivities of the individual, many types of food adversely affect a person's ability to think clearly.
These adverse effects might not be noticeable in usual day-to-day activities, but they can be disastrous for the subtle and intensive processing of text-based studies. The faster the person's mind is, the more sensitive he is to an unsatisfactory diet because the fast-thinking person is processing his thoughts at a faster rate than a slow person and thus he is more likely to be affected by even a minor impairment to his clear thinking.
This is analogous to a person driving a car while slightly i. When driving slowly, the intoxicated driver might be driving safely. But the faster he drives the car, the more dangerous can be any slight errors in judgement.
Whenever a pupil seems excessively nervous, overly active or subdued or tired, you should ask him about his sleeping habits and diet, particularlregarding the food items mentioned below.
There are several conflicting theories as to what the ideal diet should be, but I have found the following items to be particularly troublesome.
a. Sugar. Sugar can make a pupil light-headed, restless and unable to concentrate. Tolerance varies from person to person. For example, the author knows of one person who cannot sleep at night if he has one glass of a soft drink in the evening, and of another who cannot swell in the afternoon if he has a glass of tea with two teaspoons of sugar after his lunch.
b. Caffeine/Nicotine. Caffeine can make a person restless and prevent sleep at night. It can make him feel jittery and on-edge or feel tension and fear for no apparent reason. Tea, cola drinks, coffee, chocolate and some other soft drinks contain caffeine. Smoking can have the same effect.
c. Vitamin B/Iron. Deficiencies in Vitamin B and iron can make a person feel tired, confused and unable to concentrate and tend to easily slip into day-dreaming.
d. Water. Dehydration makes a person feel lethargic, with many of the symptoms of mononucleosis. Severe dehydration can be potentially lethal. Often, the person suffering from dehydration does not feel thirsty.
Other common culprits are cow's milk, wheat products, potatoes and food-colorings
Naftali (18) had a heart of gold and would do a favour for anyone. He was "street-wise", quick on the reply, with a nice sense of humour. He would stay up until 2.00 a.m. chatting with bochurim, but was always at davening in good time. In shiur, he was unable to understand many points that his friends could understand. One day, his rebbi decided to ask him whether he drinks coke, coffee, etc. Naftali replied that he always drunk four or five cans of coke every day and also drunk two or three cups of strong coffee. The rebbi told him that he was not obligated to teach someone who was "on drugs"! Naftali agreed to give up his drinking of coke and coffee. He began to feel tired at night and had to go to sleep earlier, he occasionally overslept in the morning but his mind "opened up" and he was able to grasp ideas much quicker than before.
Unfortunately, nowadays people like to go to sleep at night as late as possible. Going to bed early and getting a good night's sleep is considered babyish.
Sufficient sleep has been called the panacea for all problems and any program is hard to implement if the person is continually tired. Indeed, many behavioral problems can be traced to insufficient sleep.
Insufficient sleep can also be caused by consuming drinks containing caffeine and sugar or chocolate or sugared products. The person might not actually feel tired, but after he has had a few nights of sufficient sleep, he will appreciate the extra alertness and ability to absorb information that the much-needed sleep gives him.
In addition, research indicates that sleep is essential for transferring information in short-term memory to long-term memory. In other words, plenty of sleep is also needed for efficient learning.
Some people might be impressed by the stories of some of our Gedolim who were/are able to manage on very little sleep. Of course, such a nature is indeed wonderful and some of them did acquire their ability through hard work and self-discipline. However, many people do not have that ability and to try to impress that nature on oneself or on one's child or talmid is a treacherous path.
Often the stories only show part of the true picture. For example, many people who rise early to daven with sunrise lie down after their early seder. Many great Talmidei Chachomim who learn late into the night are unattainable during the early afternoon because they take a mid-day nap. The Steipler, following the ruling of the RMBM, wrote a fervent letter extolling the importance of a yeshiva bochur getting a full eight hours sleep during each 24-hour day.
Children often begin bed-time avoidence tactics when they are quite young. Chidren growing up with older siblings are even harder to control because they see their big brothers and sisters going to sleep well after they are told to go to bed. And sometimes the parent cannot get the teacher's or rebbe's cooperation for this task. One maggid shiur reckoned that going to bed at 11.00 p.m and rising at 6.30 a.m. was ample for a 13-year-old boy. However, he did not hesitate to complain when his talmidim fell asleep during seder!
So how do you get your child into bed at night? The short answer is, "I don't know!" You can try bribes, offers of grand prizes, initiate points systems, show grim determination, patiently explain the virtues of a good night's sleep or any combination of these. But perhaps the best solution is simply to ignore the avoidance tactics from the very beginning.
Even a child reared in a low-income family can behave as if he were the spoilt child of a wealthy family. Such a child demands a perfect environment. The food/bed/chair must be perfect. His chaverusa must suit his special needs. The shiur must be perfectly clear and present all the information he needs.
Such a child cannot "take pressure". He is obsessed with his own needs to the point of hypochondria. Minor discomforts "knock him out". It is important to note that the discomfort is genuine! He really does feel bad/ill/in pain.
As a result of this, the talmid will be ill more often than other boys, will miss shiurim, and will fall behind in his studies. However, whereas a regular boy might rise to the challenge and make the effort to catch up with what he missed, the "spoilt brat" child cannot take up the challenge: he "cannot take pressure"! Therefore he will tend to fall into a depression, feel even more ill, miss more shiurim and fall into an ever deepening spiral of failure and despair.
Often, the "spoilt brat" will try to "get back" by hiring extra tuition. However, he usually tries to use them by getting them to feed him the material he has missed. If the tutor tries to work on the child to improve his skills, the child often reacts against the tutor. He then demands a tutor who will "give him what he needs" and does not "waste his time".
The tragedy is that often these children are highly-gifted and sensitive. Trying to build them up can be a heart-breaking experience for a mechanech as the child continually crumbles beneath any slight pressure which is imposed upon him. However, if the situation is not dealt with, failure is almost guaranteed because as the child slowly degenerates, peer-pressure increases regarding both his academic standard and his idiosyncrasies. The child will then feel that the only way out of his situation is for him to opt out, by changing schools, going out to work, or some other form of escape.
To help the child, the mechanech needs to blend loving-tenderness with toughness. Or he can enlist the aid of a colleague in which one adopts a tough approach while the other gives support and sympathy.
Underlying the "delicacy" of the "spoilt brat" is a core of "gaivah" and self-centerdness, which is often promoted and developed by the mass media. He believes that he should be able to attain/do/perform perfection instantly and without effort. Even though he will verbalize his own imperfection, often that is only a cover-up for his lack of success. Deep down he really believes that he is perfect and really he blames the environment.
The mechanech therefore needs to convince the child that instant perfection is unattainable and that we must make efforts to take steps which will eventually lead us in the direction of success - though even then we might not attain it. Often, the child will need to become really aware of his own imperfection. However, the sensitive mechanech sbe there waiting for him, to give him support and to guide him to genuine satisfaction with himself by achieving success through real effort.
Please do not get the impression that the "brat" is to blamed for his condition. It is difficult to put the blame on anyone.To a large extent, the child is a product of an environment which makes ease and comfort a norm. He has never learnt to tolerate discomfort. Certainly, a mechanech who needs to try to help a "spoilt brat" should try very hard not to have any negative feelings towards him but to be understanding and patient... Usually, if the teacher spends time with the boy, he will discover an intelligent, sensitive, kind, good-hearted and very lonely young man.
The ability to process and analyze text has three aspects.
Firstly, there is the analysis of the text itself. A talmineeds to determine the exact meaning and scope of a text. He needs to be able to realize what the text assumes to be true and to see what it implies.
This skill is also essential for comparing the comments of different authorities. Often, a slight difference in phraseology can indicate a major difference of opinion.
Unfortunately, in some schools, the study of grammar and other language skills is neglected even though they are essential to learning Gemora.
Secondly, a talmid needs to be fluent in speaking and reading at least one language in order to understand and analyze. Words are the medium of thought. Therefore he needs to have a large, accurate vocabulary in order to be able to think with sufficient degree of sophistication.
For example, some people confuse "lend" with "borrow" and they say, "He borrowed me a pound." If such a person tries to learn a sugya involving lending and borrowing and lenders and borrowers he will become confused and find it almost impossible to really understand the sugya clearly.
The vocabulary of plain day-to-day living is not adequately extensive for learning Gemora and "lomdus". It needs to be supplemented by reading to build up a more comprehensive, sophisticated vocabulary.
Allied to this is the ability to engage in conversation. It is interesting to note that some children of parents who are "too busy to talk to them" have difficulty in developing social skills with their peers and find it hard to relate to the "give and take" of a sugya.
Thirdly, the talmid needs to "see" the reality of the case described by the text. In other words, he must learn to use his power of imagination to "read in three dimensions". A talmid can sometimes read through a sugya without realizing what is actually taking place. He is "word-processing" his way through the Gemora, without identifying with situation. Therefore, for him, the Gemora is unreal, impractical and he does not involve himself with the sugya.
However, if the talmid enters into the reality of the case and forms his own opinion, the sugya comes to life and becomes both practical and interesting.
Making my son the Great Talmid Chochom
Probably the most burning questions parents have is regarding what they can do to their little boy to make sure he becomes a Great Talmid Chochom. Probably the safest and surest answer which has the happiest result is - Nothing!
There are many books available nowadays which tell of the wonderful diligence and brilliance of little children who later developed into the great Torah personalities of the past and present. However, careful reading of these biographies reveals that the parents of these children didn't do anything TO their children.
For example, one parent was granted a wonder child because he refused to sell a valuable gem for use in Avoda Zora (Rashi). Another tore out the bricks of his oven and sold them so that he could pay his son's rebbe (Ridvaz). One mother weeped many tears that her child should become a great talmid chochom (Chazon Ish). One rich man did exceptional acts of chessed and merited to become the father of the Baal Shem Tov. These are but a few samples from some well-known biographies.
These parents did support and encourage their children to develop their talents. They sacrificed THEMSELVES to pay for their child's education. THEY prayed constantly and fervently, but they did not MAKE their children become Talmidei Chachomim - they did not DO anything TO the children.
Everyone knows the story of how the Vilna Gaon stayed up all night of Simchas Torah so that he could complete his quota of learning. But note that he had set the quota for himself and his parents knew nothing of his plans. They thought that he was sleeping soundly in bed.
All the children mentioned in those books displayed their talents of their own accord. The parents recognized these talents and fostered and helped the child develop them. Trying to push a child to develop a talent or to attain a level which we imagine he should reach is a path which is fraught with danger. Children vary so much in their development and nature that it is very difficult to realistically assess a child's true potential. Attempting to push a child beyond his capability can do much damage to the future. And every teacher knows that the little a child learns with much pushing and stress when he is young he can pick up so easily and quickly when he is older.
Unfortunately, those biographies rarely talk about the late developers and the children who were wild and uncontrollable. One of our leading present-day Gedolim was a promising baseball player when he was young and sold newspapers on a street corner. Another exceptional Talmid Chochom who has revolutionised the world of "Learning" was thrown out of every cheder in his area.
The Gemora uses the phrase "Rolling with the child" at the early stages of his development. This phrase "rolling with him" suggests not trying to make him follow a preset path but seeing where he goes by himself; being there, supporting and perhaps gently guiding.
The many biographies tell so clearly what we should do to help our children become great. We must direct our drive to ourselves. We must sacrifice ourselves financially and physically; pray constantly, with true intent and fervor. We must view our child realistically, as he really is and not as we think he aught to be. We should realise that his talents might not be in the area we expect.
We must enjoy his talents and sympathise constructively with the areas he finds difficult. And we must be there to help and encourage his development into a Torah-true adult, even if he follows a different schedule than the tzaddik we last read about. Who knows, perhaps one day they will write a new book about him!
English versus Hebrew
No activity requires such a high level of skillful reading as does learning Gemora. This is due to the unique style in which the Gemora is written. And it is also due to the special nature of Loshon Hakodesh as compared to other languages.
Lawyers analyzing contracts and laws to see their exact scope and to look for loopholes come the closest to the study of Gemora. But their texts are always clearly printed. Typists carefully type all the words, fully punctuate the text and write the words with all their consonants and vowels.
Hebrew is much more exact than Western languages. You must identify every letter of every word. In European languages each idea is usually represent by a unique word. True, there are some prefixes and suffixes that serve to modify a word, but they are quite simple. So you only need to recognize enough of a word to enable you to realize which idea it represents. You do not need to read every letter. In fakt, wurdz kan bi mispeld, and leters kan bi omitd and you can still understand the text. It's the same whether mistakes are printing mistakes or whether they are your own reading mistakes.
In contrast, reading Hebrew does not tolerate any mistakes. Hebrew is based on only a few hundred root words. Complex systems of prefixes and suffixes and extra letters within the word modify the roots to produce shades of meaning. The word itself is usuallmore complex than a word of English. Often it includes the subject, object and other parts of the sentence.
So, one Hebrew word can express an idea that requires several words of English. Often, a single Hebrew letter represents a whole English word. And tmeaning of that one letter can depend upon its position in the word relative to the root.
In English, related words are often spelled very differently from each other. In contrast, Hebrew words of similar meaning usually have similar spellings, and often even have the same letters arranged in a slightly different order. The some words might be identical, except for the location of the stress when you say the word aloud.
This means that when reading a Hebrew word, you must identify every letter and note its location in the word relative to the root. Therefore, your reading must be completely accurate! So, if your reading is not perfect, you need to expend excessive brain-power to get the accuracy you need.
But, aswe said before, a word in Hebrew usually contains more information than a word in English. One or two words in Hebrew might say as much as a sentence in English. And a sentence of Hebrew might say as much as a whole paragraph in English. This is especially true of classic and Talmudic works, which are so succinct and terse. So you need much more brain-power per word to understand a text of Hebrew than for the English equivalent.
So the demands on the reader of Hebrew are much greater than the reader of English. He needs to have a considerably higher degree of precision and efficiency in his basic reading skills merely to enable him to read and recognize words. To be able also to understand the text, he must be considerably more skillfull.
This gap is widened further because of the advantage which Hebrew, with its logical structure, has over the European languages. Once you see the root of a word and are familiar with the functions of the extra letters, you can guess a word's meaning even if you have never seen it before.
Then, once you understand what the text is talking about, you can often forecast what the next words are going to be. Or, at least you can narrow down the choice to only a few possible words. Therefore, after you understand the context, a large part of the reading is merely confirming what you project will come.
That is why many classical talmudical texts are written in tiny, almost illegible print with extensive abbreviations. The experienced, informed reader usually does not need to look intensively at each word. He only needs to confirm his forecast of possible words. So, once he can see enough of each word to confirm his guess, the reader will understand the text, even though its print is small and unclear. In some ways, that type of reading is similar to the skimming of English texts, but the reader is absorbing much, much more information at a higher level of understanding than is possible when reading English.
However, the unskilful or inexpert reader cannot forecast what the next words are likely to be. Therefore, he needs to analyze each part of every word.
But there is yet another aspect in which Hebrew scores over English. Many words in Hebrew are based on the same few root words. So one word can carry with it overtones of other words that come from the same root letters. Overtones of ideas and concepts can also come from similar-looking or -sounding roots. The skillful writer will bear in mind the other ideas associated with a word when he selects it.
So, if the reader is able to think about the words he is reading, he can read a text quicker and absorb more information than when reading English. But if he is unable to think about what he is reading, the words will be harder to read and more difficult to interpret than in English.
Saying whole words
Pree Pair Ring For The Fyoot Tyure ... What does that mean? ...Mummy!!! ...What does that mean?
When a child (or a late-starter) learns to read, he begins by reading letters and combining them with vowels to slowly syllablize his way through each word. However, after a while, the reader should progress to reading each word as a whole word.
But some people just do not make the transition; they maintain their old style of reading words as strings of syllables. At first sight, this habit does not seem to be anything to worry about, but actually it can be most destructive to attaining an adult command of Hebrew.
Hebrew is based on only a few hundred root words. Complex systems of prefixes and suffixes and extra letters within the word modify the roots to produce shades of meaning. Therefore a crucial stage in reading a word is to recognize the root letters. To do this, you need to see the word as a single unit, which means that you need to say it as a single unit.
Once you have recognized the root letters, you can decide what is the function of the other letters in the word. In Hebrew, prefixes and suffixes not only show the tense and form of verbs but they also act as subject and objects. They help make nouns from verbs and verbs from nouns. Therefore, you must recognize the root and relative positions of other letters in a word to accurately understand what a word means. This also requires saying the word as a single unit.
However, often it is not easy to decide which is the root because the choice is not clear and the word could be understood in several different ways. Then you need to look ahead and see from the context which is the most likely candidate. So, in order to easily see the selection of possible meanigs of any one word, you need to have memorized a comprehensive "bank" of whole words. But without saying whole words, it is very difficult to memorize them.
Learning Gemora can also become very difficult if the reader does not have an extensive memory-bank of whole words. This is because when learning Gemora, the talmid is seeing letters only. This means that he needs to match consonant-only words with complete words that he already knows. Therefore the talmid needs to remember many words, with their meanings.
You can only build-up such a "bank" of words if you pronounce each word as a discrete unit - accurately and clearly - and understand its meaning. So, learning and davening must be accurate and pronounced clearly.
Slurring words can also prevent words being memorized. You need to pay attention to the unique identity of each letter in each word, as well as to the vowelling assigned to each letter. Once you have memorized the word you will probably be able to understand it just be looking at, but to memorize the word, we need all the help we can get. Saying the word clearly causes the mouth and the ears, as well as the eyes, to work together to do job of loading each word into the memory-banks of whole words.
Reading - It isn't so simple!
Someone who reads well usually forgets what it was like when he was young and could not read well. If you want to recall how if it felt in the old days, try reading a language which is difficult for you to understand. Perhaps try reading Yiddish, or Olde English.
There are three levels of reading. At the lowest level of skill, the reader sees the words as strings of letters. When the reader really thinks about them, he can usually eventually work out their meaning.
At the second level, the reader can see the totality of the word, but only by reading it first and then putting together its separate parts.
At the highest level, the reader immediately sees the totality of word with all its ramifications and implications. At this highest level, the appreciation of the word is much, much more extensive than the lower levels.
You too are taking advantage of subconscious processing as you read about this point.
Look back at how you read the last statement. Automatically, you vocalized "read" as "reed" to refer to the present tense of the verb "to read". In the beginning of this sentence, you vocalized the same letters as "red" to say the past tense of the same verb.
Similarly, you assumed that the phrase "about the point" meant "regarding the subject" annot "moving your eyes move around a central location". The phrase would have meant that if it was describing the action of using a compass to draw a circle.
Similarly, you assumed "too" meant"also" and not "excessive".
From this example, we can see that reading really comprised six distinct stages:
1. Reading the words.
2. Considering all possible meanings of each word.
3. Projecting the meanings that the text will have, according to the meaning which each word can have in the context.
4. Evaluating how much sense each combination makes.
5. Selecting the combination that makes the best sense.
6. Rereading the sentence accordingly.
Usually, this takes place at a very fast rate and the skilful reader is not aware of these stages, unless, of course, the language is not clear.
Talmidim report that as their reading becomes more efficient, their appreciation of words improves until, when they finally read skillfully, they almost forget how little they used to understand. They then enjoy reading and appreciating the fine nuances of words and overin which Hebrew is so rich.
They also find that they remember words with their literal and idiomatic meanings without effort. They see the breakdown of words into root and prefixes and suffixes immediately and perceive the choice of possible meanings a word can have.
Wouldn't life be so boring if we were all the same? Part of the fun in teaching is dealing with the "live-wires". True, the level of the class is set by the quiet, studious pupils who show their intelligence, do their homework and study for their exams. But often the real challenge is reaching out to those children who you know "can do better".
Sometimes, children need to learn how to channel their intelligence, how to focus their attention and plan their activities. But sometimes, they are not able to "get their act together" through no fault of theirs. You cannot tell a child to concentrate on the blackboard, if he cannot see the board because he needs glasses. You cannot tell a child to listen more attentively if he has a hearing impairment.
In each of these situations, in a classroom, the impediment of the child can cause the child to give the impression that he is not as intelligent as other children, not as "good" as other children. But, of course, we know that this is not true. Give that child a good pair of glasses or a hearing-aid and he might outshine all his friends
Nearly everyone can relate to the two example given above. We can understand how incorrect operation of a primary sensory organ will put the pupil at a disadvantage until we can help. We need to provide him with some sort of outside help which will enable him to overcome or compensate for his "problem". But, for some strange reason, is much harder to regard the brain as an organ which sometimes also does not work as well in some people as in others.
Just like some peoples eyes and ears do not "work" properly, there are some people whose brains do no work properly. And just like regarding the sensory impairments, the person can be just as intelligent, good, kind, etc. etc. as anyone else, so too, someone suffering from an impairment of the brain can be just as intelligent, good, kind, etc. etc. as anyone else. And if you give them what they need, perhaps they too will outshine their peers!
Perhaps this is because we do not look on the brain as being an amazingly-complex organ which functions in specific ways with highly structured data-banks, information pathways and processing centers. Perhaps we are used to equating "improper functioning of the brain" with being sub-normal or crazy. But when we say, "Don't ask me now. I'm tired and I can't think straight!" we don't expect the person to whom we are talking to label us as being sub-normal or crazy. We do expect them to understand that we are suffering from a temprary malfunctioning of our neural system which prevents us from processing data efficiently. We also expect them to understand that the neural malfunctioning is normal, temporary, can be cured by a good night's sleep and is a problem which is shared by millions of other people when they get tired. So please forgive my being unpleasant to you, please ask me again tomorrow and we'll still be friends and please don't tell my boss to fire me just because I'm not functioning properly now.
We take for granted the process of decision-making. To make a decision, we must recall relevant information from the memories stored in one part of the brain and then transport the information to the part of the brain which deals with logical processing. What would happen if you were in a hurry to make a decision, were able to recall all the necessary information, but could not transport it quickly to the part which processes the information? In the business world, you would call this an "information bottleneck". Usually, the result is that the pressure to make a quick decision will make you make a hasty decision based on whatever information gets through the bottleneck.
This model seems to explain much of the characteristics of the Attention Deficit Disorder. It explains why stimulents such as caffiene, cylert and retilin can calm down a person suffering from A.D.D. Because if the effect of the stimulent is to clear the bottleneck it will enable the person to quickly access all the information he needs and so make good, well-thought-out decisions.
Perhaps a better name for A.D.D. would be N.I.B. - Neural Information Bottlenecks but the original name was first used many years ago, before anyone had even been dreamed of the vast amount of research which has now been performed on it. From time immemorial teachers have been wanting to know how to deal with those sweet children who just couldn't get organised. Those are the children who are kind and considerate, but too hasty, can't sit still long enough to think things through, can come up with flashes of brilliance (so they're not dumb!) but just seem to get nowhere in life.
Rash decisions, hasty mouth and inability to work through projects in an organized manner costs them job after job. But they know, and we know, that they are very intelligent and could have a great future. In many ways they are like the children who can't see the blackboard clearly or can't hear the teacher well. And, like them, with a correct diagnosis and treatment, we can help them access their potential.
Living and Learning
Yankela's trees produced a terrible crop. When he planted his orchard, he had visions of seeing trees laden with tons of apples and oranges. This year, all he saw were a few pathetic excuses for fruit. Yankela decided to call in Dr. Chaim, the local Agricutural Advisory Board expert.
On his way over, Dr. Chaim reviews the four possibilities he might meet when he gets to the orchard.
One possibility is that the trees are healthy but they are too young to produce a good crop. In that case, Dr. Chaim need only tell Yankela to be patient and wait a year or two.
A second possibility is that the trees are mature, but so misformed that they are incapable of producing a commercial amount of fruit. Then, Yankela will have to decide what he should do with his orchard.
Of course, it is also possible that the trees are mature and in good general shape, but are suffering from a tree disease which prevents the fruit from forming. Or the soil might not suitable, or perhaps there are no bees in the area to pollinate the flowers. This situation is more of a challenge to Dr. Chaim, because he will need to diagnose the disease or insufficiency and advise Yankela how to treat it.
The final possibility is that the trees are mature and perfectly healthy, but Yankela does not know how to take care of them. Perhaps he never learnt how to prune and water the trees, keep the bugs off and fertilize the soil. Then, Dr. Chaim will need to become the educator and train Yankela and make sure that he becomes a proficient gardener.
When we talk about the ability of an organ of the body to work properly, there are also four separate aspects to be cons. Firstly, there is the question of whether or not the organ is constructed correctly. Secondly, there is the question of whether or nthe organ is sufficiently developed to do its job properly. Then there the question of whether or not the organ is healthy and functioning as well as it should. Finally, there is the aspect of how well the organ has learnt to do its job, or how well the person has learnt to use the organ.
Dr. Chaim's job was quite simple. By examining the trees he can determine the trees' maturity, health and look for signs of neglect. A regular doctor would have a similar task when examining one of the "simpler" organs of the body, such as the heart or kidneys. However, the human mind is so powerful and complex that dealing with problems of the senses or thinking is an awesome challenge.
For example, some children are born with an optical deficiency in one eye. Usually, this deficiency goes unnoticed for several years, until the child is old enough to be tested. Then he will be prescribed glasses to give him perfect vision in both eyes. However, the story does not always end there.
For those first few y, the brain has needed to deal with vision from two eyes which cannot be fused into a single 3-D picture. The brain reacts by suppressing the vision of one eye and relating only to the picture recieved from the "good" eye.
The consequence of this is that the "bad" eye never learns to see! So even when the child recieves his new pair of glasses and has perfect vision in both eyes, he is still unable to use the eye which was once "bad". That eye now needs to learn to "see" as if it were of a new-born baby. Incedently, the same situation would arise if both eyes were perfect, but one eye was consistently covered, like, for example, if the baby always lay on one side so that he only looked out of one eye.
In the past, such an eye was called a "lazy" eye. The treatment was to cover the good eye to force the "bad" eye to learn how to see. However, modern research has shown that this still does not provide the total solution, because the "bad" eye is now learning to see without working in coordination with the other eye. So, when the patch on the good eye is removed, the brain will need to deal with pictures from two eyes which have not learned to work in harmoney with each other. The brain still cannot fuse the pictures from the two eyes into a single 3-D image.
The result is that often we are now back to square one. The vision process is so complex that the brain will take the easiest option and again suppress the vision of one eye. But we are now in a more complex situation, because the child is now wearing glasses which give him perfect vision in each eye! He will pass a regular check-up with flying colors. Yet when he uses them together, at best, he is effectively blind in one eye, or, at worst, the images from the two eyes are not completely suppressed and he sees double!
If our Yankela would be in this situation, he would hate reading. Words would blur and pull apart, sometimes they would be clear and sometimes they would appear double. Text might "wander around" and he would have difficulty in keeping the place and he might need to point with his finger to "anchor" his eyes. The stress of dealing with it might give him headaches and he would dread written homework. At any excuse, he would drop his books and run out to his orchard to tend to his trees.
What Yankela needs is a Dr. Chaim who is skilled not only in investigating the physical maturity and health of each eye but also who can track down where the weak link is in the vision process. Then he can initiate a schedule of vision therapy which will train each eye to do its job as a member of a team.
When in this sort of complex situation, the parent or teacher needs to know to whom he should turn. When facing problems with any of the major senses, there are highly-skilled specialists who devote themselves to particular aspects of the system.
For example, regarding vision problems there are four main branches. Opthamology concerns the medical health of the eyes and performing surgery. Orthoptics is a form of Vision Therapy which concentrates on training the eyes to see clearly and work together. Optometry covers general eye health: testing visual acuity, prescribing and fitting glasses and contact lenses and treating eye infections. Extended Optometry (or Behavioral Optometry) concerns itself with the entire visual process, from the way in which the eyes percieve their target to the way in which the brain processes the information received from the eyes.
So, for Yankela's problem, an Extended Optometry practitioner would seem to be the best address. He might need to have his prescription adjusted and he would certainly need a program of Visual Therapy to train his eyes to work together and to train his brain to "switch-on" the repressed eye. If he takes the program seriously and does his exercises regularly, Yankela's reading then can really start to bear fruit!
Scented insecticide and sugar-coating the pill
Reuven was walking past Shimon's garden when he caught an overpowering smell of insecticide. "How rash of someone to just go squirting insecticide all over the place!", he thought. Some time later, he found out the reason for Shimon's irresponsible behavior - there wasn't any! Shimon never used insecticide. But in his garden was a fine crop of one of the types of flower whose scent is used to make insecticides smell pleasant.
This is an example of a reverse association. The intention of the insecticide manufacturere is to mask the unpleasant smell of his product by associating it with the scent of a flower. But he also succeeded in causing Reuven to associate the scent of the flower with the unpleasant and dangerous nature of insecticide.
Who doesn't think think of tablets when they eat those little pill-shaped candies? And doesn't the idea of medicine flash through one's mind -just for a moment - when taking a rasberry-flavored drink?
A similar situation arose when little Chanie came home from school crying. "Why are you crying?" asked her concerned mother.
"I got a `Good' for my homework!" replied Chanie, tearfully.
"What is wrong with that?" enquired her mother. "Good is good!"
Chanies tears doubled, "No! No!" she cried, "`Good" is the worst! Then comes `Very good', then comes `Wonderful' and the best is `Worthy of Commendation'. All my friends got at least `Wonderful' and all I got was `Good'!"
Clearly, whoever devised the marking schedule had a mistaken idea of Positive Reinforcement. Positive Reinforcement is not simply calling everything wonderful, terrific, marvelous, irrespective of what it is. Children usually have a good idea of what is right and what is wrong. Indiscriminate labeling of everything as wonderful will both cause a credibility-gap and mix-up the child's sense of values. Furthermore, there is the risk that by associating the word good with what the child knows to be bad, whenever the child now hears himself being called good, he will think that really he is bad.
True "Positive Reinforcement" refers to homing into a positive aspect of what is generally a negative situation. For example, little Dovid offers to bring in the Friday night soup. He takes the full soup-plate from his mother in the kitchen and makes it to the door of the dining-room without spilling a drop. Then - Ooops! He trips on the edge of the carpet and ends up fertilizing it with nutritious chicken soup (plus noodles).
Dovid knows he has messed-up the job and waits in trepidation for Father's reaction. Father can call Dovid a clumsy idiot - and Dovid will vow to himself never to offer to bring in the soup again. Or Father can laugh and say that he did a terrific job - and Dovid will think that either his father is being sarcastic or that his father knows that he is a clumsy idiot and is just trying to make him feel good. Or Father can say that he appreciates Dovid's offer to help, that taking in a full plate of hot soup requires considerable skill and making it as far as the dining-room door is really good fa first attempt - just, next time try to keep an eye out for tedge of the carpet!.
This will strike a chord of truth to Dovid. Carrying a full plate of hot soup is difficult - and he did make it to the dining-room door without spilling a drop. Okay! So I'll go back and try again - and I'll look out for the edge of the carpet.
Or, we look a Rivky's math book. Our eyes alight on one of the sums she just did for homework
We can tell her how she messed-up the sum and got it totally wrong - in which case Rivky will resign herself to never knowing anything about math because she knows that she did do some sort of calculation - obviously she is on the wrong track!
Or we can tell her that obviously she confused the multiplication sign for the addition sign - but that as an addition exercise it was excellent and completely correct. Then Rivky knows exactly where she stands. What she thought she was doing, she did correctly - but she just mixed-up the signs. Okay, so next time I'll look more closely.
In both of the above examples, homing into the positive aspect does not jeopardize our credibility in the child's eyes. Nor does it prevent usfrom relating constructivelly to the negative aspects of the attempts. Confirmation and genuine appreciation of real achievement gives encouragement to continue to develop. Admittedly, every teacher knows that sometimes it is necessary to give a pupil a lift by "juggling the books" a little. But this not the same as re-vamping an entire system of values or always giving everyone a slap on the back and telling them, with a big fake smile, that they are fantastic.
Nine portions of speech
Mrs. Yisroel is holding her new-born baby in her arms. The fact that her baby does not yet have a name does not prevent her from cooing and chatting as the baby's eyes wander around - looking at her? Or looking somewhere else? At that stage you cannot tell, but who cares? At every opportune moment, Mrs. Yisroel enjoys her long, private discussions with her baby.
Looking on, Mr. Yisroel cannot understand how anyone can talk to such a unreceptive audience. But Mr. Yisroel was only allocated one portion of speech.
A month or two later, Mrs. Yisroel is still having her extended conversations with her tiny Yitzchak. She plays with him, moving his cute arms and legs up and down and around. Holding him in her arms, she gently rocks him back and forth. Now, little Yitzchak looks back and seems to be understanding what his mother is saying. Sometimes, he smiles and makes little baby-noises, but Mr. Yisroel still looks on, baffled at his wife's ability to talk to a little "nothing".
Whether she knows it or not, using her inherent womanly wisdom, Mrs. Yisroel is preparing and training her son for his future reading and writing skills. Little Yitzchak will only be able to develop these skills easily if his brain has been prepared beforehand, and those first three months are the most important months in his life for that task. His mother's constant chatting and rocking and playing with him are stimulating parts of the brain which are vital to the reading and writing process.
During the first three months of his life, a baby is learning how to hear, see, move and to interpret the mass of physical stimuli which are swamping his little brain. The learning process is most efficient if subject to them simultaneously. Then, each type of stimulus helps the learning process of the others and together they help the baby coordinate the senses together.
Mrs. Yisroel comes into her baby's room cooing and chatting away. Yitzchak hears the sound coming closer. He feels himself being picked up. He opens his eyes and sees the vague, familiar figure of his mother. The lifting and rocking stimulates the balance centers of his brain. Soon, he will learn to recognize the details of his mother's face and see how it differs from others who pick him up. He will learn to use his two eyes together, see in 3-D how his mother comes closer to the crib and match this with the increasing volume of her voice and use his ears to track the position of his mother as she walks around the room, talking all the time.
Later, when he is older, Yitzchak will use his balance center to enable himself to stand up and walk around. He will also use it to learn how to control a pen for drawing and writing. And later, when Yitzchak is an adult, he needs to thank his mother doing for him what no-one else could do.
A Mother's Unconditional Love
At the beginning of the century, an orphanage in the United States of America became worried about the high mortality rate of foundling babies given into their care. Despite the high standard of nutrition and medical care, the children usually died in their first year. Eventually they submitted their problem to a team of doctors and psychologists. After much investigation, the team decided that the high mortality was due to the lack of love and affection. The team agreed that no expense was spared regarding the children's physical welfare, but because the staff were so busy, the babies were left alone in their cribs. Noone ever picked up a baby to kiss or cuddle it or show it any affection.
As a result of the findings, the orphange hired an old, motherly nurse specifically to go by each crib, pick up each baby and spend time with it and to shower it with motherly love.
Immediately, the mortality rate dropped.
The importance of motherly love is not limited only to the early years of the child's life. Somehow, the mother's warmth and affection are desperately needed for the child's physical well-being as well as for his short-term and long-term psychological health. Even an adult will cry out for his mother in times of intense distress.
Probably, part of the benefit the child receives is from the fact that he knows that there is at least one person who believes in him as an individual, who backs him, who will support him through even the most difficult times and to whom he can turn for unswerving loyalty. This gives the child a core of self-respect and self-confidence, enabling him to meet the challenges of life.
Unfortunately, there are some parents who feel that they can use their love as a bait to get their child to conform to their plans - "If you do well in the exams then I'll really love you." or "If the rebbe says that you are getting p'shat in Tosefos then you'll really be my son."
Such parents will protest that of course that they really do love and will love their child even if the condition is not fulfilled - but the child is not getting that message. Simply verbalising the dependancy of their love on any factor undermines the child's faith in his parents and his estimation of their faith in him - either he believes his parents or he does not!
Unconditional love! That is what makes a mother's love so important to the child. The doting love of the yiddishe mother has become something of a joke in the non-Jewish world, but if you read between the lines, you can see an underlying jealousy - and they are right to be jealous of it.
Kingpin of the Educational System - the Aleph-Bais Melamed
Moishi was a very sensitive three-year-old. The slightest shock would drain the color from his face. To say that he was scared of Reb Simche and Reb Yaakov, his assistant, would be an understatement. But fortunately, Reb Simche and Reb Yaakov were equally sensitive. They showered little Moishi with attention without being intrusive. They allowed the weeks to go by without putting him under stress, waiting patiently for the day when Moishi would warm to them. Then, one day, Moishi answered a question. Reb Simche was so excited, he immediately phoned Moishi's mother to tell her the good news.
Chaim was not so fortunate. Now eighteen-years old, Chaim told of his alef-bais melamed who was so abusive that he turned the entire class of 35 children against learning any Limudei Kodesh. Only Chaim and one or two of his friends regained some of their interest when they entered Yeshiva Ketana, by then, many of their friends had dropped out of robservance entirely. Of all the children of that class, only Chaim continued on to Yeshiva Gedola.
In many ways, more expertise, sensitivity and intuition are required by the early-year melamdim than by any other branch of the educational system. In those years, the children cannot always express themselves - they just look with their big, wide eyes and the rebbe needs to know what they want. The rebbe needs to know how to to build up basic skills in ways which will stimulate and encourage the child, neither overstressing nor under-challenging. They need to appreciate the supreme importance of their task - developing skills and attitudes which will become the cornerstone for all the child's future achievements.
Recently, when visiting Chutz l'Aretz, I was asked to investigate the lack of accomplishment of a little boy who went to a local cheder. During the screening, the child performed quite well, but showed signs of extreme tension. I began questioning the child to try to locate the source of tension - was it insufficient sleep, or too much tea and coffee, or....?
As I was talking to the child, an observer who had gone to the same cheder as the child when he was young asked if he could ask the child a few questions. The parent aI agreed.
"Tell me," he asked the little boy, "Does the rebbe use a stick?"
"Only three," replied the child. "A big one, a little one and a ruler."
"Does he ever hit you?" asked the observer.
"Only sometimes!" the child replied.
There are those who claim that the use of a stick is a time-honored tradition. However, in a definitive work on the chapters of Yoreh De'ah dealing with the laws of melamdim, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Stern, Shlita, a member of Rabbi Wosner's Bais Din in Bnei Brak, explains that the option of a melamed to inflict corporal punishment extends only to hitting a child with a small piece of string. Using anything more than that opens the melamed to being brought before Bais Din like anyone who unjustly inflicts damage.
Likewise, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, Shlita, in his latest sefer, warns against the use of corporal punishment even for the youngest ages. He explains that although the punishment seems to be effective, its rebound effect will almost definately cause resentment and perhaps rebellion in later years. Of course, children do need to be trained and disciplined. But that is precisely where the true mechanech shows his mettle, using his head rather than his hands.
Nowadays, with the challenge from the outside world being so great, the foundations of our chidren's education can be entrusted only to the best possible mechanchim.
Belonging - the Kehilla Spirit
Where is the border between being concerned and being intrusive? It is difficult to pinpoint the cause for the current breakdown in the concept of the community, but the ramifications it has for the chinuch of our children are widespread.
One aspect of the strength of the community lies in the mutual support and concern for each others welfare. Another aspect is the feeling of unity, acceptance and belonging which this gives to the members of the community. Yet another aspect concerns developing and honoring responsibilities to others. Individualism is a much-flaunted flag, but unless it is carefully monitored, it can also lead to isolation, loneliness and despair.
Part of the most basic chinuch which parents need to instill in their children is the ability to form caring, responsible relationships with others. Children need to learn how to so interact with others that their own needs are compatible with the rights and needs of others. They also need to develop the ability to view their own fulfillment as their part, together with others, in the Grand Plan of Olam Hazeh.
In the olden days, everyone belonged to "Their Shul." Seats were passed down from father to son for many generations. The Shaalos and T'shuvos are replete with bitterly-fought cases of infringements of sitting rights. But there is more to belonging to a Kehilla than paying synagogue fees and having a regular place to daven.
Chaim was sitting shiva in his house. In the middle of the week, a member of his shul delivered an envelope. Chaim opened the envelope and found the equivalent of $250 in cash, along with a note. The note explained that this money came from a fund especially devoted to providing cash for times like this. "Please take as much as you need. If you want, you can return the money anonymously, if and when you wish, by depositing it in the special box in our synagogue."
This gesture demonstrated the sensitivity of the Kehilla to a special need of the moment. When sitting shiva, the mourner may not go out of the house or engage in business, so even a rich person might find that he is without money - a temporary pauper! To Chaim, it was the culmination of a series of chassadim which started after he heard of the death of his mother. At a time when the individual is most grief stricken, he faces an overwhelming barrage of red-tape, officialdom and dinim. And that was when the well-oiled wheels of the Kehilla's chessed-machinery took over - from helping to deal with officials, filling in forms and arranging the funeral, to suppling the special low chairs and a Sefer Torah for the shiva minyan.
But the support which Chaim recieved from the community went beyond the provision of physical necessities, because his community also has a well-defined set of p'sak and minhagim which cover every situation. At every stage and in every occurence of halachic doubt, Chaim was able to turn to the Kehilla Rav for a clear, definative p'sak.
Of course, the children of the house look on with awe. They see Mr. Schwartz (who usually scowls at them when they make a noise in shul) and Mr. Weiss (who is always handing out sweets to the children) and Mr. Green (who is a very successful, high-powered businessman), hauling siddurim and chairs, making arrangements and popping in regularly to make sure that everything is okay and that there are enough people coming for the minyanim. They see the devotion and loyalty of members of the community for each other. They see people fulfilling their obligations even at considerable personal expense and inconvenience.
They also see their father accepting the decisions of the Rav, even when the decision is not convenient. They see how their father calmy parries the various questions regarding the way he is performing the various laws and customs of the shiva, "Well, that is not our minhag! Our Rav did not pasken like that. In our kehilla, this is how we do it." They hear the pride in his voice when he explains that the minhagim of their community are many hundreds of years old. And that their Rav is a true Talmid Chochom whose views are respected by the greatest authorities in the land.
And they realise that what their father does is not based on the whims and fancies of the moment, but is the result of continuous consultation with an objective expert; because they are all subject to a Higher Authority. So, deep down, when their parents tell them to do something, it is not just, "Because I am telling you!" Even Mr. Schwartz's scowl mellows in their eyes when they realise that it comes from a genuine concern for their chinuch.
So now, when Avromelle is asked to learn with a bochur who is slow to understand the Gemora, and when Sorrelle is asked to help a neighbor who is sick, they appreciate and value their roles as members of the Kehilla.
In these days of disintegrating micro-families, those who are true members of a Kehilla can be thankful and proud to be members of their Macro-family.
The Kindergarten Age
This period is the time when your child should be developing many pre-learning skills which he will need when he enters school and starts his formal learning. Some parents are tempted to coax their children into formal learning skills, believing that the types of activities which children usually engage in at that age are "babyish" and that kindergartens are simply places to keep children busyuntthey can move up into the proper school.
Actually, at the kindergarten age, the child needs to develop hand-eye-foot-body coordination, fine motor skills, listening and vision skills which are essential for efficient learning. It might possible for a child to precociously advance on to further levels of learning but there is a grave risk that the lacking in basic skills will catch up with the child in later years when the learning will then stress the child to a greater degree.
You can help by maintaining the activities of the child's younger years - cutting, tearing, scribbling, painting, playing with sand and play-dough, building, breaking, running, jumping, climbing, playing with balls and skipping-ropes, doing jigsaw puzzles, making models with building-bricks and construction toys and the other activities which typify the playful years. Try to take your child to a playground where he can climb, go on swings and see-saws, roundabouts and other playground equipment.
Now is also the time to get the child accustomed both to being in a group and engaging in group activities and also to be by himself and working on tasks by himself. When playing with other children, the child needs to develop his social skills. He learns how to interact with other children. He needs to learn to tolerate other children's annoying behavior. And he needs to learn to modify his ownbehavior so that it is acceptable to the other children.
Therefore, the adult should try not to interfere or intrude into the group when the group is interacting - unless, of course, the is a risk of any sort of physical danger. So, if there is a disagrement within the group, or if there is friction building between its members, the supervising adult should give the members of the group a chance to work things out for themselves before interfering.
When the child is working on a task by himself, he should be allowed to make mistake and should not be criticized for mistakes. Adults should be wary of implying criticism when they give constructive advice. He should be allowed suffucient time to complete the task or encouraged to continue at a later date in order to finish the job.
Do not ask the child to attempt a job which is beyond his skills, but if he wants to have go, you can let him have a go (assuming, of course, that no danger is involved) but never say, "I told you so!" if he fails. Just accept the failure with good humor, "Well, it was good experience - you can try again when you are older!"
If necessary - or, if you like - you can get down on the floor with your child and help him or show him what to do and how to do it. Often, the child values those moments because it shows that you are not giving him toys and activities just to keep him quiet and out of the way.
The child also needs to learn to listen - to pay attention to and absorb what is being told to him. The warmth of a mother telling her child a story cannot be replaced by a computerized story-telling program, even if it is a CD-ROM with symphony music and multi-colored graphics. Children like to hear stories at bed-time, but you can read to him or tell over famous stories or make up your own stories at other times also.
So it is quite important to consider carefully where to send your child for kindergarten, or to babysitter. The kindergarten should be well equipped and the teachers should be aware of the importance of the basic skills they are developing in the children under their care. The kindergarten is not just a place where you send your child to keep him out of the way or to keep him safe while you go out to work or get on with your housekeeping. It is a place for developing vital skills and it plays an important role in the child's future success.
There is a lot of social (and commercial) pressure to get children involved with computers. Despite the great promises of the wonderful educational value of their programs, a child rarely needs any assistance from a computer for his development. However, computers and LCD games can cause a lot of damage to eyesight and to the child's ability to subsequently engage in normal learning activities.
If, for some reason it is necessary for your child to work on a computer, you should ensure that he takes frequent breaks to allow his eyes to relax. The screen should be positioned so that there is no glare or other reflections on it. The child should not sit close to the screen and the room as a whole should be gently lit.
This is a good age to screen for eye problems. Your child is old enough to answer question and explain what he is seeing and how he feels about it. Problems caught now can often be easily corrected.
For this age, it is important to look for an optometrist who knows how to talk to children and who knows how to check for the full range of vision problems. Many screenings only comprise checking for the acuity of vision in each eye separately. The use of such a screening is very limited. They do not check how the eyes work together, how the eye percieves the image and how the mind processes the image.
A full screening should check these other aspects of the vision process, as well as the medical health of the eyes.
Possible problems include nearsightedness (can't clearly see far, e.g the blackboard), farsightedness (can't clearly see near, e.g. a book), astigmatism (sees double) crossed eye (eyes don't work together), lazy eye (one eye is suppressed) and color-blindness or deficiency (can't see colors properly).
If a problem is detected, it is important to remedy the problem to the fullest extent possible. For example, if a course of exercises is prescribed, it is important to continue doing the exercises until the condition has been cured completely, or as well as possible. If the course is not completed, the problem will almost certainly surface at a later age when it can be much more distressful.
Accidents can happen! Unfortunately, every year many children suffer partial or total loss of their vision through accidents. At this age, children cannot always forsee even the direct consequences of their actions. They can point a sucker-gun at their face, or their friend's face and press the trigger without realizing that they can thereby damage an eye.
So, you should be careful of (or ban completely?) fireworks, sparklers, missile-throwing toys such as pea-shooters, sling-shots and toy guns, even if the missiles are sucker- or rubber-tipped.
As a general rule, you should stress to the child that he should never throw a sharp object to the friend, even if he shouts to them that they should be ready and they answer back, "Okay!" And they should never run while holding a sharp object or something which can smash into splinters when dropped, such as of glass.
Children also don't realize the difference betwen different types of liquids and powders. We might think that the bad smell of many chemicals will deter child from drinking them. But, in fact, children often act before thinking - a child can gulp down a cup of bleach even before he has caught a whiff of its smell.
Furthermore, medicines and detergents are often made to be inviting - such as rasberry-flavored syrups and apple-odoured dish-cleaners. So you need to protect your child from accessing anywhere where dangerous medicines or chemicals are located.
Yossi was staying with his uncle and aunty's family for a few days while his parents were away. He barely ate and he obviously felt very uncomfortable, even though he usually enjoyed playing with his cousins. After a few days of tension, Yossi's uncle decided to take the law into his own hands. When Yossi was sitting alone on the couch, his uncle sat down next to him and asked him, "Do you mind if I tickle you?"
As expected, Yossi was too shy to reply, and his uncle began to tickle him. Within a few minutes, both Yossi and his uncle were laughing almost uncontrollably. After the dust had settled, Yossi was a different boy. He became part of the family, began eating normally and afterwards we hthat even in cheder he became much more relaxed and intergrated with the other much better.
Eli was acting up again. "Okay, Eli!" his father grimly muttered, "You've asked for it!"
But the fake grimness did not fool Eli. He saw the twinkle in his father's eyes and he knew he was in for some fun rough-and-tumble.
Eli's arms came up in defence from the expected attack, but he was unable to ward off his father's tickling. After five minutes, through sheer exhaustion, father and son agreed to take a break. They rested in each others arms until their breath returned - then Eli's father went back into the attack.
After the second dose, both father and son had had enough. When they parted, all of Eli's "prickles" had disappeared - he was now happy, content and cooperative.
I do not know if any research has been done on the physiology or psychology or sociology of tickle therapy, but I do know that it is good fun and that it does a power of good. However, not all children can be tickled all the time. There is a danger of mistaking crying for laughing - and too much laughing can hurt as well. In fact, there is a group of Tibetian monks who preach non-violence. When they feel they need to impose the death penalty on one of their members, they do do so by tickling him until his neshoma leaves his body.
So, like all inter-reactions between people, the person who does the tickling needs to be sensitive and to know when to tickle and when to stop.
Good Manners Helps Good Thinking
Ithe Victorean era, the English used to say, "Little children should be seen but not heard!" Their intention was to put the child in his place - something like their attitude to the natives of the countries they had conquered. But for us, we can see in it an element of good training. A child does need to learn to listen to his elders; otherwise, how can he ever learn?
The same is true for many other customs of the whole system of etiquette and "Good Manners" which was in vogue until some 40 years ago. A child who is well-mannered is easier to educate than an undisciplined child. But this not only because he is more passive and easier to control - though every teacher is grateful for that aspect! True "Good Manners" is the product of sensitivity to the feeling of one's fellow man and to one's relationship to him. That is the reason for "Codes of Conduct" occupying such a large part of mesechtas such as Ovos, Ovos d'Rebbi Nosson, Derech Eretz Rabba and Derech Eretz Zuta.
When a child (and an adult) stands when a parent or a talmid chochom enters the room, he is not merely showing subordination for a "superior"! He is physically demonstrating his acknowledgement of the gratitude which he needs to show to that parent and those who can teach him and those who represent the wisdom of the Torah. And he is acknowledging the wisdom which the elder has accrued over the years. And he is acknowledging his own readiness to listen and learn and accept the wisdom of his elders.
Decent table-manners teach the child to be in control, even when engaged in activities which seem to a child to be very physical. And saying, "Please! Thank you! Sorry! Excuse me!" teach him to realise that his actions do affect other people's feelings.
Holding the door open for the person coming behind makes the person in front realise that, apart from not causing the door to slam on the other person's face, he can do a chessed by saving the other person the effort of again pushing the door open.
Not pushing, but pulling back to allow someone else to get through shows that you understand the needs of someone else. Giving way to the elderly, helping them and lending them a hand, helping someone put on his coat - all demostrate sensitivity and understanding.
These are just a few examples of good manners which are also training in respecting and honoring and having consideration for other people's feelings.
So here are a few more examples of "old-fashioned good manners".
Listening carefully when spoken to;
Not answering back; Getting up and offering your seat to an elder;
Not butting in to someone elses conversation;
Eating quietly, with a closed mouth;
Not offering your opinion in front of elders;
Covering the mouth or nose when coughing or sneezing;
Not sitting in someone elses seat;
Knocking before entering a room;
Closing the door behind you and not letting it slam shut;
Waiting your turn patiently'
Waiting for you portion of food at mealtimes;
Not looking at what someone else got;
Talking softly in public and not acting boistrously.
Actually, all of these "good manners" have their roots in good midos, realising one's own status and having consideration for others.
The essence of "lomdos" is putting yourself into the other person's mindframe. "Why did he say that? What thoughts are behind his statement?" A person who tramples on other people's feeling cannot possibly have the sensitivity to understand someone elses opinion.
Words - the building-bricks of Wisdom
Like so many of the good things in life, we tend to take words for granted. Sometimes, we feel the lack of a good word when we are groping for just that word which describes the thought we need to express. It's there, lurking in the hidden recesses of the mind... but it just won't come out. The person you are talking to senses your frustration and he throws out a few suggestions which he thinks might be what you are looking for, but... no! The candidates he puts up just do not do the job.
Language is in a constant state of flux. The meanings of words change. Nearly two hundred years ago, a newspaper reported the assassination of Abraham Lincoln as a "Wonderful event!". Nowadays, we would assume that the paper was glad to see the demise of the American President, but the opposite was true. In those days, the word "wonderful" meant "full of terrible wonder" - as we have changed the meaning of "aweful" from meaning "full of wonderous awe" to "horrible".
This means that as time goes by, we must keep check of the way the upcoming generation is assigning meanings to words which we learnt to use many years ago (and nowadays, a year or two is a very long time - just two years ago, if some had said he has been "surfing on the Net" he would have been recommended to the local therapist).
However, there is more to words than just communication. Words are the interface for our thoughts. That is why it is so important for the child to build up a large vocabulary. Not so long ago, the average well-educated child was reckoned to have a vocabulary of hundreds of thousands of words. But nowadays, we are tending to bypass words and go for pictures.
There is the famous saying, "A picture is woth a thousand words" and many involved in education are rushing into graphics as a replacement for text. But they are forgetting that you still need those thousand words to describe that picture and, ultimately, to appreciate it.
One ofthe major aspects to the problem is that a few hundred words suffices for the needs of the day-to-day conversation of the average household. In former times it was accepted that a literary style employed a far more extensive vocabulary than that employed in normal conversation. However, nowadays, many books and newspapers are being written in a homely, chatty style which is designed not to strain the vocabulary of the average (or below-average?) reader. But, of course, they are not thereby helping the reader to develop his vocabulary.
The sitution is further complicated by the fact that if an intelligent reader occasionally meets an unfamiliar, exotic or bizarre word, he will tend to take a guess at its meaning rather than to look it up in a dictionary. Were he to be exposed to a sophisticated vocabulary on a regular basis, he would then develop an accurate feel for those words.
An ample vocabulary is especially critical for the Ben Torah who needs to delve into sophisticated and complex ideas. He cannot develop and communicate his thoughts with gruand gestures and "You know what I mean". Furthermore, the maggid shiur needs to realize that there is a good chance that many of his audience do not understanda significant proportion of the words he is using!
So what can we do about it? You can't force a child to enjoy reading a "good" book with "hard" words (i.e. a book with a sophisticated vocabulary), especially if he'd rather be playing games on his computer. And the fact is that there aren't many good "hard" books around anyway. So you can't expect a school to teach their pupils thousands of words which aren't being used anymore (a real vicious cycle - if they don't know the words, you can't write the books, and if there's no books around, why teach them the words?!!!)
There are several small electronic devices on the market which act as spell-checkers, dictionaries and/or thesauruses and some also have nice word-games built-in. They include games such as anagrams, word-jumbles, flashers, hangman and the like. They are entertaining and some versions have very extensive vocabularies. But the real benefit is obtained only through actually using the words.
A point worth mentioning is that the non-jewish "classics" were never written in order to become classics. They became popular because they appealed to the masses of their time. Why the popularity of those authors outlived their contemporaries is not, perhaps, a topic for these columns, because we need to deal with a mode of civilisation which seems to be moving away from the printed word.
There are those who are attempting to meet this problem by developing computer programs which will be both appealing and will supply the vocabularand concepts in an attractive form. But at the moment, we do need to be aware of the situation that many of our youth simply do not have the language skills they need for learning Gemora and they do not fully understand the English of thirty, twenty or even ten years ago.
Using Your Mouth
Speech is extremely complex, requiring precise co-ordination of muscles of the mouth, lips, tongue, diaphragm, etc. They must all work in unison to fulfill the requirements of the three sets of instructions - consonants, vowels and accentuation. In practice, it is difficult to say more than ten syllables per second. The mind can, of course, produce commands at a much faster rate than that. Therefore, if co-ordination is not controlled, then when a person is speaking at a rate which is at the limit of his co-ordination, garbling or loss of commands can result.
Authorities on English phonetics define a vowel as being a sound produced by a full-flow sound, in which the sound produced by air from the lungs passing through the vocal cords is unrestricted by the organs of the mouth. The distance of the back of the tongue from the upper palate decides which of the vowels a, e, i, o and u are produced.
Sounds in which the sounds are restricted are called consonants.
Following this system, the letters indicating these sounds are written down sequentially. Thus, the letters of the vowels and sounds follow each other sequentially. Furthermore, the configuration of the mouth and lips do not play any significant role when talking. Therefore, the speaker can talk while barely opening his mouth or moving his lips.
Some authorities regard these definitions as applying to Hebrew as well and so the vowels are to be regarded as sounds following the consonants. However, it seems more reasonable to regard the Hebrew consonants and vowels as parallel indications which jointly define one sound. Thus, each consonant must be associated with one vowel, because the consonant defines the way in which the basic sound is to be produced inside the mouth, and the vowel defines how that sound is to be modified by the way in which the mouth is opened the lips are shaped as the sound leaves the mouth.
Additional to the consonant and the vowel is the tune (ta'am) which indicates how to modulate that same sound to produce the intended intonation. This is in with the manner in which Classical Hebrew is written, as a three-tier system, and classic books on grammar describe a three-tier system in which letters, vowels and tunes form parallel indications of how to define the meaning of a word.
For remembering words as a preparation for reading non-vowelled texts, it is also advantageous to divide up the production of the sound between, on the one hand, the organs inside the mouth, and, on the other hand, the lips and the openings of the mouth. Effectively, this is what happens when children are taught according to the traditional methods in which they shout their reading exercises.
It is possible to read by first identifying the syllables and then totalizing them into words. This process is tedious because totalizing uses up a lot of brain-power. It may use up so much brain-power that the reader cannot, or does not feel like feeding the results of the totalizing back to form memory word-banks. Consequently, he fails to be able to recall whole words and so must continue to read syllable by syllable.
It is critical to build up extensive word-banks when young because when the reader becomes older, he tends to concentrate on understanding the meaning of the text, to the exclusion of the mechanical aspects of reading. Therefore he will suffer from a double handicap: firstly, the brainpower expended in totalizing severely drains brainpower available for processing text; secondly, the situation is self-perpetuating, because he does not build-up the memory word-banks he needs for efficient reading.
An ample and accurate word-memory bank is an essential pre-requisite for learning Gemora. Reading a consonant text (i.e. a text written without vowels) is like reading an English text in which the letters a, e, i, o and u have been omitted. Sch txt cn b vry dffclt t rd nd ndrstnd wll vn f y knw wht th tpc s. Bt f y d nt knw wht th tpc s, t bcms xtrmly dffclt ndd. f ll txts wr wrttn n nglsh lk ths, t wld ct dwn th cst f bks, bt mk thm hrdr t rd. A suitable set of vowels must be matched to each consonant word in order to re-constitute the intended word.
The reader can match a consonant-only word to a real word by laboriously working through the various combinations and seeing which one makes most sense. However, the possible meaning of one word in a sentence will depend on the meaning of the other words in the sentence. Therefore, the reconstitution of one word cannot be finalized until all the possible combinations of each word in the sentence have been considered. Only then can the best permutation be selected.
Clearly, this is laborious, tedious and mind-consuming. It greatly hinders learning Gemora and other non-vowelled texts because the reader needs his maximum brain-power to be available for the high-level processing which is often essential for considering each possible permutation of words.
This drain on brain-power also reduces brain-power available for primary-level processing of the reading. Thus, if the reader is not as proficient in his reading-skills as he should be, the quality of his reading falls when he attempts to work out what the words should mean. He makes silly reading errors, skips letters and words, his actual vision might apparently deteriorate making the print seem blurred. So, just when he most needs the ability to read accurately, his eyes fail him, making the task even more difficult - and perhaps, impossible!
Furthermore, even for a proficient reader, tedium causes the forgetting of essential information as he works through the text, so the reader cannot retain in his mind all the information he needs to reach a final conclusion. And the processing might be too slow to satisfy his intellectual hunger. The tedium will be worse if the reader has to vocalize his possible choices of words in order to hear the totality of the word.
A far more efficient way to supply vowelling for the words is for the reader to recall from his memory bank all words which have the same consonant skeleton as the word being considered. Thus, thereader immediately has a limited selection of ready-made words which can easily be considered. Furthermore, the reading operates at high-speed.
The memory word-bank of the Talmid Chochom extends also to extensive phrases.Therefore, he can interpret complex roshei taivos effortlessly, because he simply matches the letters with the few phrases having those letters which are relevant to the subject. Similarly, he can learn from seforim with tiny print because he knows the subject-matter and can project what the text is supposed to be. On the contrary, in some ways it is easier for him to learn from a tiny Gemora, because the small page facilitates scanning text rapidly.
In contrast, the less accomplished talmid will be thrown by unclear print and will be puzzled by broken letters which the talmid chochom will not even notice and will automatically read correctly.
Whole-mouth reading is a style of reading in which the reader makes a conscious distinction between the movements of the internal organs of the mouth, which produce the consonants, and the positions of the jaws and lips, which define the vowels. When he is reading like this, the reader is automatically concentrating on the mechanics of the speech. He is remembering exactly what he is doing while he is saying the words.
The delineation between the sounding the consonants and forming the vowelling reinforces the unique identity of each letter and vowel. Also, this style of reading encourages the formation of memory banks of entire phrases. The reader can also make a further effort by listening carefully to what he is saying, which will help to further build up his memory banks.
This style of reading might sound difficult, but actually it is a perfectly natural way of reading. It just pronouncing each word clearly and distinctly by opening the mouth and shaping the lips to produce a clear-sounding word.
Avrohom was a highly intelligent student with an advanced secular degree. Though he could follow the lomdus of a Gemora shiur easily, he could not remember vocabulary and he found it hard to read the text of the Gemora.
By nature, Avrohom was very quick and he tended to be slipshod when pronouncing words. He noted that when he read, he did not read directly from the "picture" of the words but that he read to himself quietly and listened to himself reading.
This meant that because his memory banks were based on his speech and his speech was careless, he never built up a reliable set of word banks and so was unable to remember vocabulary.
Avrohom trained himself to concentrate on saying words accurately when reading.
This is the age when your child begins to enter the stress of formal learning. To be able to relax at his studies, your child needs to be able to access his faculties easily.
He needs to be able to see clearly and comfortably something which is 13 - 16 inches in front of his eyes (normal reading distance). He needs to be able to see clearly and comfortable at far distance. His eyes need to work together easily so that they allow him to fuse the images from both eyes into a true 3-D image. The eyes need to be able to scan from side-to-side and up-and-down so that they move smoothly and easily across the page. The eyes need to be able to follow a moving object and be able to transfer from one target to another target easily and accurately. The eyes need to be able to change focus easily from close-up (e.g. from the book) to far (e.g. to the blackboard) and back. He needs have peripheral vision, i.e. to be able to be aware of things to the side while he is looking ahead. He needs to be able to coordinate his hands, eyes, feet and body together. This also involves facility in left/right/up/down awareness.
As parents, you see aspects of your child which his teachers do not see. So you might see tell-tale indications that your child is having unreasonable difficulties.
Look for the following signs in your child:
he loses his place while reading; he uses his finger to help him keep the place; he avoids close work; when reading, he holds the book closer to his eyes than usual; he tends to rub his eyes; he has headaches; when reading, he turns or tilts his head to use one eye only; he finds it easier to turn his head than to swivel his eyes - so, when he reads, you see him scaning the page by moving his head from side to side; he swaps letters and numbers; he omits or confuses small words when reading; he omits the first or last syllable of a word; he does not read for enjoyment; when you tell him something, he does not seem to hear first time but either gets it wrong or asks you to repeat over what you just said; he does not understand what he reads; he cannot repeat over to you the content of what he has just read; he takes unreasonable risks; he embarrasses you by saying the "wrong thing"; he cannot maintain concentration on one topic for long, he changes from job to job without completing anything properly; he has "wiggly legs"; he dreams excessively in class; you know that he is intelligent, but in class he does not perform well.
All of these problems indicate that something basic needs your attention. They are not his fault! This is the point at which you must become a detective to hunt down where the root of the problem lies.
If he : can't concentrate, doesn't pay attention, doesn't try hard enough, dreams the whole time, seems stupid : then it is his problem
But if I : can't motivate him, don't know what interests him, don't know how to guide him to acquire basic skills, don't know how to help him correct or compensate for his weak points, don't know how to help him develop his strong points : then it is my problem
If you suspect that something basic is wrong, there are specialists who can screen your child for his proficiency in basic skills. On your list should be: an optometrist specialising in screening children for total vision skills (a behavioral/EOP - trained optometrist) for checking his visual-processing skills; an audiologist for checking his hearing; a physiotherapist for checking his motor and coordination skills; an allergist for checking for possible allergies to foods and chemicals in his environment.
If the specialist does find source for your child's failure to access his full potential, then it is important that you follow the recommendations until the deficiency is dealt with to the maximum extent possible. Sometimes a child seems to get back on his feet before the course has been completed. Then there is a temptation to stop the course then, but it carries with it the grave danger that the condition has not beeen fully dealt with. If that is the situation, then the problem can surface again when the child is older.
Helping a "Poor" Memory
The reader forgets quickly; even though he has a reasonable memory for other matters, he cannot remember anything about the text! He cannot remember the names of the people quoted in the topic, neither can he remember what they say; the whole thing is a blank!
A poor memory usually stems from two basic causes (though, of course,there can be other sources as well).
Firstly, stress in the reading process can burn up so much brain-power that insufficient remains to allow the mind to store the information in the memory. Stress in the reading process can be due to inefficient reading skills. Or/and it can be due to problems in the visual processing, such as, for example, poor eyesight, convergence deficiency and focusing deficiency.
Secondly, a poor memory can come from not clearly and thoroughly understanding what is being learnt. Perhaps the material is not organized in his mind; therefore it does not stick. There are many hints and tricks for developing a good memory and for easily memorizing large amounts of material. However, they all depend upon the reader initially thoroughly understanding the material and having it clear and organized in the mind - and this alone is a major step towards memorizing the material.
The reader should learn repeatedly go over the material - not just parroting but each time learning it anew, rethinking through the topic; clarifying and organizing
After the reader understands the material clearly, he should try to organize what he has learnt, perhaps by summarizing it or making dia. Then he can try and go over the material by heart, using the summary or diagram to help him when he dries up. Eventually, he should be able to go over the topic entirely by heart without recourse to the aid. He should try to eventually make the summary or diagram as small and concise as possible and then he can keep it with him so that he can go over the topic at odd moments.
Repeating something by heart once is worth more than reading it over many times.
When being prompted to go over a topic by heart, a reader will sometimes react by saying, "But my mind is completely blank. I can't remember anything!" The teacher can help the reader access the knowledge that does lie in the recesses of his mind by gently prompting him, "What is the topic? Is it about apples?" ...and so on.
Sometimes there is a detail in the topic which the reader does not understand and which is blocking his ability to get a hold on the topic. Sometimes, he does not know what it is that he does not understand. He only has a vague feeling that something is not right. One way to track down the point of uncertainty is to laboriously write out every stage of the argument in full. At some stage the reader will find that there is a break in the train of the argument - a point at which he cannot make one stage follow from the previous one. This missing link indicates a point which is not understood.
Perhaps the reader has no confidence in himself. He has no faith in his own reasoning. Hence, he gives little credence to ideas which pass through his mind and so they make little impression on him; so he remembers very little. Obvi, the teacher must build up the reader's self-confidence.
Other interests might be occupying the reader's mind. Even when sitting in front of the book, he might be thinking of these others matters. Therefore he remembers little of what he seems to be learning. Obviously, the reader must determine not to think about anything else when he is learning. If determination alone is not enough, he will have to give up outside interests until he has developed sufficient interest in text to be able to ignore all else when he is actually learning.
Before closing the book, give a last, quick glance over what you have just learnt. This can significantly help to retain the material.
One of the basic principles of education is that every pupil is different and needs his own approach to learning. And an individual's ability varies from subject to subject. But many readers do not realize this. No-one likes to be different. So the reader builds up for himself a certain image of how competent he should be. This image may be based on the achievements of his peers, or it may be based on his achievements in secular studies. If he does not attain that standard, he feels guilty and inadequate.
If the reader learns through a text but cannot understand it, he may feel he really should understand it. He might feel guilty. He might even feel that he has something wrong with himself. He might think to himself, "I can see that I am not cut out for studying!"
However, the reader must learn to accept the situation as it is. It is far better to accept the difficulty of as being a real difficulty than to fake it and pretend there are no problems.
But sometimes, the reader still feels guilty when he comes to a conclusion which does not reach the standard of perfection which he expects. He feels that he may have something wrong. He may even feel that he has something wrong with himself.
This guilt-feeling can take several forms.
The reader might feel that it is wrong not to understand something.
If the other readers do understand that point, he might feel that he has something wrong with himself.
He might feel that it is wrong to question.
The reader might feel that it is wrong to reach a conclusion which actually raises further problems.
Sometimes, a text contains a statement which seems unreasonable or which does not seem to make sense. Later on, the text itself admits that the statement is problematic, or the teacher tries to explain the statement. However, before he sees the text later on or before he hears what the teacher says, the reader cannot accept the result of his own analysis that the statement really is problematic and does not make sense!
It is illogical to feel guilty about having a question because this is the essence of learning. Different people can sometimes find different questions in the same text. They can all be entitled to their questions.
Some teachers try to make learning as easy as possible for the reader by using teaching aids, diagrams, sheets of translations, etc. Though these aids are valuable for giving over information, they do not always prepare the reader for facing the cold text by itself. In fact it is possible for an intelligent reader to attend a well-prepared lesson for many years without learning how to work through a page of text on his own.
A constructive approach is to present a text as a progressive series of problems.
What does each word mean?
How do they form phrases?
Who says what?
What does each say?
Why does each say what he says?
To what extent, how and why do they agree or disagree?
At each stage, the teacher shows how he derives each answer and how that leads him on to the next level of problems. He shows the reader how to organize and arrange the answers so as to build up a basic understanding of the text and of how to isolate the concepts resulting from that understanding.
Through this approach, the reader learns to accept problems as a tool to increase his understanding. Each reader can learn to derive satisfaction from tackling problems at his own level and in his own style of understanding.
For the reader who feels really insignificant and depressed at having questions, let him learn through a topic of a text, noting down all his doubts, no matter how trivial they might seem to be. Then he should talk them over with a real expert. He will be amazed how many of his questions are significant. And sometimes he will find that some points which he thought were most trivial are actually most significant.
Studying consists of absorbing information and learning how to use the information. The actual process of learning also often consists of solving successive sequences of problems. Learning better consists of learning to tackle harder problems in the text.
The task of the teacher is to guide and train the reader to use his own resources to detect and solve the problems. This task continues until the reader himself can not only be proficient at a certain level but can also continue to progress and develop his own abilities by himself.
The search for truth is a continual process of suggesting theories, developing proofs, making predictions based on the theory, being proven, being disproven - in other words, refining, refining thoughts with analysis after analysis, check and double check, think and think again. Concepts of correct and incorrect sometimes become fluid and blurred. One moment a statement can have the status of being correct, supported by impregnable proofs. The next moment it may be discarded, shattered by an undeniable truth.
This requires mental agility, the ability to understand one concept from many different angles and to jump from one to the other while retaining each frame of reference in mind for comparison. And mental agility needs training and practice.
The reader needs to be sensitive to subtle nuances of language and accord them their due significance. A small inflexion can cause a big problem. A reader can only attain such a sensitivity if he is totally objective and is prepared to acthe consequences of having hours of thought disproven.
According to general culture, there is a virtue in a person not changing his opinion. "Have your view and stick to it!" A reader who has absorbed this value might feel guilty if he does change his opinion. But the trait of objectivity puts one above the personal interest of not being proven wrong. We accept being wrong as beone of the steps to being right!
Therefore, a reader has to learn to disregard previously held opinions and to approach each topic with fresh and total objectivity each time he returns to it.
He should not feel committed to a set view. Often, the reader forms an opinion, sometimes only based on a lightning appraisal and having once made up his mind, he cannot see any other way of looking at the matter, nor can he consider any other explanation. His own opinion is so firmly entrenched in his mind that it blocks all other thought and prevents him from thinking objectively.
Some readers feel that there can only one right answer, so they cannot accept the possibility of several answers. Here, the teacher can try to increase the reader's intellectual agility in several ways.
The teacher can get the reader to commit himself to a certain view, then demolish that view. Then he can build up a new view and demolish that as well, and so on - but without demolishing the reader! The teacher can encourage the reader to make his own analyses - different ways of explaining one point. The teacher can set up an obviously wrong opinion and challenge the reader to disprove it. For example, the teacher can misread a text and give an explanation based on the mistake. Or he can misapply a rule of logic or deduction.
These exercises all help to break down the reader's respect for a pre-set opinion and train him to be more flexible in his thinking.
It is important to realise that a question is not only a difficulty in understanding that makes a reader stop and think. It is also any doubt which impedes the smooth flow of ration thought. A question may be a major problem requiring a lot of thoug, but it might also be a minor doubt which can be resolved by just a moment's thought.
However, there may be a lot of theory hidden in the minor problem and its resolution. The problem might be deceptive in its simplicity. It may involve basic assumptions which are themselves questionable. Similarly, the obvious answer might require intensive analysis so that each step of its logic can be investigated and checked for validity.
Sometimes, the reader cannot see the question because of the answer. When a question is posed, the reader immediately thinks of the answer. To him, the answer is obvious. Therefore, he cannot see the question as a problem. He may say, "But it can't be, because...', and then give the correct answer. He cannot isolate the problem, appreciate its significance, or consider alternative answers.
The reader needs to develop a sensitivity for 'simple' problems because they are the foundation of basic understanding. Who said what? Why? Who argues with him? On what point do they argue? What is the answer? Who gives it? Why didn't the others give that answer? ... and so on.
If the text poses a question, never dismiss it as being silly, trivial, or obvious. The reader must treat the words of a great writer with the respect they deserve. Therefore, he should try to isolate the point of uncertainty which was bothering the questioner.
I'm Glad You're You
Chaim is an artist who specialises in painting on silk and running therapy groups using art. At the first meeting, he asks everyone to turn to his neighbor and say to him, "I'm glad you're you!"
His therapy is based on each person accessing his own real self and developing his own form of expression using art. A pre-requisite for that is for the person to validate himself as being a genuine source for expression. Strange as it may seem, Chaim reports that people do sometimes break down into tears when their neighbor utters those few, simple words. For them, it is the first time someone has expressed a statement which affirms their existence as an individual.
No-one should compare himself to anyone else. Each person is unique. Each person has been created to perform his own special task in this world and to contribute his own unique combinations of talents. Because each person has been created differently to everyone else, each person thinks and feels in their own unique way. Even among the great Tzaddikim and Gedolei Torah each developed their own personalities and talents: some excelled in the power of their critical analysis; others are famous for their depth and breadth of knowledge; some are known for their ability to attract back to Torah those who have strayed, while others gained fame through the brilliance and soundness of their decisions.
Similarly, each talmid has his own personality and capabilities. There is just no point in comparing him with anyone else! Therefore, no-one should be intimidated by other people's accomplishments when evaluating his own progress. There are things which he can do which they cannot do.
Of course, kinas sofrim is a valuable incentive. If Reuven can learn the whole of Shass in 4 years and Shimon can learn for 5 hours straight without interruption, it shows that it can be done. Perhaps I can also do it! But only "perhaps". Real "kinass sofrim" leads to aiming for higher goals and becoming more ambitious, but never to destroying the relationship between parents and their child.
A famous Godol complained to the Chazon Ish that his son was not able to grasp lomdos when he learned Gemora. Despite going over the reasoning many times, the boy just could not repeat the ideas. The Chazon Ish suggested that instead of aiming for depth, his father should try to develop the talmid's breadth of knowledge. The Godol accepted the advice and that son is now one of the world's greatest Torah authorities.
In this situation, the father was able to accept that his son's greatness could lie in a different field to the one he first thought of.
In the good olde days, just mentioning the name of the king would bring a person into a cold fright. Nowadays, the feeling is that if a king tried to chop someones head off, the victim would sue the king for damages - and he'd probably win!.
Who are we really frightened of, nowadays? The Inland Revenue Inspector might make some people tight in the stomach and no-one feels comfortable if they're speeding on the motorway and they see a flashing blue light in their rear-view mirror. But they don't really reduce us to real anguish and soul-searching. After all, we can always appeal against the Tax Assesment and if the policeman does pull us over, if we can't talk our way out of it, it'll only cost us a few dollars.
So how can we help our children (and ourselves?) to relate to the references to malchus which are used all over, when we need to get the message that Torah and mitzvos and judgement is for real? How can we get that feeling of standing before judgement, quacking from fear, immobilized through total panic, knowing that our lives hang on the most slender of threads?
True, there's plenty we can be afraid of - being surrounded by a gang of thugs or touching a bare electric wire or catching some horrible disease, etc. - everyone has their own pet terror. But they lack the essential idea of "din v'cheshbon": being answerable for one's actions before a higher authority.
Perhaps the moshul of kingship has been taken from us to force us to face ourselves without the aid of outside assistance. It's the same with crying. Two generations ago, everybody cried during davening. Sobbing and crying could be heard from the Ladies Gallery. Ordinary, ignorant householders who, through no fault of their own, had recieved only minimal education cried helplessly from their awe of the Days of Judgement.
I remember how a local doctor, Dr. Pines, used be called up for an aliyah every Yom Kippur. He was never able to complete the properly because he always broke down into heartfelt tears. "Unesaneh Tokef" was always the sign for total grief. The whole shul would break down into bitter, loud sobbing. But as the years have gone by, the crying has decreased.
So, nowadays, we must face these days through our own efforts. If we cry, it is not because everyone around us is crying. We cry only because we have instilled into ourselves the reality and consequences ofthis awesome day. And the only way we can feel the terror of Kingship is by using our own efforts and harnessing our own imagination to realize what can come from this Day of Judgement.
For us, when we learn Mussar seforim, it is like a child who tries to read a regular book when he has been used to reading books with illustrations. Now he does not have the benefit of the pictures. Now, he must make his own pictures in his mind, by himself.
Of course, this cannot start the day before Rosh Hashonoh. Throughout the year, we can note to ourselves and to our children, when "good" and "bad" events occur, "That was decided on Rosh Hashonah and sealed on Yom Kippur!" Yes, that "mazel-tov" and that cold we caught and that time we slipped and fell down and got a bruise, and that present we got, and..., and... - the list is endless.
For us, nowadays, Malchus is not a moshul. It is a reality. We need to live it, feel and then our children will live it and feel it as well. And then, when realize that our King is first and foremost also our Father, then we will realize that we have what to cry for and we have Who to cry to.
Talking to your 1-year-old
"No! Don't touch!" Yanky's little baby looks up at him. Yossie's grubby little fingers are poised above the keyboard of Yanky's computer. He seems to know that those keys are powerful and is attracted to them like magic. Several times, Yossi has managed to wreck havoc in a few seconds while Yanky was looking the other way.
But Yossi does understand what "No!" means. He backs away, his mouth starts to curve downwards and he considers whether he should go for the full-chorus wails of distress. It is incredible how much little children do understand. And it is important to understand their attempts to communicate, long bethey learn how to speak.
Later that day, Yossi crawled up to Yanky and started making noises and banging him on his leg. Obviously, little Yossi was trying to attract his father's attention. Yanky stopped what he was doing and looked down at his son. Yossi started to crawl away, anxiously looking back at his father. It looked like Yossi wanted his father to follow him. Yanky started to follow Yossi and Yossi led his father into one of the bedrooms. Here, Yossi really got excited. There, on the floor, was a pile of clothing. It transpired that a shelf had fallen down and everything on it had fallen down.
Communication, or attempts to communicate start early. Have you ever been in the same room as a baby who is lying quietly in his crib? You cough. A moment later, you hear a little cough come from the crib. You cough again. Again, a little cough comes from the crib. If you now go over to the crib to where the baby can see you and give another cough, you will see the baby look away for a moment, give a little cough, and look back at you with a glimmer of achievement in his eyes.
Of course, parents should always talk to their children, about themselves, about current events, etc. It is important for the child to know about who and what his parents are and how they think and what their opinions are, otherwise they have a big vacuum in their relationship with their parents.
Indeed, sometimes a child from a "normal" home can behave as if he comes from a broken home or is an orphan if one or both parents were/are too busy to give the child the attention he requires.
Talking to a child helps him establish his identity, gives him the ability to communicate, encourages him to work on many basic learning skills and give him important feed-back.
The ability to engage in conversation should not be taken for granted. It is interesting to note that some children of parents who are "too busy to talk to them" have difficulty in developing social skills with their peers and find it hard to relate to the "give and take" of a sugya.
Dan was a quiet, intelligent, withdrawn boy. He found it difficult to relate to situations in the Gemora. He clearly suffered from some emotional problems which prevented him from doing well in class, but he could not be brought to face them. His father was a successful rov of a busy community. On being questioned about an interesting part of his father's life, the boy admitted that he hardly spoke to his father and knew nothing of his father's past.
Detecting the Innocent Fakers
Reuven could read so well that when he needed to learn his Haftorah, his parents just gave him the Chumash and told him to prepare it by himself. Reuven opened the Chumash and sat there looking at it. After a while, he burst into tears - Reuven did not know how to read! So how did Reuven - a twelve year-old boy who went to a famous cheder - manage to last so long without anyone realising that he could not read?
Reb Shimon regularly gave a Gemora shiur to youngsters. One day, he went in to a private audience with his Rebbe - he could not take the pressure anymore of hiding from the world the fact that he did not know how to read. Reb Shimon's feat was even more remarkable than Reuven's.
Levi said over the Gemora and explained it beautifully. Regularly, he scored hundreds in his tests. However, there was something in the way he said the Gemora that worried Rabbi Yehuda.
Rabbi Yehuda pointed to a word in the middle of the text,. "What does that word mean exactly?" he asked.
Levi turned red and started to stammer. In fact, Levi was unable to read the meaning of the Gemora into the text. He knew where abouts in the text the explanation was, so he would read the text and then give over the explanation. But he had no idea how the explanation came from the words of the Gemora.
Reuven, Reb Shimon and Levi all got into their situations perfectly innocently. When Reuven and Reb Shimon were first learning the alef-bais, they found they it was easier for them to learn by heart the names of the letters on the charts than to actually look at the letters and identify each letter. So, when the melamed called on them to say the charts, they were able to sing the letters in their correct sequences, as if they were actually reading them.
As the years went by, using their superior intelligence and ability to memorize, they learnt all of tefilla by heart, and the Chumash they were learning and the Mishnayos, and they learnt to take educated guesses and they developed sophisticated avoidance techniques.
For example, because of their superior intelligence and ability to explain the sevoras of the Gemora and to remember the contents of the shiurim, they were much sought after as chaverusos. So, as the senior member of the partnership, they would allow their chaverusas to do the reading. After their partner would read the text, they would explain it and answer all the questions. As they got older, they performed so well, no-one thought of questioning their ability to read.
When Reb Shimon was asked to give a shiur, he could not back out. So he got a cheverusa to "help him prepare for the shiur" and again, the chaverusa did all the reading. Reb Shimon was able to not only learn the passages he needed by heart, but he was also able to note whereabouts on the page all the relevant parts were.
Levi can read well, but he found that he could always understand and remember the shiurim without needing to look inside the Gemora. He knew from which part of the page the sugya came from and could read the words well. Then he was able say over the shiur which the rebbi gave on that part of the Gemora. He was also able to answer all the questions and so consistantly got 100% on all his tests.
To detect these "innocent fakers" is not a major problem. Onthe contrary, it is quite easy. To detect the "innocent-faker" reader, all you need do is to ask him to read aloud to you a piece of unusual text, like from Selichos or Kinos. To detect the "innocent-faker" Gemora learner, all you need to do is to ask him to try to learn a piece of Gemora he has never seen before, while you sit by and see how he attempts the task.
The difficult part is to help the talmid maintain his self-respect when his true situation is revealed. The truth is that usual, these talmidim are not consciously being deceitful. Through no fault of their own, they have slipped through the system.
Nearly always, such talmidim are extremely intelligent and have exceptionally-good memories. Sometimes, they have a minor vision-deficiency which is not bad enough to make them complain, but is enough to make visual processing stressful and so "turns them off" looking at the page. Sometimes, their auditory skills are better developed than their visual skills. Sometimes, they are simply "right-brain dominant" and therefore they prefer sitting back and listening for the general flow of the lessons rather than looking in and studying the letters and words.
Whatever the reason, the biggest problem is planning a rehabilitation program which will allow such talmidim to work on attaining their missing skills, without harming their self-esteem and while maintaining their social status.
Being Careful and Being Nervous
Electric appliances are well protected. If an appliance has loose wires hanging out, we get nervous. Perhaps the wire is "live" and can kill a person if he touches it. But if all the wires are connected and covered, we are relaxed. Similarly, we put medicines well out of the reach of children, We lock them up because they can be dangerous if they are misused. However, once they are safely locked away, we relax.
But what would if...? Why don't we worry about the "But what would be if...?" The reason is that we make a calculation for ourselves. We innately have a sense of statistics and probability. Within a certain range of probability, we worry. We are on the alert to take action or precautions in case the hazard causes some damage to our lives or property or both.
Beyond that range, we realise that if we are going to worry about the potential hazard, we need to worry about everything - there will be noend to the worrying. And then the worrying will definitely do more damage to our lives than what we are worrying about.
We do climb stairs, walk in the street, cross roads, travel by car, bus, train and airplane, use electrical and gas appliances, eat chicken and bread, and do a host of other activities even though, statistically, all carry some degree of risk.
One contemporary Godol used to insist on travelling on the Subway despite the risk of mugging. He reasoned that, statistically, the actual risk of being mugged was so small that if he would be cautious about that, consistency would demand that he be equally cautious about all other activities. So he would never be able to cross the road (which, statistically, was, in those days, more dangerous than travelling on the subway!).
However, there is more to it than just statistics. We, as Jews, know that we do not control this world. We know that we have to do what is required of us, but, ultimately, all is in the hands of Divine Providence. Once we have fulfilled our obligation, we can relax, knowing with total confidence that however things turn out it will be for our good. We realise that the "good" is not necessarily how we imagine it should be. If we would be able to control things completely, we would certainly mess things up!
In a way, trying too hard and trying to cover all possibilities - beyond what is required of us - is denying that Divine Providence is for our good. Being afraid to "let go" when we need to "let go" suggests that we do not trust the Ultimate Power and Wisdom of the Aibishter! It suggests that we know better!
So, one of the habits we need to instil in our children is the ability to relax after all precautions have been taken. This includes not regretting the past if events do not turn out as they expected, or hoped for!
Sometimes, unreasonable worrying clothes itself in an aura of scrupulousness. Sometimes, a person knows intellectually that he said a certain part of tefilla, but a little voice inside him says, "But perhaps I didn't! Perhaps I didn't say it properly! Perhaps, just to be sure, I'd better say it again!"
The danger here is that there is no need to listen to that little voice. And if he does, he is establishing a habit - a neural pathway - which can undermine every subsequent decision. It can spread out to infect other areas of decision and precaution - "Did I really lock the door? Perhaps I'd better go back and try it again!" - even though he knows, intellectually, that he did lock the door.
Eventually, the habit can become so strong that it drains its prisoner of all his energy, paralyses creative activity and makes life a misery for him and all those around him.
Guidelines for establishing standards of reasonableness vary according to the situation and times. It is instructive to consult with a suitable Authority, especially regarding the degree of caution we need to imbibe in our children and the way we should instruct them. This includes learning how to learn from past mistakes, while avoiding destructive gnawings of guilt and regret.
The great tzaddikim, who excelled in being cautious in their behavior and actions, were also relaxed and happy. They performed their obligations with joy and were clothed with an aura of calmness. That, also, is our goal.
The Messages in Clothing
There is a famous story of one of the Gedolei Mussar who saw a talmid of his in the street, looking sad. After enquiring after the reason for the sadness, the Rav gently rebuked his talmid. "You must realise that your face is Public Property. If you look sad, you will make people around you feel sad. For their sake, you must always look happy."
In a similar vein, the way we dress is also Public Property. A young child soon realises that he needs to wear clothing in order protect himself from the elements. In the winter, he needs to suffer being bundled up in heavy clothing otherwise he will get wet and/or cold. When he gets older, he begins to understand why he must cover himself in the summer also, when it is hot and he imagines that he would be more comfortable with less clothing.
The scientific facts are that those who reduce their coverage when the weather gets hot are making a big mistake. It is healthier and easier for the body to maintain a lower temperature when it is protected from the sun's direct radiations. Therefore, in order to keep cool, a person should remain fully clothed, but wear light-weight, loose-fitting garments.
However, there is more to clothing than just that. There does seem to be a connection between amount of coverage and intellectual development. Natives of primitive societies usually wear less clothing than members of sophisticated societies. And the downward intellectual trend of modern life seems to be reflected in the current fashions.
We, of course, realise that, since the first avairah of Chava and Odom, clothing has become essential. It helps us maintain a correct attitude towards physicality so that we can direct our energies constructively. The unique clothing of the Cohanim and the obligation to wear tzitzis tell us that there is much more to how we dress than simply style and taste.
But, even on a simple level, that is not the whole story. Our clothing is also the picture which we present of ourselves to the outside world. For example, jeans have become somewhat controversial articles of clothing. Jeans were first invented over a hundred years ago by a Jewish tailor who worked for American cowboys in the Wild West. He found that regular materials could not take their rough usage and wore out and ripped very quickly. So he started making trousers from denim, which is a very strcloth used in those days to make tents. He made the trousers even stronger by reinforcing key parts with rivets, and he called them "Levis'", after his own name.
The style was so successful it became a standard article of clothing for manual workers and laborers. However, regular suits remained the norm for regular life. That was until the "Hippie" revolution of the 1960's. Those youngsters rebelled against the society's values of their times and decided to dress and behave in a rebellious way, both socially and morally. Andthey chose as part of their "uniform" to wear jeans, which, for them, exemplified an overthrow of regular suits - the symbol of Western bureaucracy.
So, to this day, using denim and wearing jeans as a normal article of clothing subliminally still carries that message - of wanton behavior and the overthrow of normal social values. As Rabbi Simcha Wasserman, Œ"–† said, "When a person wears a suit, he is saying that he respects the other person. But when he wears jeans, he is saying that he disrespects the other person."
The subtle messages given by clothes does not apply only to jeans. Much of the skill and energy of Western clothes designers is devoted to building into their clothes messages which promote their style of living. These messages are sometimes implanted in the text and positioning of plaques and mottoes. But, more covertly, they are also implanted in the cut and design of the clothes and in the choice of materials. Those designers intend that when someone else sees the clothing, he, or she, will understand that the person wearing it is part of that style of living and adheres to its values and morals. The vast sums of money these designers command and their high social standing attest to their success
And our children innocently buy and wear these clothes, totally unaware of the messages that they are broadcasting to all around them and the reactions they are evoking in their beholders.
A bochur once complained to his rebbi that he did not want to be a sheep and just follow the crowd. "Why should I wear a black jacket and white shirt like the rest of them?" he complained. "Why can't I wear a check shirt and jeans and sandles and be myself?"
His rebbi explained that a black jacket and white shirt happen to be the norm of that society he wanted to be part of. "But that is no reason why it should stop you being yourself! A check shirt, jeans and sandles is also a uniform - wearing it doesn't mean you'renot a sheep!" continued the rebbi.
Our clothes tell others how we want them to see us. It tells them where we belong and what we want to do with our lives. Perhaps that is too important to be left just to Fashion.
Having a Ball
In the olden days, the epitome of youth was playing with a ball. Now that the ball has given way to computers and LCD games, we are beginning to realise what that ball gave us.
Just following the path of a ball in flight trains the eye in basic tracking skills, which are so important for following a line of print and essential for following the thin lines of Rashi and Tosefos and other meforshim which are printed in small print. It trains the eyes to effortlessly change focus - necessary in the classroom for easily looking down at a book and then looking up at the blackboard or the teacher. It teaches the mind to "range-find" - judge distances - which helps develop concepts of size, area and volume. And it lays down the basics of perspectives - as you see the ball recede into the distance and getting smaller and getting bigger as it approaches - which are needed for developing skills in imaging and proportioning.
One of the old favorites was "up the wall" - bouncing the ball against a wall as high up as you could get. Then either you have to catch it or the next in line has to. Some children used to love bouncing a ball on the ground, using either hand in complex sequences and usually to a rhyme which, as often as not, was totally meaningless. That, of course was valuable training in multi-tasking and right-left discrimination and in crossing the mid-line, but we were innocent of such things, and it was free. The nonsense-rhyme was also essential phoneme training, but phonemes weren't invented in those days.
We also enjoyed just throwing the ball as high as we could and then trying to catch it. Sometimes it landed over the house or over wall or over the telegraph lines. And then someone would have to volunteer to either climb onto the roof to fetch it back, or climb over the wall, or ask the next-door neighbor if we could have our ball back (for the umpteenth time!). Each of those activities helped develop unique skills (the last, which laid foundations for developing skills in high-level diplomacy, was probably the most dangerous!).
All these, and skipping and "hopscotch", "gobs" and 5-stones and "conkers" and "ping-pong" seem to be either extinct or on the "rare" list. And more so for boys, who need those skills so desperately to help them to learn Gemora.
Occasionally, bochurim, in their search for improving their ability to learn, do find their way to an Occupational Therapist or a Behavioral Optometrist who finds deficiencies in these skills. Then, they prescribe a course of therapy which often includes exercises such as bouncing a ball against a wall as high up as you can get. Then either you have to catch it or the next in line has to. Or bouncing a ball on the ground, using either hand in complex sequences and usually to a rhyme. Or just throwing the ball as high as possible and then trying to catch it.
It seems so funny - when your eighteen, they call it "therapy" and charge a nice fee. But when your eight, it's just "having a ball"!
Screening for the Future
Until recently, it was reckoned that ten per cent of children would develop into "learning disabled" pupils and require special attention. Nowadays, reports seem to suggest that as much as fifty per cent of children are going to require special attention. These statistics are based on non-Jewish sources. As learning Limmudei Kodesh requires higher standards of learning skills than is required for learning secular studies, we can expect these figures to be at least matched in Jewish schools.
Budgeting for the consequent remedial programs is enormous and is a disproportionate drain on the already strained finances of the educational system. The anguish and stresses cost us even more.
However, there is an answer to this downward spiral of misery. Over twenty-five years ago, a pioneering educationalist in New Jersy started developing a program for the early screening of children in basic skills. The earlier that deficiencies in learning skills are detected, the easier (and cheaper) it is to help the child to remedy the deficiencies. And when general screening programs and allied remediation are instituted, they bypass the stigma of labelling. Using this program, remediation is only a matter of one-quarter of an hour of simple exercises, three times a week!
Eventually, the program became so efficient that in the higher grades fewer than one percent of the pupils required special attention. This represents saving of millions of dollars for the educational system and for Society in general. But to the developer of that program, Mrs. Suzanne Sosna Levine, it represents immeasurable savings of lives.
Several years ago, Mrs. Levine took early retirement in order to be able to set down the complete system so as to make it available to others. Now known as the "Child Development Program", the books are being published by the Baywood Publishing Company of Amityville, New York, and should be available by the end of September. Because the screenings and remediation deals with basic skills, they can be used for adults as well as for children. But the real strength of the system is its use in catching deficiencies really early.
Too often, in my own screenings, I show parents and teachers, and even Avreichim, how problems and learning inefficiencies are rooted in basic lackings which could have been easilydetected long before those problems developed. Mrs. Levine's system even enables screening, preventive and remedial programs to be put into effect before the child enters kindergarten.
The Wages of Din is Deaf
The wages of din is deaf, but even if the wages are not that high, din can still cause reading problems. In a survey conducted in the '70's, researchers found that children living in the lower floors of high-rise apartment-blocks had more problems with their reading than those living in the higher floors. Tfound that the lower floors had higher levels of sound from traffic than the upper floors, which were further from the road. Similarly, research has shown that children from families where there is a lot of shouting in the home also have more than their share of reading-problems.
There is a close link between reading and hearing. Theoretically, it is possible to reading a regular text purely by looking at the letters. Systems of super-fast reading are usually based on training the reader to sight-read directly from a text of letters and words.
But most people reading by looking at the letters and words and, almost subconsciously, sounding out the words. Also, when we read a consonant-only text, as is usually used in sifrei-kodesh, we must read by matching the consonants with a suitable set of vowels to form a whole word. And that too involves matching the consonant "skeleton" with the sound of a whole word.
The most basic level to remembering the "sound" of words is remembering the "sound" of each letter. However, in order to actually hear the sound which a letter makes, the person's hearing must be able to pick-up the full range of sounds, from very low-pitched to very high-pitched. If a person's hearing is defective, he might be unable to hear properly narrow bands of frequencies. This means that he might be able to hear most of the sounds made by most letters, but he might not be able to distinguish certain letters.
When this happens, letters become confused and the reader actually "sees" one letter as if it were the other letter. These confusions become an integral part of the reader's memory-banks and cause uncertainty, inaccurate identification of words, poor comprehension and mispellings
A similar situation occurs when a person has a speech defect, or when he just do not pronounce letters correctly. For example, some people mistakenly pronounce a "hay" as an "alef". Such people often make spelling-mistakes in which they interchange a "hay" with an "alef"! Others pronounce a "tzady" as a "zayin" or "ches" as a "hay" and make errors in their spelling.
A minor hearing defect can easily go undetected. The defect might affect only the higher frequencies. If this is the case, you can have a situation in which a child can hear you when you talk to him, but not be able to hear you when you raise your voice to him! Such a child would also not be able to hear "hard" vowels.
Any hearing defect will also cause errors in the person's memory-bank of the sounds of whole words. It could be that usually those errors will be no more than a minor inconvenience which goes unnoticed. However, when trying to learn Gemora, when the reader needs to match the consonant "skeleton" with the sound-memory of a whole word with minimum effort, an innacurate memory-bank can be a major nuisance.
Of course, a child can be born with a hearing defect. Some illnesses can also damage the hearing apparatus. Until the '60's, other sources of damage to hearing were quite rare. However, with the advent of loud pop music, played through powerful amplifiers to huge loudspeakers, a major hazard to hearing was evolved. Portable cassette players using super-efficient headphones increased the scope of the hazard. Nowadays, a person can "blow his eardrums out" in complete privacy - hence the warning label which comes with most cassette players and headphones!
Nowadays, the noise-levels of many simchas reaches or exceeds the levels of the Discos of thirty years ago. Those places were the subject of much research regarding damage to hearing. Of course, through no fault of their own, the musicians in the bands usually attract the fascination of small children and youngsters, who crowd around the dias to watch the artists in action. Usually, that means that they stand right in front of the loudspeakers and recieve the full force of their enormous output.
Perhaps Ba'alei Simcha can offer souvenir earplugs - especially in small sizes!
Unburdening your Heart
Reuven goes up to his friend Shimon, "Do you mind if I ask your opinion on a problem I have? I just don't know what to do!"
Shimon nods his assent and listens carefully as Reuvens explains the "ins" and "outs" of the problem. After ten minutes of intense talking, in which Shimon only nods his head and occasionly gives a grunt, Reuven says, "Okay, I've worked out what to do. Thanks for being such a good listener."
Sometimes, Reuven asks for Shimon's opinion, then argues with what Shimon says and then does the opposite.
Shimon does not need to feel spurned. On the contrary, by simply listening and allowing Reuven to talk his way through the problem, he was being a true friend.
Talking is an integral part of thinking. Sometimes, we can talk to ourselves, silently, in our own minds. Sometimes, we need to actually verbalize the thoughts. We could just talk aloud, but then we might feel self-conscious. Or we might need to actually have someone to talk to in order help us simulate the reality of the talking. But actually, we do not want a real conversation. We only want the verbalisation which will help us complete the thought processing.
This especially important when the thoughts which need to be unravelled also arouse the emotions. The person needs to separate his feelings from logical reasoning, but the intensity of the emotions prevent him from being able to think it through by himself. However, if he talks out his thoughts aloud, it is easier to control the emotions.
Such a situation often arises when a person faces a tragic or traumatic situation. He then needs to talk about it in order to come to terms with the situation and the reactions it has aroused within himself.
For children, there is another dimension to the need to talk. Because they also need to learn how to react and deal with what for us are everyday situations. They need our "feedback".
"Reuven trod on my toe, Shimon told on me to the teacher, Levi wouldn't let me play with him. Yehuda took my sandwich and ate it..." The list goes on... Children need to be able to talk things over with their parents, openly and without fear of reprimand. Of course, you need not believe everything a child says. Fantasy plays a big role in the life of a child and often he cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy.
For example, the Gemora says that one cannot accept the evidence of someone who testifies that "Ploni" is dead because he remembers attending his funeral, because the funeral he attended might have been that of a pet grasshopper who the children called "Ploni" and for whom they made a formal burial when it died.
Gently, you can teach your child to distinguish between what you need to hear and what might be considered, for an adult, as "Loshon Hora". Usually, a child cannot himself give rebuke. And even if he could, he needs to learn how and when, and he cannot do that unless he talks it over with an adult.
The Gentle Art of Saying "No!"
They call it the "Terrible Two's". That is the age when a child usually learns that he has an independant existance from his parent's will and has the ability to form his own opinion.
Once he has learnt to say "No!", he becomes exhilerated with the exercise of his power. "Go to bed!" - "No!". "Pick up your toys!" - "No!". "Eat your supper!" - "No!". But, of course, life goes on and the parents cannot allow themselves to be bossed around by this little fellow's new-found power. He needs to learn how and when to use it and he needs to learn the limitations ofhis power.
So, he can say his - "No!" and find that his Daddy still just picks him up and puts him in his bed. Other - "No!"'s are harder to deal with and need more skilful handling. But, always, that little - "No!" should give us a tingle of joy. A computer cannot say - "No!". That - "No!" shows that your child has his own little mind and is learning to use it as an independant human being. It is our job to ensure that he uses his independance constructively.
A crucial part of our job is our own use of the word - "No!". A child desperately needs to grow up within a secure . He needs to know the boundries of behavior beyond which he may not trespass. And those boundries are marked by the parent's - "No!".
If a child knows that he can get/do/say whatever he wants if he cries/screams/throws a tantrum for long enough, then he is learning that there are no absolute boundries. When a parent "gives in", they are telling the child that the boundry they just laid down is not inviable. And if they always give in, they are telling the child that there are no absolute limits to the child's behavior.
Of course, that does not mean that parents should be inflexible and never listen to the child. Of course, whenever possible, parents should try to make life pleasant. But the child needs to be confident that there are things that he may not do, or which he must do, no matter what tactics and tricks he tries to foist on his parents.
As always, parents need to consult with senior Rabbonim and mechanchim to see which are to be the areas of "inviables". They can very according to the locality and other circumstances, and even from child to child.
But, when it is necessary, the - "No!" should be delivered gently and with love.
Bio-feedback has been around for a long time. They form the basis of the famous "lie-detectors" which have been used for at least forty years.
The power of bio-feedback lies in the fact that it give a person the ability to see how he really reacts to a situation. Often, we suppress our feelings and are unaware of the way in which our emotions affect us. Sometimes, we hear "bad" news and insist that it does not affect us. Yet, in reality, we might be sweating more, have increased blood-pressure and heart-beat and, deep down, really be very upset about the news.
Until recently, bio-feedback machines used the effect of increased adrenaline to monitor the person's state. The amount of adrenaline circulating in the body is usually dependant upon the person's level of stress. As stress increases, more adrenaline is released into the bloodstream and, within a second or two, the person's blood-pressure, heart-beat and degree of sweating increase. Athe same time, blood is diverted from the extremities of the body, reducing the temperature of the hands and feet.
Some simple bio-feedback machines clip onto the fingers of the hand. They register the amount of sweat produced by the hands by causing the pitch of a continuous tone to go up or down according to the amount of sweat being produced. Then, a person can hear how his body is reacting by listening to the tone. The more stress he is under, the higher is the tone. So, he can try to relax, or a therapist can use relaxation techniques, and the person can hear how he gradually reduces his stress by listening to the way the tone goes down. That way, eventually, he learns how to "tune-in" to his level of stress and to control it, even without the using the machine.
More sophisticated systems use transducers attached to a computer to monitor one or more of hand-temperature, heart-beat, blood-pressure as well sweat-level and display the results on a screen. They can give feed-back via a tone or they can use the inputs to "play a game", so that the more the person relaxes, the more he "wins".
In more recent times, the discovery of the alpha, beta, delta and theta brainwaves and the roles of the right-hand and left-hand cerebral hemispheres of the brain and the development of comparatively-cheap equipment to measure these brain-waves have opened up a whole new field for applying bio-feedback techniques directly to the working of the brain.
Known as "Neural Bio-feedback", this branch of health technology is now being used to help A.D.D., hyperactivity, poor concentration, chronic "dreaming", mood-swings, and a whole host of unhealthy conditions which otherwise required drugs or lengthy psycho-therapy or were untreatable.
In many ways, neural bio-feedback is actually safer than drugs or psycho-therapy because the treatment is non-invasive and does not physically do anything to the person. It only trains the person to evoke within himself the ability to control the way his brain functions. This also means that there is no risk of the patient becoming dependant upon drugs or a therapist. There is also much less risk of the patient picking-up bad Hashkofa from the operator. Furthermore, the brain is being continually monitored during treatment. This means that if there is any undesirable reaction, it is immediately caught.
Another advantage of the system is that much of the treatment is built into the programming by the experts who develop the system. This permits a steep learning curve so that people can recieve basic training in a very short time.
The power of the system is that it deals with many problems at their source - the way the brain functions. And the operator can see exactly how the patient is reacting at every moment - thereby avoiding the "hit-or-miss" of many older techniques.
Avoiding the "Shidduch Grading System"
Many of those who enter the stage of seeking partners for their children are amazed at the complexity of the shidduch classification system. There are three basic stages to the system; before the race, during the race and after the race. At each level, the classification system is different.
After the race, after the couple are (hopefully) happily married, no-one cares about the whole system and everyone just laughs at how they too were caught up in it to a greater or lesser degree.
During the race, when people are phoning through suggestions and the parents are doing their investigations, the system is amazingly complex. Each "prospective" chosson or callah is graded - 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, 3rd Grade, etc. The lower the grade (i.e., the higher the number, 4th Grade being worse than 3rd grade) the more the "prospective" is expected to have to give way and also to pay more. A 5th Grade "prospective" would expect to have to "make do" with a "5th Grade" match and then they might share the costs. If a "5th Grade" wants a 4th or 3rd Grade, they would need to pay the difference. But they would have no hope of getting a 1st Grade. But if a Grade could not afford to split the costs, then they would need to settle for a lower Grade "prospective"
"They" do the grading and decide what the parameters are. "They" know who is the "best" boy or girl (1st Grade) and anyone "worse" is assigned a lower grade. All sorts of factors go into lowering the grade of a "prospective". Past illnesses (even though there has been total recovery and perhaps the person is actually stronger and healthier now than before), low-level or unfashionable jobs (even though the job is actually better-paid, more condusive to the rearing of a Torah family and allows for more time in learning), deformities (even though the deformity is actually irrelevant to a home and a happy married life), and so on.
Fortunately, there is a spin-off effect which this system has, which actually helps those who see through its mirage. Because often, a really good girl - one who is truly kind-hearted, modest, considerate, not self-centered, knows how to cook, run a house and not waste money, etc., or a really good boy, who is truly devoted to Torah and mitzvos, is kind, considerate, responsible, well-directed, etc. will actually, because of some small, irrelevant consideration, score badly on the Grades system.
This is a great chessed, because those people who are shallow that they only work with the Grades system will leave these jewels alone. Because of the so-called "p'gum" or "moom", they will not even consider such "low grade" prospectives. Thus, these truly wonderful boys and girls are protected from being introduced to potential partners who are really below them in true values.
However, the real topic of this article is the role which the "Grades system" plays in the way we bring up our children while they are still children.
It is generally accepted that boys and girls should recieve some general education in addition to what they need directly for fulfilling mitzvosand learning Torah. Some children take naturally to the academic life and revel in their studies. Others need varying levels of encouragement to help them give their due attention to their studies. The question is to which of the studies should we give most emphasis.
It is at this point that the "Shidduch Grading System" might obscure our judgement. Which are the really important subjects? Do marks and grades really show the true worth of a boy or girl? Is it fair to pressure a child to do well in a subject and get good marks "so that they'll get a good shidduch"!
Let us consider a girl who gets a "bad mark" in a certain subject. Will that low mark really indicate that she will not be a good wife or mother? If a boy rejects the girl because she got low marks in a subject, perhaps he is really doing that girl a big favor!
When we put stress on a child, we need to know that we will pay a price for that stress. Sometimes, that stress is necessary and we have to accept the price. But sometimes, we impose stress because we are playing to a false value system - and then it is a tragic pity.
Instinctively, we often know what a child needs in order to develop into the true tzaddik and tzaddekess, to become considerate husbands and wives, establish Torah-true homes and bring Torah-true generations into the world. And, of course, we need to pray for Siyata d'Shmaya and to consult with our Manhigim for our personal guidance.
Part of our role as parents is to protect our children. This includes protecting them from those who, often with the best of intention, try to impose their value system upon us and our children.
Things don't always work out "Okay"
"Oi vey! Don't worry, it will be alright soon!" and you give a kiss and the little boobel'ah stops crying and in the end it does get better. As the child gets older, we still continue to comfort him through the hard times "Don't worry! It will be alright in the end!"
I don't know when, but there needs to be a time when we tell the child/youngster, "Don't worry, It will be alright in the end - but it might not seem that way to you and you might not even like it." That's when emunah and bitochon become mature.
Nowadays, the general climate is thathings must "work out okay" otherwise they must replace it or I'll get my money back or I'll sue them. Perhaps these are valid options. But we need to be on guard against such reactions spoiling our acceptance of "hasgacha proti'is" - Personalized, customized, tailored Divine Supervision. "Gum zu letovah" - it's all for the best - does not necessarily mean that we do nothing about - but it should mean that when it happens, we accept it as it is and face the possibility that perhaps there really is nothing for us to do about it.
The danger in equating emunah and bitochon with "It'll work out okay in the end!" is that if it does not work out the way the person wants, it might undermine his basic belief. The fact is that the first Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed and so was the second one and there have been innumerable unpleasent occurences to the Jewish people on all levels, person, communal and national.
A non-jewish writer relates how, when she was a child, she was turned off religion because her teachers could not face the question, "If G-d is all-merciful and loving, how come there is a Gehinnom?" We, of course, know the answer. Gehinnom is a wonderful kindness because it cleanses the soul and prepares it to enjoy the true happiness of Gan Aiden. But discomfort, pain and troubles perform the same function in this world. Of course, we don't ask for problems. But if they come our way, we need to know that they too have a function.
Children too, need to be introduced to the reality and purpose of unpleasantries. Otherwise, when things don't work out okay, they can feel cheated, betrayed and annoyed with themselves and others "for allowing it to happen". A taxi-driver commented that he can always pick-out the religious Jews from the crowds at airports and railway-stations because they are so calm. It makes sense. If a religious jew "accidentally" misses a flight, he knows it is "gum zu letovah - all for the best".
The overlooked letters of the alef-bais
In the section dealing with saying the Shema, the sefer "Yesod veShoresh hoAvoda" sets out a chart of common mispronunciations, each mistake being listed next to the correct text. At first, it is quite amusing to go through the list and to see how people made so many silly mistakes two hundred years ago. Could people say such things nowadays?
A closer look at the list shows that whereas some mistakes have "gone out of fashion", some are still with us and a few new ones have crept in.
Some mistakes are simply a matter of carelessness, like the dropped "aitch" of the London Cockney. Laughing at themselves, the Cockneys used to say, "It 'aint the 'eat wot 'urts the 'orse's 'ooves, it's the 'ammer, 'ammer, 'ammer on the 'ard dry road!" So too, for some people, the "Hay" is ignored as a letter to be sounded. For example, love can become "a'avoh" instead of "ahavoh", Aharon is often called "Aron" or even "A'aron"and "Avrahom can become "Avra'om". And the mistake can sometimes be heard even in the Holy Names. Sadly, this weakness then creeps into spelling and results in people writing "hay"s instead of "aleph"s and "aleph"s instead of "hay"s.
Some mistakes have become honored with being taught and written in textbooks. In some textbooks, the "aleph" and the "ayin" are described as being "unsounded". They mean that when you see them in a word, you are not supposed to say them. This is not correct. The "aleph" does have a sound, called by some "the gutteral stop".
The aleph and ayin get swallowed usually when they follow a letter with a sh'voh or a letter which has the same vowel as it has. So, for example, if you swallow the "ayin of "da'as" it becomes "das" and if you swallow the " alef of "ba'al" it becomes "bal". Similarly, "tir'oo" can become "ti'roo" and "yod'oo can become "yo'doo".
Of course, all these changes result in massive differences of meaning. That is one of the aspects of the unique "power" of Loshon Hakodesh. So much meaning is built into each word, a minor change in spelling or pronunciation can result in a major change of meaning.
The "ayin", along with the "chess", also suffer somewhat by being difficult to sound unless you have been trained from young.
One of the worst contortions is unfortunately made "with love". "Be'ahavoh" sometimes becomes "bi'yavoh" or "be'a'avoh" or "be'avoh" or even "be'ha'avoh"
Of course, some letters really do "disappear" in words, following strict laws of grammar. Sometimes, a "yood" will "disappear", like when it becomes preceded by a "chirik" and then it becomes part of a "chirik gadol". For example, we do not say "li'Yehudah" (to Yehudah) but "li'hudah" - you can check this by seeing if the "yood" has a "sh'vah" under it or if it has no vowel at all. The same can occur with an "aleph". For example, we do not say "la'adon" (to the master) but "la'don". That is why it is important to build-up good habits by reading carefully from an accurate siddur. If a letter does not have a vowel with it, that means that it is not to be sounded - like the "sin" of Yissachar. But, by the same token, we are to try to sound all other letters.
We, of course, as parents, need to be an example to our children. But really, everyone shotake care. We might need to point out to our children that "Reb Ploni" is not reading correctly and therefore we should not take him as an example of the way we are to read. We also need to point out that usually we cannot blame "Reb Ploni" for not reading correctly because we do not know his history. It is not usually our job to listen for other people's mistakes and it is never our job to poke fun, but we do need to make sure that we ourselves pronounce our own words correctly.
Swinging into easy-street
You have to have it! It save you so much work, enriches your life, improves the quality of your living, improves family life, gives you fulfillment, happiness, longevity and it only costs $X0,000! Maintenance cost is only $X00 a month and you'll need to update every few months. But we will supply you with snap-in modules for easy self-installation (no expensive labor charges) for only $X000 per module. Of course, we back our product with friendly, helpful 24-hour, 7-days-a-week support for only $X00 per year.
Skimming through a magazine on home electronics reveals countless products which are all essential for todays home. If your children sometimes leave the lights on somewhere in the house, instead of wasting all that electricty or checking all through the house, you can buy a XXX which, at the flick of a single, conveniently-located-at-the-position-of-your-choice switch, turns them all off. And it only costs $XOO!
Then there's the Home Movie, which enriches your family life and provides valuable Family Time together (proven by statistics) and costs only $X0,000 (plus installation and tax where applicable). Shade and Light Systems which welcomes you home with all the lights on (no need to expend effort to switch them on as you enter, so it gives you that warm, welcoming feeling as if the house is happy to see you come back). Garden Light and Sound systems improve the quality of your life by seranading you as you go for a walk in your landscaped Garden, turning lights and music on and off automatically as you walk by, leaving you relaxed and rejuvinated.
And so the list goes on... Thousands of dollars to save pennies of electricity, to save lifting fingers of effort, to put a facade of success and satisfaction over the emptiness of home and family life with nothing to share except superficialities.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that the children of these hi-tech families will grow up accepting all these super-luxuries as being normal. Children have a great ability to adapt to whatever environment they are in and to accept that as being normal. They will not appreciate the wonder of the automation or the revel in the saving of effort.
The first commercial cars competed with horses - 50 mph was almost beyond belief. The generation of between the World Wars enjoyed cars that could cruise at 50 miles an hour. For them, 80 miles an hour was "Wow!" Their children assumed "modern" cars of their era could reach a speof 80 miles an hour, but 120 miles an hour was "Wow!" Nowadays, 120 miles an hour is no big deal - some trucks can hit that speed! But 170 miles an hour! Wow! Now, how does a contemprary child think of a car whose top speed is 50 mph? Will it give him the thrill it gave his great-grandfather?
So, for these hi-tech-family children, opening doors, switching on lights, turning faucets will all be "a pain!" Oof! Such a bother! Menial tasks will be the most tremendous projects!
This does not mean that we should all reject advances of home technology to help us run our home more efficiently. But it does mean that we must expect our children to regard the level we establish as being "normal". When they set up home, that will be the level of living they will expect, as a right, just as the children of cave-dwellers expect to live in a decent cave when they get married.
Relating to the reality of words
It is essential that the talmid learn the reality of the terms he uses. All too often, a talmid can repeat a sugya well, but not understand what he is talking about. He sounds good so the rebbi assumes the talmid understands the significance of the standard phrases. An effective way to detect parroting is to ask the talmid to use the suspect term in an every-day context.
Similarly, the best way to help the talmid understand terms is to give examples of how they are used in every-day contexts.
Use of the phrase "even though" tells you that I know that there is something in what I am doing/saying that is questionable, but don't worry! I realize that it is questionable and I still reckon that I am correct.
Reuven says, "Even though the sun is shining, I am taking my umbrella."
What Reuven is really saying is:-1. The sun is shining - therefore it is not raining 2. An umbrella is used to protect from rain 3. Therefore when the sun is shining, there is no need to take an umbrella. 4. So you will wonder why are I am taking an umbrella now! 5. Don't worry! I have a good reason.
Once we understand the reality of what Reuven is saying, we can begin to try to really get to work on understanding the depth and implications of his statement. Only when we really understand his statement and think critically about it, only then can we question what he said.
So, perhaps the reason he has the umbrella is because it is broken and he is taking it to be repaired. Or perhaps the sun is shining so strongly he needs to use it as a parasol. Or perhaps he sprained his ankle and he needs to use it as a walking-stick. Or perhaps...
The word "therefore" tells us that what follows it is a logical consequence of what came before it. So must ask, "What is the logic?"
Shimon says, "It's raining, therefore I need to go indoors"
Shimon is telling us that the fact that it is raining makes him want to go indoors.
We can assume that the reason Shimon wants to go indoors is because he does not like to get wet!
So perhaps we need to ask ourselves, "Is that really so? Is there no other way Shimon can remain dry even though it is raining? Why doesn't he get himself an umbrella or a raincoat.
But before we get excited, perhaps there are other explanations. Perhaps Shimon needs to go indoors to get his raincoat. Or perhaps his mother told him that he can only stay out until it starts to rain. Or perhaps...
A "chazaka" gives us a basis for making assumptions.
Levi bought a new taperecorder. When he got home, he opened the box and found that the taperecorder was badly damaged. Immediately, he returned to the store and asked for a replacement.
"Sorry, Sir." said the assistant at the store, "All goods are thoroughly checked when they leave the factory. You must have banged the box on the way home! We can send it back to the factory for repair, but you will have to pay."
Let us now see how Levi reached a different assumption to the assistant.
Levi was quite sure that he had done nothing to damage the taperecorder. When he opened the package, he saw that it was damaged. That meant that its status of being damaged preceded the time it was in Levi's possession. Therefore, Levi assumed that the item was damaged when he bought it. So, he went to ask for a new one.
The assistant knows that the factory has a checking system to ensure that all products which leave the factory work properly. He also knows that the taperecorders are well packed and handled gently in transit. That means that each taperecorder in the store has a status of being undamaged. Therefore he assumes that the taperecorder was damaged after it left the store - so why should they pay for a new one?
Levi went to see the manager of the store.
"Of course we will replace it!" the manager replied, "It must have been damaged on the way here from the factory."
Then he turned to the assistant and said to him, "Remember! The customer is always right!"
So, the "chazaka" that "the customer is always right" tells us to assume that the damage took place before Reuven bought it, the store must replace it.
Looking Like I Am
Zvi Zobin & Yechiel Lee
Reuven was a mature baal teshuva learning in the advanced course of a baal teshuva yeshiva. He was dressed comfortably in a check shirt, faded jeans and open sandals without socks. While discussing with Shimon his desire to get married, he complained about the standard of girls being suggested to him. "The shadchanim are setting me up with these girls who are really new to Judaism. I tell them that I'm in the really advanced stream and when I get married I want to go for Semicha but they talk to me as if I had just come off the Wall!"
"So what type of girl do you feel you should be meeting?" asked Shimon.
"Well," Reuven replied, "I would likto marry a girl from Mea Shearim. Perhaps a girl who learned in Bais Yaakov. Since I am a baal teshuva and I do not have the backing of my own family, I feel I need to marry into a really frum family.
"I know of some baalei teshuva who have married into frum families and my level of learning and observance is as good as any regular yeshiva bochur. And I think I know better than most of them why it is the best thing to be frum!"
From their long conversations together, Shimon knew that what Reuven was saying was true. Reuven's standards of learning, observance, hasmoda and hashkofa were as good as, if not better than, many regular yeshiva bochurim. These traits, together with his wonderful sensitivity and consideration could make him indeed a fine son-in-law.
After some moments of thought, Shimon replied, "You know, there was once a famous Jewish comedian by the name of Groucho Marx. He once said that he would not want to belong to any club which would have him as a member! And that is what you are saying!"
Shimon saw from the puzzled look on Reuven's face that he did not understand the point, so Shimon continued, "The type of girl you want to meet would never go out with a boy who looks like you. And you don't want to meet a girl who would go out with a boy who wears a check shirt, faded jeans, open sandals and no socks!"
Now Reuven got angry. "So you are also going to have a go at me about the way I dress! I want a girl who will marry me because of the person I am - not because of the style of clothes I wear!"
The basic mistake which Reuven is making is that he is misunderstanding the function of packaging and labelling. If packages were not labelled, every time we would want to use/take/buy something, we would need to open the package and check its contents. This itself is a big nuisance and bother. But sometimes, the contents are so complex an ordinary person would never be able to determine the exact nature of the contents and so would not be able to see if is what he needs.
Labelling and packaging gives us a shortcut to understanding the nature of the contents of the package. We read the label and we know if it what we need and how to use it.
Clothes do a similar job for us. We see how someone is dressed and we can get a good idea of his value system. Instead of engaging him in hours of conversation, we take one look and a lot of the work is done for us. By the way he dresses, a person tells us the way he wants us to accept him.
There are some people who deliberately mislabel themselves. The Chofetz Chaim wore a peasant's cap. But he understood the consequences of his actions. So when he was not treated with the respect he deserved by people who did not recognize him, he accepted it happily.
Reuven's is playing a double game. On the one hand, he accepts the value and importance of the labelling system. He himself wants to use it help him find his own wife easily - he knows that the labels "Bais Yaakov" and "Mea Shearim" define the type of girl he thinks he is looking for. But, on the other hand, he does not want to label himself accurately. And he gets upset when people read the label he is wearing and misunderstand the contents.
Reuven is also being too rigid in his understanding of the labelling system. He is afraid that he will lose his individualty. He thinks that the "uniform" stereotypes the wearer definitively and absolutely. But, of course, the "uniform" does no more than provide a minimum of information about the person who wears it - it tells us to which group he aligns himself and perhaps what his rank is. But it tells us little about his personality.
Individuality is a key factor in a person's development into a fulfilled Jew. The right uniform can be a powerful instrument in helping a person develop his true personality by helping him form a suitable environment. But it is never more than a superficial guide to the contents. Reuven is afraid he might mis-label himself by changing the way he dresses - and instead, by dressing the way he was, he is definitely seriously mis-labelling himself.
The above scenario happened to involve a baal teshuva who was resisting pressure to upgrade the way he dressed. He felt that he was not yet ready to convert to white shirt and black suit and hat. This same situation can occur when people are trying to improve their standard of religious observance. They get to a stage when they have ideologically crossed the border into full observance and commitment, but they resist changing their "uniform" because they feel that they have not yet quite "made it".
They feel that it would be hypocritical to look as if they were really frum so long as there are some minor, lingering issues which still need sorting out. And they feel scared to don a uniform which will label them as examples of Orthodox Judaism. They know that they still have a lot to learn and are afraid others will look at them critically if they do not always live up to the high standard they believe is required by their "uniform".
People at this stage are in a kind of "limbo". Ideologically and in standards of actual observance, they have already left their old group. Yet, they sometimes cannot attain full acceptance into the group they really belong to because of the way they dress.
Children too are affected by their parent's refusal to upgrade. Ideologically and regarding their level of observance, they should be going to a really frum school. Yet their parents realize that their children might be socially rejected by other children because of the way they dress. Quite rightly, the other children are warned by their parents not to play with children whose level of observance is way below their own. And the guide-lines for determining such "dangerous" children is the way they dress! So the "limbo" parents send their children to less religious schools where they will be more readily accepted.
Those parents in "limbo" are also not being fair. They are jeopardising their children's future by putting the "uniform" on a pedestal and giving it unreasonable significance. Of course, it does set a standard of behavior, and perhaps these parents owe it to their children that they should do all they can to meet that standard. However, the "uniform" is worn by human beings. We all need to try to reach the highest standards, but no-one is perfect.
"Hurry up!" We must be there in 15 minutes!"
Avrohom was standing with his son Yossi outside the busy train station. Both of them were flustered. Avrohom's voice was gradually rising in volume and pitch. Yossi's eyes were getting redder and his voice was getting softer.
"Teacher said something about turning left at the CDM Building." Yossi's voice was barely a whisper.
"So hurry up! Let's go! Come on! Move yourself!
Little Yossi froze to the spot.
"Noo! Think a bit! Where do we go from here? Try harder!"
Yossi looked up and down the street, at the skyline, at the faces of the people walking down the road, and he burst into tears.
But Yossi's tears did not arouse his father's pity. "Your problem is that you do not listen to your teacher when he talks to you! You never listen to anyone when they talk to you!" A stinging smack to Yossi's face reinforced the lesson.
Through his tears, Yossi managedto sob, "But Daddy, the teacher never told how to get to the CDM Building from the station. He lives here and he assumed everyone knows it."
Another stinging smack! "Excuses! Excuses! Excuses! To invent excuses; for that you've got brains! So where are the rest of the class? Where's Moishy and Yanky and that Newman kid? They don't come from here and they're not standing here like a pair of idiots! So it looks like they got to the hall alright!"
At that moment, Mr. Newman came out of the station with his son on tow. "Ah! Reb Avrohom! I see you also can't find your way to the meeting! The teacher said something about turning left after the CDM Building, but we haven't a clue where it is! Just keep an eye on my boy and I'll go to the Enquiries. Perhaps they can give us directions."
Levi and Yehuda were listening to their daily Gemorshiur. The rebbi was explaining a difficult passage, "You see, for this sugya we need to go to the Rashi in Zevochim. There, he explains the phrase more fully. Without that Rashi, we cannot understand what is going on here."
Levi and Yehuda looked at each others and their eyes met. Both had the same thought, "Thanks a million! How did you pull that one out of your sleeve? So what chance do we stand for learning Gemora by ourselves? How could we have gotten to that Rashi?"
"Try harder" is probably one of the most destructive phrases in the world of education. In our first scenario, poor little Yossi could never have reached the hall in the state he was then in. He just did not have sufficient information. And he was recieving no guidance on how he could acquire such information.
If we were looking for someone to blame, we could blame each member of the scenario.
We could blame the teacher for not giving enough information. He could justify himself by saying that most of the class knew the location of CDM Building, so giving precise details would be wasting their time.
We could blame Yossi for not opening his mouth when the teacher finished speaking and he still did not know how to get there. Yossi could reply that he was too shy to ask, and perhaps the teacher is intolerant to questions. Or perhaps Yossi thought that he understood how to get there, but only realized he did not know when it was too late.
And we can blame Mr. Williams, Yossi's father, for not being sensitive to Yossi. He was reacting emotionally to the shame and frustration of being in an uncomfortable situation.
However, the issue here is not who to blame but to consider the validity of the phrase "try harder".
In his situation, outside the train station, there was no way for Yossi to achieve the goal which his father had set for him. The directive "try harder" gives no practical guidance as to the steps Yossi needed to achieve that target. Try harder doing what? What exactly do you want me to do? Where should I go?
I understand the end result. You want to get to the hall. But I have no idea of how to get there! If you tell me to turn right and go down the road as fast as I can until I get to the big brown building with gold colored doors and the letters CDM outside, then I can try harder. Instead of walking, I will run. I know what you want and I know how to try harder. But now . . ! What do you want me to do harder . . ?
In giving his instructions, theteacher missed out important details. The rebbi in the second scenario did the same thing. We all do the same thing, more often than not. We do not break down instruction into minor tasks of minute stages and give every single little detail. If we would, we would be the most tiresome bores and people would avoid us in the street because they would be afraid to start a conversation with us. We assume that the listener understands those intermediary stages - and usually he does - but not always!
This is the basis for task analysis systems for dealing with learning disorders. Developed and adapted especially by that legendary pioneer in helping underachievers, Rabbi Zvi Fried, task analysis breaks the learning process down into small, attainable goals. We automatically might know how to get from point A to point G and we are not even aware of passing through B, C, D, E and F. But, for little Yossi, going from A to B might be a major issue, and he might never have been shown how to get from B to C.
So really, we always need to be aware of the need for task analysis. Even if we know what to do, we cannot always assume the person we are instructing knows how to proceed at every stage of the task. If you do not know what to do, you cannot try harder, because you do not know what to try harder! Try what?
All three members of our first scenario need to know about task analysis. After he gave his directions to the class, the teacher should have checked back with the class and made sure that everyone understood how they can get to the hall. If some did not, then he would need to determine at what point more information and guidance was needed.
Yossi should have had the courage to realize that he was missing vital information and gone back to the teacher.
And Avrohom should have realised that Yossi was uanble to "try harder". He should have been concrete in his demands. Perhaps he should have used that situation to show Yossi what to do when he does not know how to get somewhere.
You can only tell someone to try harder when he knows what to do, how to do it, can do it, and is not already doing the hardest he can.
What would you like, Tattella?
What would you like for breakfast, tattella? Would you like Krispy Krunchies or chewy Chompies? What color shoes would you like? Those brown ones or these yellow ones?
People imagine that by allowing their little children to choose what they like they are guarenteeing that their children will be happy with the choice. An analysis of the the question "What do you want" suggests that the opposite would be closer to the truth.
When we ask someone, "What do you want?" actually, we are asking him to conduct a complex and sophisticated problem-solving process. First, he needs to know the nature of all the possible candidates. Then, he needs to know what his needs are. Then, he needs to know how well each candidate will satisfy his needs. Then, he needs to know the consequences of his needs not being fully met. Then, he needs to know the side effects of all the combinations.
In other words, when we leave the choice to the child, we are giving him a task which is beyond his capability. In fact, usually, his reaction is to make an almost random choice. The chances are that he will then regret his choice, because after a few moments of reconsideration, he will change his mind and make another random choice. This also lays down several unhappy patterns of behavior.
It accustoms him to make random decisions. If the decision leads to a negative result, it undermines his self-confidance. It establishes in his mind the idea that he knows what is best for himself. It establishes the idea in his mind that he is an authority who makes decisions. It gives him a stand for rejecting the advice of others - even his own parents. And he is being denied the benefit of being trained in how to make decisions.
Training people for jobs which involve decision-making is usually a long and highly-structured program. During the initial stages of the apprenticeship, the trainee goes through a period of instruction in which he learns all the data he needs for the job. He learns how to use the data and then works through models of situations.
He will be taught how to make decisions, and be shown examples of good decisions and bad decisions and be shown the consequences of both. When he has completed this stage of the training, he is appointed to an experienced worker and accompanies him while he works. At first, the worker will speak out his thoughts and show the trainee how he reaches his decisions. Then, the worker will allow the trainee to join him in making decisions. He will confirm the validity of correct ideas and show the faults in bad ide.
When the worker is confident that the trainee can do the job well, he will select easy situations and allow the trainee to work on his own. After each try-out, the two will sit together and analyse the way the trainee handled the situation.
Only after the trainee consistently does a good job will he be allowed to work completely independently. But, for a trial period, his superiors will still supervise his work and check that he is really proficient.
If we let the trainee loose before he is ready for it, he might cause damage to himself and to others. If the trainee is sensitive, he will also be wracked with constant anxiety. This constant anxiety will become built into his whole feeling for the job and might never leave him even when he does become proficient. If his not so sensitive, it will train him to become irresponsible and reckless.
But, perhaps the greatest damage is that it will give him the idea that he it all. He will resist the opportunity to learn and develop - He will insist, "This is the way I do it!"
The early years of a person's life are the years for basic data-input and training. Allowing the child to precosciously make his own decisions prematurely develops his "I". It is hard to train anyone for any job if they have an overly strong sense of "I". A child needs his years of disciplining and guidance to enable him to make secure, confident, relaxed and wise decisions when he is older. We owe it to our children that we should not cut back on their apprenticeship.
Mind over body
Little Chezky was lying on the floor screaming. Smiling, Mrs. Holdein explained, "It's only one of his tantrums. He'll calm down soon and then you will see what a sweet boy he can be."
The sefer "Derech Hashem" written by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, explains that the neshoma and the body are partners in their life's task. The body imposes desires and tries to sway the person towards earthly needs. The neshoma acts through intelligence and tries to sway the person towards spiriual needs. When a child is born, his intelligence is undeveloped and he is entirely under the control of his body. However, as his intelligence develops, he needs to learn to use his intelligence to control the desires of his body.
We need to note that this has nothing to do with the Yetzer Hora - the Bad Inclination - or the Yetzer Hatov - the Good Inclination. A child does not recieve his "Good Inclination" until he reaches maturity, but his can still learn to control his bodily demands with his intelligence.
On the contrary, it is essential that the child learns to use his intelligence to control his bodily desires when he is still young. Otherwise, when he does reach maturity and becomes obligated to do all the mitzvos, he will find that his inability to control his body properly will seriously hinder his ability to perform his mitzvos.
In fact, at this stage, much of what we are discussing applies to non-Jews as well as to Jews. Therefore, we find that many of the "old-fashioned" concepts of "good manners" and "education" are useful to us. And we see the degradation of behaviour amongst many of the general populous which has followed their discarding of the "old" ways.
A child's intelligence develops gradually. The sooner he learns to harness the intelligence to control his bodily desires, the easier it is for him to continue this process as his intelligence continues to develop. Like all skills, wecan help the child by teaching him how to use his intelligence and the earlier we start, the better it is for the child.
In a previous article, we discussed to importance of teaching the child the concept of "No!" - of teaching him the reality of there being things he is just not allowed to do. This trains him in the abilty to control his desire to do something he should not be doing. And we mentioned that he needs to understand that this ability needs to be directed - he is not allowed to say "No!" to his parents.
The following is a list of "good manners" which a parent can begin to instil in a child from the very earliest age. (I would be interested to hear other suggestions from parents.)
Never raise a hand against a parent.
Never call a parent by a first name.
Never insult a parent.
Never use bad language.
Never raise the voice in anger when talking to parents.
Never ask a parent to do a menial job for them - "Pick this up for me, put that there, bring me this" .
Alway to ask with a language of request, never "Give me..., I want...".
Always say "Please" and "Thank you".
Always stand up when a parent first enters a room.
Give up your seat for an elder.
At mealtimes, wait for the parent to start eating.
Eat what is given to you even if you do not like it.
Do not take from a central plate until the elders have taken first.
Do not take more than you can eat.
Do not look at what is in someone else's plate. (No "He got more than me!").
Do not butt into an elder's conversation.
Accept a parent's decision as final.
No "answering back".
A parent does not need to explain the reasons for every instruction.
Any display of bad temper is forbidden. So, for example, if a child kicks the wall out of temper, he should kiss the wall better and say "Sorry". If the child questions the sense of doing this to a wall, ask him why he kicked it in the first place!
Of course, punishment for breaking any of these rules should fit the child. For some children and some ages, a sharp look is enough. Others need a small slap on the hand or the behind. Sometimes, it is enough to just to take the hand and put it gently, but firmly, away from the offending position. Sometimes, a child should be assigned to a room until he gets back into control. The main point is that if a baby is old enough to misbehave, he is old enough to receive guidance and training that his behaviour is not acceptable. And the earlier this begins, the easiier it is for the child to learn to control himself.
Parents and teachers can also help children learn self-control by teaching them to sit quietly, without making any noise or moving, for a short period - like five minutes. In former times, schoolchildren were required to line up, class by class, in the school courtyard and to stand still until they were calm and orderly. This enabled them to "unwind" from the excitement of recess and get into a suitable mood for returning to the class.
It is interesting to note that when the concept of kindergartens was first developed, an important part of the daily program was for the children to lie down at midday for a rest. Each class had their own camp-beds and blankets. The desks were pushed to a side and we all went to sleep, or at least lay down quietly and rested. This practice also continued into the lower grades. Many children complain nowadays that even when they go to bed, they still cannot fall asleep - perhaps learning to unwind and relax is a skill which children need to be taught.
Some popular strategies for dealing with unsociable aspects of ADHD are based on imposing rules like those listed above. This suggests that if such training would have been performed at the very earliest ages, the affected child's behavior would not have degenerated to the extent that the unsociable behaviour now requires professional help (though, of course, the condition itself might still need professional help).
Never underestimate the intellence of even a small baby. When they do something wrong, look at their eyes and see how they are looking at you to see how you react. They are looking for your feedback and guidence. Now is the time when it is easy. Later, it can become harder, full of heart-break and much more expensive.
Reading to Win
His teachers complained that Avi could not sit still, could not concentrate and that his reading was terribly inaccurate. When Avi read the trial passage, he demonstrated clearly that the last complaint was justified. The initial screening showed that Avi had a naturally high mental speed. Though his knowledge of the aleph-bais was quite good, the speed was far below his mental requirements. So the primary exercises focussed on increasing his speed of processing the aleph-bais and improving reading techniques.
To help Avi to access his ability, the exercise focussed mainly on speed and ignored accuracy. Encouraged by his increases in speed and his repeated breaking of his personal records, Avi's reading accelerated beyond all expectations. During the exercises, as when coaching all sporting activities, there were no recriminations or negations of a poor run - only "Try again! Perhaps you'll do better next time! Go for it!"
Avi exercised his reading solidly for nearly one and a half hours. His concentration was total and he ignored other activities going on in the room at the time. At the end of the session, Avi's coach was more exhausted than he was. And his reading speed and accuracy had improved beyond recognition.
For the Bnei Torah, good reading skills are far more important than toother poeple. We live with seforim. People are often rated by their ability to learn. Learning is becoming more dependant on learning from seforim and less focus is paid to learning by heart. And the standards we need are far higher than those required for English. A non-Jewish optometrist was shown samples of texts which we use - a siddur, chumash, gemora and a Mishna Brura. He asked, "What books do children use?" When he was told that children use the same texts as adults, he was shocked.
Dealing with poor reading efficiency now seems to have come under the monopoly of psychologists and neurologists. We seem to have forgotten that reading is a skill which, like swimming, running, typing, playing piano and so many other actvities, can be improved by exercises. The result is that whereas it is socially "ok" to practise those other skills and to have special coaching to attain reasonable levels of proficiency, to work on reading fluency is regarded as being shameful and ruinous to a good shidduch.
The "Reading to Win" program harnesses the excitement and challenge of the sports field and gives the reader the satisfaction of a good work-out. Recently a company director told his reading-coach that he could only spare one half of an hour to work on his reading because he had a lot of work he needed to catch up on. The training-sesssion started at 9.30 p.m. By 10.45, he was still pushing to improve his timings even more - he was enjoying the excitement of the exercises so much he decided he could leave his work to later!
Just as when you practice shooting for the basket you need to perfect your style, the fluent reader needs to train his tongue and lips to pronounce each syllable clearly. Skilled typing require automacity in letter recognition and synchronization between eyes, hands and brain; so too enjoyable reading requires automacity in letter recognition and synchronization between eyes, mouth and brain. For many sports you need to train your eyes to follow the ball; the champion reader also needs to train his eyes to follow the line and process each letter accurately.
When a person runs a race, he is the winner only if he comes in first. And even then, what has he achieved? Only going from A to B faster than the other participants. But when you read and enjoy a good sefer, you always win! "Reading to Win" (originally known as "Dynamic Reading Self-Improvement) has been and is being used internationally to help thousands of people become winners, not only in their reading but in their learning as well. The following people can be contacfor training sessions and for information regarding courses to become reading coaches:-
Israel - Jerusalem (Central office) :-Avrahom Weiss, POB 43127, Har Nof,
Jerusalem and e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
USA - New York:-Rabbi R. Elkins 718-854 9460
Los Angeles:- S. Schtoch 213-939 2634
Miami:- Rabbi Y. Goldinberg 305-653 5637 UK - Gateshead:-Rabbi Y. Freudiger 191-477 5032
Manchester:-Rabbi D. Reif 161-792 5138
Switzerland - Zurich:- Mrs. Zonszajn 01-463 4446
Australia - Melbourne:- Rabbi Meyer Rabi 03-9525 9106
Burning the Matzos
One of the most important requirements for top-quality matzos which are fit for the mitzvah of eating matzos on the Seder night is a really hot oven. If the oven is not hot enough, there is a risk that the dough will start to ferment. Also, if the matzoh bakes quickly, you can bake more matzohs per hour which reduces the cost. However, if the oven is too hot, the outside of the matzoh starts to burn, while the inside stays raw. Such a matzah is halachically very dangerous because from the outside it looks okay, but the inside will probably be fermenting and becoming chometz.
One of the most challenging issues in chinuch is when to start teaching a child to read. Many chedorim are starting to teach children when they are three years old and some are now introducing it into kindergarten and pre-cheder classes, when children are two and a half years old.
Until about thirty years ago, children started to learn the aleph-bais when they were five years old. In Frankfurt-am-Maine, before the Second World War, the orthodox school started to teach reading when the child was seven years old. That age corresponds to the age when the physiological development of the brain is finally completed.
They found that when a child learns to read at that apparently late age, it is much easier to teach him the letters and vowels. The child is much more settled and able to pick up in a short time, with ease, what was difficult and tedious for children who learnt at an earlier age. The loss disappeared in the gain.
The fact is that a seven-year old child can pick-up in a short while all the siddur and Chumash that other children learn between the ages of three to seven. However, the child who has been sitting and studying instead of playing for those four years has lost the chance to learn many basic physical and mental developmental skills which need to be acquired in those years.
The classic age to start reading is, of course, five years years old, based on the Mishna in Ovos. However, commentators on the Shulchan Aruch regarding the ideal size of a class state that mental abilities have dropped since the days of the Talmud and that is why they recommend smaller classes than that quoted in the Gemora. This suggests that children need longer to develop than years ago, which implies that they will not be ready to learn to read until a later age.
The dangers inherent in teaching a child to read before he is ready are manifold. If the child is not yet ready to learn to read, trying to teach him builds stress into the reading process. It encourages the child to develop avoidance and compensatory strategies which can seriously hinder his future success. And it is like baking the matzoh too quickly - the child can become burnt on the outside and be raw in the inside.
When looking for a cheder, it is essential to choose one which prefers to err on the side of safety. If a child is taught after he is ready, no damage is done. But if you try to teach him before he is ready, it can ruin his entire future education.
NOTE:-The point being discussed here is not regarding a child who spontaneously learns to read, e.g. by looking at books or listening to an older brother or sister. Here we are discussing the age at which to formally start teaching the child the shapes and sounds of the letters and vowels and forming them into words.
The Menahel of a cheder told me that when he was a child in Jerusalem, children were taught to read when they were five years old. If a child was exceptionally bright, they started to teach him six months earlier. He himself is not able to keep to the old minhag but starts to teach reading at three years old because of parental pressure and because his rebbeim refuse to follow his guidelines. He estimated that one third of all his talmidim and of talmidim who attend similar chedorim leave their cheder intellectually crippled for life because they were taught to read before they were ready.
Making it easy to be right
Like all complex activities, reading is a combination of many skills. Let us consider one skill - reading whole words. Every reader needs to go through the stage of reading by syllables. But it is assumed that when the reader becomes proficient, he automatically converts to reading each word as a whole unit. Whole-word reading is essential to building up a large "memory-bank" of whole words. Such a "bank" itself is not only desirable for fluent, meaningful reading but it is essential for reading normal seforim which do not have the vowels printed, for learning Gemora and for developing a desire to learn.
Below is an example of someone who is reading a familiar text, but not reading whole words. Instead, he is reading syllables, hearing the sound they make and "recognizing" some words.
One sup on eight I'm they're war thrib airs amo meeb air ada deeb air an da bay bib air. Thai wha re-ting there poor ij. Sad da deeb air, "Ho sit enmeypoor ij?" Sad mo meeb air, "Ho sit enmeye poor ij?" An da bay bib air sad, "Ho sit enmeye poor ij?"
A very intelligent, creative reader will make even more "sense" of the passage by making it more intelligable:- "One supper in eight, I'm sure they're making war while thriving on air. The amount meets the deep air on the bay with a bib in my hair. They were reacting to their poor self-image. They had a sad and deep air. He sat on my poor image. Sad Mo also sat on my poor image. And the sad bay with the bib also sat on my poor image."
Teaching the reader to read whole words might solve the problem. But if the reader takes a long time to read the whole word, he might still be tempted to sample the letters of each word and guess the rest. Then, the only solution is to teach the reader to read so fast and fluently that it will be easier for him to read the whole word than to try to sample and guess.
Often, a person reads innacurately not because of a positive desire to make mistakes but simply because he is taking the easiest path. Why should I waste time and effort working out each letter when I can guess the whole word after recognizing just a few of the letters? But guessing the word also takes some effort. So if we train the reader to read each letter so easily that it is easier for him to read all the letters than it is to guess the whole word, automatically he will read all the letters in the word.
No-one reads inaccurately because he enjoys making mistakes.
Building-blocks for the future
Little Chaim seems to be holding his pen a funny way. They used to teach children to hold their pencil between the send and third fingers while being supported by the thumb. But Chaim seems to grasp it in the palm of his hand and cannot get the knack of holding it with his fingers. His writing is not clear and when he tries to draw a straight line it is so jerky.
Probably in nearly every child's toychest is a set of those multicolored building bricks which lock together to make impressive structures. Usually, they push-fit together and can be combined to form an infinite range of shapes and sizes. These bricks have taken the place of the old construction-kits which were made of strips of wood or metal. Those you joined together with nuts and bolts and could make complex working models from them, but you rarely see children playing with them nowadays .
The bricks seem to be a big advance on the old construction sets - they can be enjoyed by a wide range of children and make it easy for the child to be constructive and creative. However, the old-fashioned kits provided training in many fieof basic development which bricks do not provide.
You can take it as a general rule that when you cater to the lower levels of achievment, you are stifling development at the higher levels of achievment. However, targeting lower levels of achievment appeals to a larger market than higher levels. Therefore they are commercially more attractive. Force-fit building-bricks illustrate this principle very dramatically.
Fine motor skills - the ability to move the fingers and hands delicately and with precision control - are very hard to develop once a child is more than seven years old. Japanese reading and writing is one of the most complex skills of any society. To prepare their children for those tasks, Japanese parents train their children to do incredibly-fine manipulations when they are very young.
The old-fashioned construction kits trained the child to use his fingers precisely. Positioning and tightening nuts and bolts, cutting and gluing small parts, all help develop those fine motor skills and hand-eye coordinations which are essential for reading and writing. Threading small beads, delicate sewing, tapestry and embroidery, which used to be popular pastimes for children, also provide valuable training.
LCD games do not provide such training because firstly they only involve pushing of buttons. Secondly, there is no direct qualitive relationship between the movements of the fingers and the movements of the images on the screen - the hands are not holding and moving the images. Hand-held water games are far superior to LCD games and healthier for the eyes.
Of course, this does not mean that we need to throw away those building-bricks - they are fun to play with. But we do need to realise that even the small sets do not provide all the training a child needs for his future reading and writing skills.
This topic covers many aspects of family life, some of which cannot be dealt with in an article like this but must be discussed in private with someone experienced in counseling. But much of the happiness and moral strength which a child develops depends on the atmosphere of his family.
One of the questions which we face when we have to give our account of our lives to the Grand Tribunal after 120 years is, "Did you enjoy My world?"
We need to distinguish between healthy enjoyment and racing after physical gratification. An important part of the marriage contract is for each one to do their best to make sure that their partner enjoys the marriage. This obligation is mandatory. One member of the marriage cannot, through religious zeal, decide to reduce his or her worldly pleasure at the expense of their partner, or, indeed, any member of the family.
On the contrary. First we need to develop the same enthusiasm for making the family happy as we develop for buying an esrog or dancing with the Torah on Simchas Torah. The truly zealous person will first ensure that every member of the family is receiving their statuary rights and is enjoying family life. Only then can he consider (with proper guidance) undertaking, as a personal project, degrees of extra restraint, but so organized that other members of the family do not suffer.
Each person needs to clarify for himself what he needs to consider as normal, healthy enjoyment and as excessive indulgence. This will depend on each person's personality, way of life and environment. However, many Gedolim have attributed the tragic proportion of drop-out rate of recent generations to parents showing their children that being frum means suffering instead of showing their children how enjoyable it is to be Jewish.
This is a good opportunity to correct a common mistake. Many people think that all great tzaddikim adopted lives of suffering, self-denial and affliction and therefore we should aim for such a life. The Rambam, (Shemonah Perokim) explains that there were individuals who, for purely remedial reasons, did undertake such a way of life. But he insists that they are not to be taken as examples of a normal, healthy way of serving HaSh-m.
Reb Chaim of Volozhin relates that even though his rebbi, the Vilna Gaon, hardly ate, he enjoyed life so much that he became fat from that small amount of food. Reb Chaim writes, "If only I will have as much pleasure from the World To Come as the Gaon had from this world!"
The great Zaddikim who undertook programs of intensive self-restraint beamed joy to all in their company. They served HaSh-m with true happiness. They did not go around with a long face, advertising gloom and depression.
There does seem to be a contradiction between the two - self-restraint and increased happiness. But if the program of self-restraint does not make the person happier in his service to HaSh-m and dealing with others, that would indicate that he is not yet ready for such a program.
Nowadays, we live in a society of high-level stimulation. If a person attempts to embark on a program of extreme self-restraint without personal guidance and without controlling his environment, he risks destructive and tragic backlash which can ruin him and his family.
In the West, they call it, "Simple Simon", in Israel they call it, "Shimon Omar", but the game is the same. The leader stands out there in front and gives orders, "Touch your head! Left arm out! Hop on your right foot!" and so on. The players have to follow torders exactly - but - only if he precedes the order with the phrase, "Simon says..." or "Shimon omar..."! If he introduces the order correctly and you do not do exactly as he ordered, then you are out. If you follow the order but he had not mentioned the key words before giving the order, you are out.
This classic game teaches a whole range of basic skills. But, perhaps the most basic and important skill is that of listening carefully.
There is the famous story of the man who came to Reb Chaim of Brisk and asked him if milk could be used for the four Seder-night cups. After telling him his decision, the Rov gave the man a large sum of money.
Afterwards, an onlooker asked why the Rov had given the man such a large donation, which had not been requested and which was much more than the cost of wine. Reb Chaim explained that if the man considered using milk for the four cups that meant he would not be having meat for his festive meal! Obviously he was very poor but too proud to ask for charity. Therefore Reb Chaim gave the man a donation which would cover the many other Yom-Tov requirements which the family was obviously lacking.
This story illustrates the necessity to hear beyond the mere words. This was intelligent listening which probes beneath the plain meaning of words.
However, we are now considering an even more basic level of listening - the ability to actually listen and note to what is being said. Rebbitzen Shain once told me that for a while, when someone would ask her how she is, she would reply, "Bananas". Many people just continued on with the conversation. They had not listened to her reply!
On Shabbos morning, little Yossi told his mother that he wanted to do the "Shabbos avairah". Yossi's mother was shocked. "Yes" insisted Yossi, "The rebbe said that we have to do the `Shabbos avairah'." Before Yossi's mother could protest, Yossi continued, "Yes, the rebbe said that if someone loses something and we find it, we have to do `Shabbos avairah'." A big smile spread over Yossi's mother's face. Now she understood! "You mean you have to `Hashovas Ava'ida' - you have to return the lost property." "That's what I said." insisted Yossi, "You have to do `Shabbos avairah'."
Let us leave Yossi's mother explaining to her son the difference between `Hashovas Ava'ida' and `Shabbos avairah'. It is a cute story and probably every mother can tell similar cute stories about her children. But as children grow up, stories like that become less cute, until they can become very serious.
When he was asked to say over what he had learnt, Moshe tended to talk quietly and to mumble. But what people heard sounded quite good and they were satisfied. One day he was assigned to a tutor. For the first session learnt in the Bais Hamedrosh as usual, but after it the tutor felt something was wrong. He noticed that Moshe's mumblings were most unintelligible when he came to key parts of the sugya.
For the next session, the tutor took Moshe to a quiet room. There he tried to listen carefully to exactly what Moshe was saying. The tutor insisted that Moshe speak clearly and explain fully what he was trying to say. The tutor soon realized that Moshe was simple parroting dis-jointed excerpts of what he remembered hearing in the lesson. Further investigation revealed that Moshe had no idea of what was going on in the lesson and was almost incapable of learning.
This was not a situation which required expert analysis to find some elusive learning disability. It was simply that no-one had ever actually listened to what Moshe was saying. Throughout the years, Moshe was content to memorize snatches of each shiur without understanding anything of it. He soon learnt that people were satisfied with his mumbling and they never bothered to dig deeper. So, during his formative years, Moshe continued with his mumbling and everyone was happy. Until this tutor came and opened up a big can of worms.
The Brisk dynasty have various "training-programs" for helping their children develop the ability to learn well. One "game" is to ask a child to deliver a message. The child needs to deliver it exactly - word-for-word - as the message was told to them. Often, children just listen to part of what is said to them and then approximate the rest. Another "training-program" is to insist that when they tell over a story, they tell it over with the same words and intonation as was said to them.
The ability to listen is essential for all levels of education. The child needs to listen to what the teacher is saying, and the teacher needs to listen to what the child is saying. And the parent needs to hear what both are saying.
Phonetics Not Such Fun
Traditionally, there are two basic ways of teaching someone to read.
According to one method, the reader is first taught all the letters. Then taking one vowel at a time, he is taught how to sound the complete syllable.
This is continued until he has learnt all the vowels. Then he is taught how to combine vowelled letters to form words.
According to the second method, a first letter is taught with its vowelling. Then a second letter is taught with its vowelling.
Then the reader is taught how to combine these two letters to form words. Then the reader is taught a third letter with its vowelling and then taught how to read words comprising the three letters.
This process is continued until he knows the entire aleph-bais with all the vowelling and can read any word.
The first (letter-based) method entails more drilling than the second method and it takes longer for the reader to be able to read words. But, when he does become proficient in reading, he will be aware of the identity of the letters comprising each word.
Using the second (vowel-based) method, the reader is soon able to read a text and is able to read from a siddur shortly after he has started to learn. However, the identity of each letter is not drilled into the mind of the reader as thoroughly as with the first method. Therefore, although he might be able to read efficiently, he might not be aware of the identity of the letters in each word.
Therefore, the second (vowel-based) method might suffice if the reader only needs to be able to read superficially i.e., he will not need to engage in high-speed intensive analysis of words.
But if he does intend to learn Gemora, when he will need to engage in intensive high speed word analysis, then the first (letter-based) method would be more suitable.
However, an adult late-starter might find the first method, with its emphasis on rote, a bit demeaning and he might need to learn to read quickly so that he will be able to engage in tefilla etc. as soon as possible.
Therefore, under those circumstances, in spite of the advantages of the first method, it might be best to teach him according to the second method, followed by a full screening to ensure that he has sufficient mastery of the letters and vowels to enable him to study the Gemora.
Some schools have now adopted a phonetic approach to teaching Hebrew. This method is based on a system used to teach English which enjoyed some popularity a few years ago.
Teachers of English have long suffered the illogical variations of the pronunciation of English words. English is truly a mongrel language. It is a combination of Anglo-Saxon, Greek, Latin, French, Celt and thousands of words taken from the many countries which formed the British Empire. It is impossible to lay down strict rules for the pronunciation of English words. For example, "herd", "heard", "nurse" and "word" all sound similar, whereas each "u" of "nurse", "nut", "rule", "round", "use" and "quick" is sounded differently.
Some teachers feel that when teaching English, it is a waste of time to expend a lot of energy teaching the identity of each letter. Each letter so rarely has a consistent sound that simply identifying the letters in a word does not give you much of a guide to knowing how to prononce it. So, the Phonetic style of teaching skims over the unique identity of each letter and concentrates on the sounds of groups of letters.
Proponents the phonetic style acknowledge that their system can lead to difficulties with spelling. However, the problems with mass illiteracy are so great, the initial speed and ease of learning to read using this system can outweigh the long-term disadvantages.
Loshon Hakodesh is famous for its consistency and logical construction. To understand Hebrew, it is essential to correctly identify every letter in each word. "Tof" and "tess" are not interchangable. Neither are "sof, "sin" and "samech". Nor are any of the other similar-sounding letters interchangeable. So why define Hebrew as a phonetic language and proceed to apply to Hebrew a stop-gap system developed for teaching English in response to the unique illogicalities of English?
Teachers using the system are reporting that children taught by this system do learn to read quickly, but develop very poor spelling and comprehension skills and find it very difficult to learn dikduk.
There might be some justification for using the phonetic system to teach late starters who desperatly need to learn to read very quickly. But even then, if they will want to develop beyond mechanical reading and want to learn to understand what they are reading, they will still need to re-learn the aleph-bais and break counter-productive reading habits which they will have meanwhile developed.
All authorities acknowledge that the traditional system as taught in the chedorim is the best system for teaching Hebrew. It combines fluency with comprehension and prepares the pupil for attaining the highest levels of proficieny in the Hebrew language. Why trade it in for a cheap, low-performance substitute?
Some stars of 5757
A kindergarten teacher refused to acquiesce to the request of one parent that she start to teach all the children to read. The teacher explained the concept of "reading readiness" to the parent and how she could actually harm the children in her care by trying to teach them something they were not ready for.
One Cheder Menahel hires a special rebbi to constantly check the reading of every child in his cheder. The rebbi has a list of all the children and calls each one in at least twice a year. The menahel reports that even though it is assumed that every child leaving the lower grades can read, this often not correct. Furthermore, he finds that reading skills can deteriorate in the higher grades. Therefore he insists that even the oldest children in the cheder are checked regularly.
Another Cheder Menahel is now arranging for his kindergarten rebbeim to undergo special training for development of little children.
One Grade 1 rebbi is not happy just to have his talmidim sitting by their desks all day. He takes them out on rambles, teaches them to dance and to play games together, does exwith them, encourages them to be creative and helps them to develop their powers of self-expression.
One Rosh Yeshiva of a Yeshiva Ketana floored his third-year talmidim (and their maggid shiur) by giving them the same test as the first-year talmidim. The Rosh Yeshiva showed them how they were involving themselves in deep lomdus before they really understood the Gemora.
The media tries to tell us how to improve what they they regard as being our quality of life and it promotes different personalities as being "stars" who represent their ideals. We know that the real "stars" are the rebbeim and teachers who teach our children and help mould their characters. They are the people who our children look up to and they are their role-models. We need to show them the appreciation they deserve.
It wasn't so long ago
No-one can convince us that the Chofetz Chaim was a legendary character. Even though very few of us ever met him, we all know of him through people who we know who did meet him, through his seforim and through his fame.
On Simchas Torah, little five-year-old Moshe was dancing with the Rosh Yeshiva. The Rosh Yeshiva once visited the Chofetz Chaim. So when Moshe will himself be an old man, he will be able to tell his little great-grand children that he knew that Rosh Yeshiva who himself knew the Chofetz Chaim. Moshe will be spanning a period back to the Chofetz Chaim, who was born about 250 years before then. Through Moshe, those little children "know" the Chofetz Chaim. Noone will be able to convince them that he was a legendary figure because, through Moshe, they know that we all knew of him.
It's the same with us - like Moshe's great-grandchildren "know" the Chofetz Chaim, we "know" the Vilna Gaon, who lived about 250 years ago.
That means that like we "know" the Vilna Gaon, the Vilna Gaon "knew" Rabbainu Ovadia miBartenura, who lived about 250 years before him. So, like we "know" Rabbainu Ovadia miBartenura who lived about 500 years ago, Rabbainu Ovadia miBartenura himself "knew" the Gaonim, who lived about 500 years before him, about 1000 years ago.
Now, the Tannaim lived about 1000 years before the Gaonim, before and after the destruction of the Second Bais Hamikdosh. So the Gaonim "knew" the Tannaim, like we "know" the Gaonim.
That means that like we "know" the Tannaim, the Tannaim "knew" the Ovos, who lived about 2000 years before them. And Odom and Chava died only a few hundred years before Avrohom was born.
So we can tell our children that we really do know about our history, because it was all - not so long ago!
When Leah chose a name for her third son, she called him "Levi". Rashi explains that while she only had two children, she was able to give each son one hand when they went out. Now that she had a third son, her husband Yaakov would have to accompany her to hold the third child. The extra child drasticaly changed the dynamics of the family. Until now, if Leah complained that she needed help with the children, Yaakov could tell her, "Listen. You have two hands. Hold Reuven in one hand and hold Shimon in the other hand and you will be alright." With the new addition to the family, Yaakov cannot give such advice. Yaakov now needs to change his daily program and, when necessary, leave whatever he is doing and go with Leah to help her handle the children.
The purpose of this article is not to suggest that a large family is better or worse than a small family. Whatever HaKodesh Boruch Hu gives or does not give to a husband and wife is tailor-made for them and we cannot question the Divine Plan.
The point here is that much of the advice given for parenting is directed to small families and is not always practical for large families.
It is good to spend time with each child every day. If the family is of 3 children, giving each child 10 minutes will "cost" 30 minutes a day. But if the family has 12 children, the parents will need to devote 2 hours each day to talking with their children.
Many systems recommend generous rewards to encourage good behavior. Four rewards per week at a dollar a prize will cost the 3-child family $624 per year, but it will give the 12-child family a yearly bill of nearly $2500.
Parents are often advised to explain to children the reasons for instructions and to offer a choice when possible. If giving these explanations accounts for an extra five minutes per day for each child, then giving instructions this way will take the parents of the 3-child family 15 minutes more per day. Parents of the 12 children will need to find an extra hour.
Each child contributing a "dvar Torah" to the Shabbos meal adds 15 minutes to the small families mealtime, but it will stretch the large families meal by an extra hour, during which each child will be expected to listen to the "Divrei Torah" of all the other children.
Similarly, encouraging each child to add their comments to the Seder night might add an extra 30 minutes to the Haggada of the 3-child family, but make the children of the 12-child family stay up for an extra 2 hours.
All the pre-Shabbos cooking of the smaller family - 15 portions - would suffice for only one meal of the larger family. The mother of the larger family becomes a mini-caproducing over 40 portions each Shabbos.
If each child changes their shirt/dress and underware every day, then the mother of the 3-child family has to wash, dry, fold and put away about 35 articles of clothing a week - about 140 "laundry-handlings" per week. Keeping the children of the 12-child family cleanly dressed will require about 520 "laundry-handlings"
School sends a note that no children are allowed to come to school until the parents have thoroughly checked their childdren for head-lice and cleaned the heads of every child. When the parents of the 3-child family get their note, they know they have about 3 hours of work ahead of them. The parents of the 12-child family have to resign themselves to the fact that their children will have to miss at least one day of school because they will not be able to put in their many hours of hard work before the next morning.
Nowadys, even expensive shoes rarely last the season. If each new pair costs on average about $25 and takes about 10 minutes to fit, the smaller family need to budget about $150 per year and an hour of shopping time. The larger family is going to run up a yearly bill of $600 and will need to allot about 4 hours for shopping.
Organised storage space is one of the keys to an efficiently-run home. Not only does the larger family need 4-times as much closet space for clothes in use, it also needs four times as much storage space for out-of-season clothing and winter-bedding during the summer.
Children of large families might not need outside friends because they can get all the company they need from their own brothers and sisters. But this might limit their language and social skills - they might develop a closed-circle mentality.
In former times, parents could rely on at least the girls helping in the house. Nowadays, homework and studying for exams fills much of the children's time at home and often leaves them tired and ill-tempered.
Having a child home because he is ill is stressful and can spoil the most carefully planned programs. If each child is down with flu, a cold, tummy ache or any other complaint, twice a year, then the parents of the 3-child family will unexpectedly have a child home every two months. The parents of the larger family can expect to have their plans "thrown" every two weeks. In fact, getting anyhere on time is a minor miracle for the large family. And the reception they get when they do eventually arrive rarely reflects appreciation of the effort (and expense) that goes into maneuvering a large family.
Often people are advised that they need to "get away" for a rest or a change. For the parents of a large family, that is often a distant dream. Large families are invited out less as the family gets larger. Going for an outing becomes increasingly more expensive and a real holiday is often just impossible.
Please note that these differences acumulative. Let the reader now go back over the (partial) list and add-up the differences between these two families in terms of housework, hours needed for the children and $$$'s of budgeting - and how much relaxation they can look forward to.
The point here is not "better" or "worse" but "different". With good intentions, a counselor recently suggested to the father of a large, low-income family that his wife should take a job to help the finances. Such advice might be good for a small family in which the children are out at school most of the day, the wife can take care of the housework in the afternoon and evening and they can afford a maid to come in to clean and tidy.
Fortunately, the father had the good sense not to relay that piece of advice to his wife. He knew that following such a suggestion could destroy his already over-worked wife and bring chaos to the family.
Reading biographies of great activists of the past and present can fill the hearts of parents of large families with dismay. "What do we do? We are stuck in our house all the time. We just don't have the time or strength to go out doing chessed and being mekarev hundreds of people". There are no books about the heroism and self-sacrifices of the parents of large families. Who would buy a book relating the achievements of a mother and father who, every year, change two thousand diapers, spend eight hundred hours listening to their children, wash and dry and fold and put away five thousand articles of clothing, prepare ten thousand meal-portions, etc, etc.?
Those who go out and do wondrous acts of chessed, etc, can be proud of their achievements. But the fathers and mothers of large families should be just as proud of their own "in-house" heroism.
The parents of large families often just do not have the time, energy, patience, finances and living-space to follow advice directed to smaller families. The resources are different, the dynamics are different, and, often, the issues are different.
Bringing a computer into the family
More and more families are investing in computers. Many believe that they owe it to their children that they too should be able to access the advantages and resources which the computer offers. Some believe that the earlier their children become "computer wise", the easier it will be for them to merge into the modern world and get jobs. Others believe that the computer is such a powerful educational tool, their children will suffer if they are not able to benefit from one.
Some parents are a sceptical about the computer, but they need to have one at home for business purposes. Others are working on personal projects, such as writing seforim, and realize that the computer will save them large sums of money and will enable them to access resources which otherwise would be almost impossible for them to reach.
When buying a computer, the salesperson often explains to the parent that he needs to buy the top-of-the-line family model so that he can work efficiently and be able to use the latest programs. Many makers claim that their machines are also forward compatible and will be easily updatable to take advantage of new technological developments. Usually such a model costs $1200 - $1700 depending on accessories.
Parents allow their children to use the computer in three major fields: games, educational programs and for preparing assignments.
A baby-sitter was recently shocked when she saw that a 3-year-old child she was minding was spending her time in front of a computer playing games. The child was already expert in quite sophisticated games. The baby-sitter's gut reaction was an instinctive reaction to the sadness of the situation. When a child of this age should be developing basic pre-learning all-body muscular and sensory skills, she is spending hours staring at a CRT screen maneuvering a joy-stick.
Apart from the deflection of time away from regular playing, the high-level stimulation of computer games makes regular activities and school lesson intolerably boring. Such games combine all the undesirable aspects of television with a deeper, more addictive intellectual interactive involvement. How can any boy reared on computers learn to sit over a "blatt Gemora" and enjoy a sugya? How can he have the patience to spend time thinking into a few words of Rashi?
Educational programs are designed for the masses to keep children entertained while imparting some small amount of limited skills. For thousands of years, we have been educating our children to the highest levels of intellectual achievement. The non-jews have only been interested in mass higher education for the past 150 - 200 years. Though we believe that there can be chochma to be learnt from the non-jewish culture, that does not mean that we have to apply to our children everything they produce.
Under some circumstances, handicapped children might be able to benefit from educational computer programs. But we must be very wary of exposing regular children to them. This is because of the counter-productive effects they might cause, because there might be other, more efficient ways of improving a child's performance and because they might not be aiming for the same goals that wneed to aim for.
If a child uses a computer to produce an assignment, the result will be very professional-looking. But, again, the child is missing opportunities to develop many personal skills which he will need for his life ahead.
If a parent does need to have a computer, there are several ways to reduce its attraction for the children. One way is to get a portable computer, which can be stored away, out of sight.
Another ploy is to ignore the salesperson's pitch and get the least powerful computer which will do what you need. Sometimes, they can offer second-hand models with a guarantee. Sometimes, you can get old computers free from companies which are updating their system and discarding their old models. Most tasks (including e-mail) can be done well using 10-year-old computers which cost a tenth or less of a new one. Yet many of the mind-blowing games will not run well on them, if at all. So you have an automatic limitation on their attraction to children.
I know of writers and editors who are still working with their ancient XT 8086's. In a letter to the technical column of a Computer magazine, a reader complained that after upgrading to a 386 and a lazer printer using Windows, it took him much longer to do a mailmerge than with his old 8086 and a dot-matrix printer using an "old fashioned" DOS program. Unless you need complex graphics, high-quality, camera-ready desk-top publishing or need to do massive number-crunching operations, an old 386 or 486, with a black-and-white screen, will supply all the power and speed you need.
In any case, if you are new to computers, it will take a good few months to become familiar with using one. During that time, the top-line home models will probably have become 25% more powerful than those on sale now - for the same price. So it is worthwhile to first get a cheap, second-hand model; learn how to use it and and make your mistakes on it. Then you will also have a better idea of what you really need and you can go to see what the stores have to offer, to fit your requirements. Now you can leave the old machine for the children and reserve the new model for your own exclusive use.
The Four-Day Diet
Imagine a barrel full of water. If you now try to pour more water into it, the barrel overflows and makes a mess. "Oy veh! You see! That water made the barrel overflow and now the floor is wet!" True - but not entirely true. If the there would not have been so much water in the barrel, that extra water would not have caused the barrel to overflow.
A similar situation can exist regarding allergies. Sometimes, the body reacts badly to a food or to some other substance which enters the body. We then say that the person is allergic to that substance. However, it is possible that the person is also reacting badly to a whole host of other foods, etc. and that specific substance is the "overflow".
Foods and chemicals added to foods can aaffect the body to make a person feel and behave badly. The person will not feel it as an allergy - he just will not feel and perform as well as he should.
One way to check for this kind of situation is to use the four-day diet. During the four-day diet, the person completely avoids one item of food for four days. If that food usually affects him badly, by the end of the four days, the person, or others, will often notice the difference.
During the diet, totally avoid the chosen food. This entails also checking the contents of all other foods to ensure that they do not contain the chosen food as an additive.
The following is a list of some of the more common foods to suspect.
Wheat, milk products (including lactose), potatoes, sugar (sucrose), food colorings, egg products, cocoa and chocolate, strawberry.
The advantage of the four-day diet is that it does not put unbearable strain on the parents since it only lasts four days and a child can still eat everything else he usually eats. So, over a period of a few months, parents can check the affect of many different foods.
The Process of Vision
As we look around, we get the impression that our eyes are acting as a camera, taking a continuous series of photographs. Actually, our eyes are much more complicated than that. A more accurate model would be to compare it to a video camera linked to a computer. Each eye is vibrating at about 30 vibrations a second, scanning the scene each time. The signals from light-sensitive receptors inside the eye are processed first inside the eye itself and then are passed via the optic nerve to the brain where the final image is formed. This image is the image we "see".
When an ordinary person looks at an x-ray or at an ultra-sound scan, all he sees is a mass of blurs of various shades of grey. When the technician or the doctor looks at it, he can see exactly what each part is. Both the ordinary person and the doctor might have perfect vision, yet the doctor sees so much more when he looks at the picture. This is because the doctor is trained to interpret the mass of greys, so he "sees" more in the picture than the untrained person.
The ordinary process of vision also requires training. The common saying is that when a baby is first born, he is blind. This is not correct. The eyes are usually working well, but the baby has not yet learnt how to interpret the mass of visual stimuli which the brain is receiving. So, during his first years, the child is learning how to "see". As with all skills, some learn quicker and some take longer to learn. However, until the child does learn to "see" properly, he will not relate to shapes and pictures the same way as an adult does.
So, visual training is an essential pre-requisite to efficient reading. Someone whose vision has not yet been fully trained will not relate to letters well and will not be able to make them into words properly. Occasionally, a person might still be insufficiently trained even when he reaches adulthood.
One simple way to check the level of visual training is to watch how the person copies a composite line drawing, made up of several simple shapes. Someone who is insufficiently visually trained will tend to draw each sub-part as a separate picture - not as part of the whole.
To help train the vision, try the following games. Ask the child to copy a line-drawing which is quite complicted. The drawing should be made of shapes which he should be able to draw easily - circles, squares, triangles, etc. Watch how he does it. If his copy is not like the original, point out the differences and ask him to try again.
Make two photocopies of a large line drawing. Cut one sheet into eight or more pieces of equal shape. Unlike a regular jig-saw puzzle, all the pieces should be of the same size and shape. Mix up the pieces. Ask the child to place each piece on the equivalent part of the whole sheet.
When he does that well, ask him to reform the whole sheet from the pieces, but alongside the original.
Then take away the original and ask him to put together all the pieces.
You can also use the colorful panels of empty cartons. Cartons made of corrugated cardboard are excellent for little hands. You can cut the panels up, as described above. Use the opposite panel, or, if they are different, keep back another carton to use as the "master".
As they child improves his skills, you can make the pieces more difficult. Cut the panel into squares and cut some squares diagonally to form triangles. Another variation is to cut out one or more circles and to cut them into quarters. Even when the child fits the circle into the correct hole, he still needs to rotate it so that it lines up corectly with the surrounding picture.
If possible try to cut through words so that the child needs to line up the pieces to complete the letters.
Another variation is to cut out pieces of different sizes and shapes - squares, oblongs, circles, ovals, egg-shapes, diamonds, triangles, etc. When you have several different puzzles, you can mix all the pieces and then the child also needs to sort out which piece goes with which puzzle.
Pictures in the Mind
The ability to form images in the mind is one of the most important skills a person can develop. Many people have a good imagination and can "dream" away, even during lessons. But, in order for a person to be able to harness his powers of imagination, he needs to be able to control and consciously access them.
A reader who is not trained in this important skill will find it difficult to imagine the reality of text, appreciate it's practical consequences and easily enjoy the vividness of a text. He will also find it more difficult for to comprehend and remember what he is reading and to build a picture of the structure of a logical argument (as when learning Gemora).
In fact, it is so important for learning Gemora that two years ago, Rav Wolbe, ωμιθ"ΰ, directed a talk specifically about this skill to a select group of Talmidei Chachomim.
Often, children with poor comprehension skills suffer from an inability to image well. Imaging acts as an interpreter between the left, text-processing part of the brain and the right, "real-life" part of the brain.
The ability to image is also important for developing good social skills and for a person being able to understand the consequences of his actions. Similarly, it is important for analyzing past mistakes to see "what went wrong".
To develop the ability to image, try these games:-
Put objects in an opaque bag and ask the person to feel them and then identify them.
Put an oddly-shaped object in an opaque bag and ask the person to feel it with his hand, then remove the hand and draw the object from memory.
He should draw it from three views - from above, from the side and from the front.
Ask the person to imagine specific scenes and then to manipulate them, for example, "Imagine a chair. Now turn it upside-down." and so on.
The Vanishing Lullaby
We read about it in the old books:- The baby is crying. He cannot fall asleep. Mother comes in, sits by the bed and sings a gentle lullaby. Soon baby stops crying, closes his eyes and drifts off into a deep, refreshing sleep. Sometimes, when baby has grown into a young boy, Father comes and tells a story from the Midrash or the Gemora. Slowly and quietly he leads his son off to sleep, to dream about the wondrous deeds of the great Tzaddikim of our past.
Thirty or forty years ago, a ten-year old boy was expected to sleep for ten to twelve hours a night. Nowadays, an average boy might get eight to nine hours in bed - but they often comment that even when they do go to bed, it takes quite a while until they actually manage to fall asleep.
Sleep is a major resource for efficient learning. Sleep does more than just give time for the body to rest. It is a period when the brain does deep-level processing of information that has been collected during the waking hours. Memories are transferred from short-term storage in the front of the brain to the long-term memory banks at the back of the brain. Sometimes, we get a glimpse of this activity through drea.
Another aspect of sleep is that that is a time when we are lying down in bed. Because we are horizontal, a richer flow of blood streams through the brain to clean and oxygenate it.
Shimon was an acutely dyslexic man who was clearly extremely A.D.D. Reuven mentioned to him that according to one theory, A.D.D. is caused by insufficient blood-flow in the brain. Shimon quiped that he had been trained in some Yoga techniques and knew how to stand on his head. He promptly stood on his head for a few moments, came down and tried reading again. The audible improvement in his reading was dramatic. And Shimon was amazed at how much better he was able to relate to what he was reading.
So, going to bed late and having insufficient sleep, especially in the younger, formative years, might be a root cause for the brain not developing the ability to deep-level process information efficiently.
But, in addition to sending the baby off to sleep, the lullaby teaches the child to relate to going to bed as a relaxing activity. If a child is sent off to bed and instructed to "go to sleep immediately", then "going to bed" is a stressful activity - like doing homework. But singing the child to sleep or tells him a story bed makes bedtime a special time to be with Aba or Imma - comforting and relaxing - a feeling which can remain with the child for the rest of his life.
Working at Torah
The first brocho on learning Torah uses the word "la'asok" - to engage in learning Torah. The usual explanation is that one should apply to the learning of Torah at least as much effort as one does when engaged in one's work. This means that we need to plan and strategize our learning.
Rabbi Yehoshua Cohen, in his sefer "Kerem Yehoshua" relates an incident which took place in Brisk when Rebbi Chaim was the Rov. At that time there was a certain Avraich who spent many years diligently studying Torah day and night - yet he was still painfully ignorent. One Simchas Torah, when Reb Chaim was in a good mood, one of the leaders of the community asked the Rov how this avraich could still be so incompetent in his knowledge of Torah after so many years of studying.
The Rov replied that this man was so busy studying the Gemora, he allowed himself no time to learn - studying Gemora requires more than just learning through texts but needs also continual analysis and clarification.
Many Rishonim and Acharonim devoted considerable energies to developing guidelines and giving advice on how to learn.
One treasure-house of information is hidden in the first volume of the standard Vilna Shass. There, after the Mesechta Brochos and the Rosh, is printed a collection of works which serve as introductions to the methodical study of Shass and the meforshim.
The sefer "Halichos Olom", by Rebbi Yehoshua Halevi, was so highly regarded by Rabbi Yosef Caro (the Bais Yosef) that though he originally intended writing his own sefer on Talmudic methodology, instead he wrote it as a commentary to the "Halichos Olom", where it is now printed together with a commentary by Rabbi Shlomo Algazzi.
The "Halichos Olom" himself quotes heavily from the sefer "Kritus" of Rabbainu Shimshon miKinun which was reprinted some years ago with a commentary by Rabbi Dovid Sofer.
The rebbi of the rebbi of the "Bais Yosef" - Rabainu Yitzchok Kunpenton - wrote a classic guide to the systematic study of Gemora which is available in two versions. The earlier version is called "Darchai haGemora" and was published as a booklet together with quotations on how to learn by the "Chazon Ish". Some years after that, Rabbi I. S. Lange of Jerusalem published a corrected edition which bears the original, pre-censored name "Darchai haTalmud" (Sholem Press, 1980).
The sefer "Alfai Menashe" lists many forms of memory aids which were used by the Gedolim, back to the Tannaim and Amoraim.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato in his sefer "Derech Tvunos" (Eshkol) teaches how to derive information from the apparently plain statements of the Mishna and Gemora. This was recently translated into English as "The Way to Understanding" (Feldheim) .
In more recent times, Rabbi Krupnick wrote his book, "Gateway to the Talmud" (Feldheim 1981), which was followed in 1988 by Rabbi Feigenbaum's "Understanding the Talmud" (Feldheim). Both these works guide the talmid to learn Gemora in a systematic, analytical way so as to derive the true construction of each sugya. The booklet "The Brisker Derech" sets out a way of learning Gemora using tools of analysis developed by the Brisker style of learning.
The Kest-Lebovitz Library recently (1993) re-published "Hadran Aloch" which sets out guidelines for learning and reviewing - a topic also covered by "Likut le'Idud Ve'Chizuk" published in 1996 by a group of Talmidei Chachomim.
This year started off with the publication of Rabbi R. Elkin's definitive and masterly work "Unconventional Wisdom" (Targum Press, 1997) which surveys and quotes both Classic and Contemporary authorities regarding how to help every Jew attain his portion of Torah. The sefer researchthe obligations of the individual and the Community and gives comprehensive, practical, up-to-date advice.
As an example of how practical and down-to-earth can be the advice of the early Authorities, the following is an extract from "Lev HoAryeh" which was written by Yehuda Aryeh of Modinah, first published in 5363/1613.
"The fact the the Torah give us several commands to remember certain things (i.e. to instal in your memory something which at present you do not remember) and not to forget other things (i.e. to take steps to prevent yourself from forgetting something which at present you do remember) indicates that a person is able to control his memory. Though some people do have good memories and others have poor memories, that does not release those with a poor memory from not remembering those things which the Torah commands us to remember."
He then quotes the folowing advice from the sefer "Afoodi" regarding how to learn and retain what you learn.
1. Learn with competant talmedai chachomim and chaverim analytically and argumentitively because the heat of argument arouses the spirit thereby helping the person to remember and retain what he has learnt.
2. Look into seforim which set out the general rules and guidelines, together with their synopses, which will help you remember them.
3. Intend to understand fully what you read and don't be like a parrot. Understanding what you read will help you to remember the material.
4. Always make "simonim" for what you learn, just like the rabbonim of the Talmud did.
5. If one work is printed in several formats, try to stick to one layout. Learning from different layouts can mix-up the imagination and thereby prevent a person from remembering what he has learnt.
6. Seforim should be printed with nice print on good paper; the place where you learn should be spacious and you should learn with a happy heart.
7. As you read, say the words with your mouth.
8. Learn melodiously, singing and rhyming as you learn. You will find it easy to remember the tune and the words will slip in almost automatically.
9. Learn from seforim which are written in Ksav Ashuris because the kedusha of the letters will help you remember the words.
10. Learn from seforim. Their print should be bold and not thin.
11. Teach others what you have worked-out for yourself. The verbalization of your thoughts will strengthen the idea in your mind.
12. When looking into a point, do not rush. Take your time and be calm and collected as you read and think.
13. When you learn, do not have any ulterior motives in your mind, e.g. to learn for the sake of fame or wealth, because these other motives will prevent you from retaining what you are working on.
14. Each subject you learn should have its own fixed time in your daily timetable. Do not mix them up or interchange them.
15. Always be mispallel that Hashem Yisborach should keep you healthy and provide you with all your needs to allow you to learn and remember all you that you need.
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