Teach Each Child According To Their Way by Aviva Meshwork
Aviva Meshwork is an educator, writer, and Trip Director for the JWRP. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in Israel with her husband and 4 children.
My family and I spent much of our summer vacation in Toronto this year. On one of our excursions we decided to take our kids to the driving range to show them a thing or two about golf. None of my four children had played golf before so we thought this would be a unique experience for them- and it sure was! Since I am no golfer, my husband took it upon himself to teach the kids some golf basics. For one of my sons who is very athletic and has excellent hand-eye coordination, all my husband had to do was show him a few things, and wow did those balls fly. He had the golf thing down pat in no time. Then my husband moved onto our other son who wasn’t quite getting it as easily. Teaching him the same thing required a different strategy and more patience. He needed more encouraging, more practice and more instructional talk. For my five-year-old daughter and my four-year-old son, mini golf was far more appropriate and the clubs and instruction that they were given were specific to their needs. At the end of the day, the kids had a great time, were exposed to golf and learned some basics. However what was interesting to me was how differently each child learned what was being taught. One needed more physical experience with the game, another needed more concrete verbal instructions, one needed to feel successful quickly thereby needing achievable goals to boost confidence and one needed …well he’s four, so he just needed to play! It didn’t occur to me until much later that my husband, ‘the golf teacher’ was doing an excellent job at teaching each of our children some basic principles about golf in ways that they could each understand. Essentially he was one teacher employing four different teaching strategies to enable each of his students to learn.
What my husband demonstrated is that no two people are the same. Ok, I admit that this is no shocker to many of you and it really isn’t to me either, but there is some wisdom that I want to explore here.
We may have been created equally but NOT the same and therefore what appeals to one of our children doesn’t even make the other’s radar while what motivates one child may be at best neutral to the other(s). This is because everyone is unique in their own right despite having the same parents, sharing the same gene pool and having the same upbringing. In fact, I once heard a Rabbi with a number of children ranging in age refer to all of them as his first borns. The true first born is the first of the first borns while the fifth child is the fifth of the first borns. It’s an interesting way to refer to your children’s birth order but there is a lot of wisdom in using this type of language. He recognizes that each of his children, like all of us, are the first ever one-of- a- kind person to be born in this world. There are no second borns, third borns, etc. Each of us is a first born carrying unique individuality and potential.
Let’s take this fact of life and tie it into the ‘Back-to-School’ fever, which is definitely in the air! Our dedicated teachers are busy setting up their classrooms in order to maximize and facilitate student success as parents are out dropping buckets of money on all the fresh supplies and necessities for back-to-school. Surely our students are gearing up too because ready or not- school is coming- so best to be ready! Bedtimes are even being enforced again to the dismay of many overtired children! While some of us can’t wait to get back to routine and put a stop to the summer long brain drain, others will miss the more relaxed nature that summer has to offer.
I would like to offer some Torah insight to help ready us for the big back-to-school kick off. King Solomon says (Proverbs 22:6), "Educate the child according to his way so that he will not turn from it when he is old." G-d gave King Solomon unsurpassed wisdom so there is a lot of good advice in this statement to infer. From a child rearing and educational standpoint we can learn a lot about what the essential goal of teaching is. I understand from this that in order to actually reach a child and educate him/her you can’t work against their grain. To quote Lori Palatnik; “more than loving someone is understanding them.’ Once you understand who they are, you can work with their unique traits, abilities, talents and even challenges to further them along in the life. In addition, one who feels validated by someone else (i.e. a teacher) has better self -esteem and self awareness, which together is a recipe for success in life. We don’t want to shove square pegs into round holes because it gets us nowhere. By following the wisdom of King Solomon, we encourage our children to flourish and to live out their unique potential as good, successful people who contribute to the world in meaningful ways- ways that are in line with who they are.
Now this takes work but there is rarely anything in life that is easily achieved. It takes time, patience and some trial and error in order to do this. From the teacher’s point of view this is a tremendous amount of work since he or she has a lot of individuals to educate. This is often where the parent-teacher partnership plays its most crucial role. Of course the onus is not squarely on the teacher and parents need to advocate for their children, especially more so for the younger ones. Parents that assist their child’s teacher and give them honest insight into the ways of their child are doing a huge service to the teacher and to the student. I know this first hand as I am an educator myself!
Needless to say a child’s happy, safe and stable home life is paramount to his/her success in learning. Without that solid foundation at home, it’s very hard for a child to concentrate and be present in his or her studies. While bearing that in mind and coupling it with the wisdom of King Solomon we are doing our part in optimizing our children’s success in learning.
I wish all of us teachers, parents and of course our students a successful and meaningful school year ahead!