Even though Mom had asked Shimon everyday cheerfully what was going on in school, Shimon didn’t seem to know. When she asked the mothers of his classmates, they seem to have much better idea and they were being given a fuller picture. She was concerned that Shimon was not following in the class; not the pace or the material. Taking initiative, she spoke to the Rebbe in the cheder. His Rebbe was a great teacher and loves the children, but he never really got serious training, certainly not like a special educational teacher, and he hadn’t noticed any major issues. Shimon is a good boy, which means he doesn’t act out or bother the class, it doesn’t mean he participates. When classes are large[i], more than sixteen or more, it is easier to not notice boys like Shimon who don’t disturb the class in anyway. Even so, the Rebbe was agreeable to find a tutor for Shimon, so he wouldn’t fall too far behind and hopefully get clarity as well.
The tutor was not trained either. He though came in with treats, fun ideas, and felt because they are going to have one-on-one sessions; he should be able to catch Shimon up to the class level. But unfortunately Shimon still lagged behind, and no one understood why. Shimon didn’t mind getting the extra attention and the treats, but he didn’t like be pulled out of class, he was embarrassed.
Since no one in this scenario is actually trained to recognize the underlining issues, a year or more can go by; with Shimon barely holding on with what is going on in class. If he doesn’t ever follow the material, nor grasp the information in class, and perhaps may not know how to actually read[ii] (and the number of children who don’t know really how to read is surprisingly high), nor understand the material he won’t be able to synthesize the information. He won’t be able to learn Gemara properly, since he can’t understand the similarities between different concepts, since he hasn’t even begun to understand the original idea first. The Gemara will be unapproachable. Shimon will only be frustrated.
A child who doesn’t understand the material in class may be suffering from sensory, or many other issues. If the issues aren’t dealt with, the child will not be interested in learning, nor will he make any progress. His parents, who have realized there hasn’t been any advancement, start considering more serious problems underlying the issues.
Shimon’s parents take him to be evaluated professionally. Although Shimon’s parents now have invested time and money for a clear understanding by receiving an evaluation; his rebbe, the teacher, doesn’t understand nor know how to implement the advice of the evaluator in the classroom. Instead the teacher now labels, in his mind, this child with a serious problem. Sum results; waste of money and time, the child gets more frustrated and disillusioned by his abilities, the parents are left anxious and worried for their child’s future, and the school will mark him down with ‘issues’.
It isn’t a long road from that point on for Shimon to just give up and join the ranks of children ‘off the derech’.
R’ Yeshaya Weber has developed a method “the shittah” in teaching kids[iii]. After being in the business for forty-five years and at least the last thirty of which he has been developing the system; he started Machon Ruth and Yad Tzvi[iv] for remedial education for children with learning problems (and a clinic for treatment of anxiety- and trauma-related disorders), and Machon Achiya which train teachers and tutors around the world to help children who have lost their ways in the class room.
After spending many years as a melamed, he was frustrated that he wasn’t able to help many of the boys; giving private lessons with treats didn’t help either, only worked temporarily. Fortunately, he saw a course being offered for the first time in special education by the renowned Professor (now at YU) Rav Aharon Fried[v] who specialties in psychology in special education. It was an eye opener, and became the basis of Rav Weber’s shittah. The modus operandi in special education is the belief that every child can learn; it is just a matter of finding the right avenue, the way into their minds and breaking up the material into small parts, so the children can accept the information. Rav Weber was enthusiastic by Dr. Fried’s suggestion to just take a passuk and divide it. Like giving a child to eat, first one needs to cut it small, take off the crust and than ‘fly’ it into his mouth. It is the same in teaching them to learn. There doesn’t have to be only one way to learn Torah, every child has an opening, it is a matter of just finding it. “It was such a revolutionary idea, a chiddush.”
Rav Weber began to realize that this same approach can be used in teaching Gemora. As much as the Gemora needs to be learned, it is also a tool to open their minds a way to learn how to learn. The power of one who has insight into the Torah, if learned right, if he ‘owns it’, can change a person, a whole personality.
With this new approach Rav Weber developed a new system to teach, based on the Shulchan Aruch, a methodology which gives every child a chance to receive his inheritance, a Jewish education. Rav Weber reminds people of the pasuk we say every morning, “Torah tziva lanu Moshe morashah kehilas Yaakov” “the Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.” (Devarim 33:4). Making it clear the Torah is our inheritance. Gemara learning is the entrance point into the entire Oral Law; it contains the principles to understand what Chazal is saying by learning how to draw conclusions and applying ideas in many areas.
As Mashgiach Ruchani in Knesses Yehuda in Sanhedria, Jerusalem, he started successfully applying his new method of teaching with his students and teaching the Rebbium the theory. With rewarding success, he opened up the schools and tutoring as mentioned above.
Once while he was sitting in office of Harav Moshe Halberstam ZT”L, Tshakeva Rov, and former Dayan on the Beis din of the Eida Hachareidis , the Rav told him to start administrating evaluations not as a phycologist, but as an experienced educator. Using the Chumash and Gemora he realized in 20 minutes he could understand a child; and was able successfully to suggest the best way to develop an approach that would help the child learn.
Rav Weber feels strongly that parents need (and want) to learn the system, too. He has publicized the principles of ‘the system in his book called Ohr B’Shvilei Gemara (Light within the Pathways of the Gemara) that was published in 2000. Now he wants the parents to have access to his ‘shittah’ – his system; a book especially written for them; in English!
The Short Sketch of the System
Every child comes into this world as a distinctive soul. Their environment: parents, family, teachers and peers will have an influence on a child; yet he is also instinctively unique. A soul arrives intact with his own personality, distinctions, and genetic code. It is the parents’ job to learn who is this soul? The parents have to know the child’s physical abilities, his emotional temperament, his cognitive competencies and his spiritual side.
Through Rav Weber’s method; a child develops a healthy attitude which encourages self-confidence, thereby boosting the child’s potential, and creating an emotional balanced personality. Parents are capable of instilling this educational structure right from the beginning of a child’s life. The first step is to be open and objective in knowing who their children are in every aspect. This knowledge will allow the parents to be able to guide their children, by recognizing their children’s realities, and potential.
Generally, it is the young who have children. They usually are instilled with self-confidence and an awareness of the great obligations that have been bestowed on them. Due to their youth they approach parenthood with enthusiasm and energy. Unlike older parents, who may have had difficult experiences, knowledge of too many pitfalls, risks lie in wait around the corner or are just tired, the older folks tend to be more anxious and aware of the potential disasters lurking nearby. Yet, these young parents need to know; what is normal for their children, so they can be on the look out for problems.
Parents (should) know their children better than all the other professionals that will be involved with their children’s growing process. Parents, also have their own perceptions of the children’s nature, which will influence their outlook (as well as their own lives, jobs, tasks and such). And sometimes parents are just not focused enough on their child’s development as much as they should and could be. Parenting is the most important and longest running job a person can have, but of course it pays greatly; in naches.
The Child’s Character
Each person is given a certain ‘measure’ midda, of character traits, which determine his particular personality. There is no such thing as an absolute “bad” or a “good” trait. A person can love blood, be easy contented, or apprehensive, and although we may have a gut feeling towards these natures; it is not an indication if they are good or bad. A surgeon needs to love blood. A person with an easy-nature may not be right for a high demanding job, but be great to be a mother. An anxious person might be the right person working in a highly dangerous place. The work of a life time is to know one’s middos and develop them so they are balanced and one knows his own boundaries. Yet it is important to realize, a person’s character traits never change, a person can learn to use his middos at the right time and place.
If a child is wild; it does not mean he can’t be taught to act calm. He can learn to listen to be part of the group; but it does mean there will always be an element of wildness in his soul. It is the parents’ (and teacher’s) job to tap into the attribute of his wildness and develop it into a great potential. He can be the one; who is first in helping others, the team leader, or the one who can climb and jump the highest. Every character trait can be developed for greatness. But first a parent must be conscious who his child is.
Once a parent accepts the child (and all their children) for who he is; the child will be happier with himself. A child is content, when he knows he is accepted as he is. When parents understand why their child reacts the way he does; the relationship can be healthy. Then the work of the parent can begin in helping the child develop properly. The parent’s job is to put his child on the Golden path; the path of normalcy. A person should not be too anything; not too happy, too strict, too clean, or too funny; the Golden Path is the way of being in the middle, a balanced person.
When a child is born he is the prince of the family. All attention is focused on his every whim. This warmth and security empowers the child encouraging him to start absorbing information. He first learns to think by the movement of his hands, done without his intention. The actions affect the brain. As the baby hits himself or casts shadows over his face; he starts to focus on his own hands and feet. This information makes an impression and it is integrated in the brain, eventually creating paths of neural transmission. Learning starts with recognizing these patterns and relationships which create knowledge.
Though parents need to learn to recognize each of their children’s own distinctions and nature, they must also be aware of the general milestones that every child should perform. Normal skills; such as smiling for the first time, waving “bye” taking a first step are called developmental milestones and have set ages for normalcy. If there is a discrepancy, parents need to know when to get the proper help. Why does a child react the way he does? Is it part of his personality, or is it a physical need? The child’s personality character traits are his strength and weakness.
Every trait will have implications on the child’s development. The more forewarned of each child’s idiosyncrasy; the earlier the parent can focus on assisting and coaching the child. It is imperative that the parents are aware of the expected development. If there is a gap it will influence the way he will think, his behavior at home, his relationship with friends and his capability to learn at school.
Examples of Traits that need Guidance and Professional Care
Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD); Clumsiness, (not to be confused with neurological based ADHD) exhibits itself physically, but has many other manifestations which by the age of 6 or 7 will be apparent and may need physical therapy or other professional help.
Dovid was slightly delayed in all his motor skills milestones as a baby. At the end of his fourth month he still wasn’t bringing things to his mouth or didn’t push out his legs when his mother put him on the floor. At seven months, he couldn’t stand when he was being supported in a standing position, nor could he transfer toys from one hand to the other.
It was much later than a year when Dovid could bang two blocks together, ‘read’ a book by flipping through the pages, or be able to pick up a small object using the tip of his thumb and index finger.
By the time Dovid got to kindergarten at the age of six; he could do what all the other children could do, but it was hard for him. He didn’t seem to be aware of his own space, would drop things, and bump into walls. He couldn’t dress himself and made quite a mess when he ate. Playing with the other children was an ordeal. Dovid had problems making friends; he didn’t understand the social clues. He was slower and disorganized in his thoughts which showed when he spoke. He would lose his toys, crayons and any other objects that he would touch; forgetting where he had placed them.
When Dovid got into first grade; writing was difficult, understanding the lesson was inapprehensible; since he couldn’t connect one point to another. He at times became impulsive or distracted since he was disconnected to what was going on in class. His thoughts would ‘freeze’ as he had an overload of impressions. He was not capable to learn. Dovid was in need of help.
Another example: Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
Miriam cried a lot when she was a baby. She did not like being held or cuddled, and was very annoyed to have her diaper changed. At times she seemed to love her baths, but if she wasn’t in the mood; it was a major battle. When she would cry it would be for at least a half hour, and she would look sad or uncomfortable, a lot of the time.
When she started eating she was a picky eater. Sometimes she would gag or choke on new food. She would much rather walk around naked, than wear anything; in spite of the weather. She never liked crowds and got distressed going out to a park with lots of kids. In any case, Miriam didn’t like to play or get dirty. She didn’t enjoy playing with new children. She did not like the carousel or swings in the park.
Miriam was bothered by sounds that other people didn’t even notice. She liked the dog next door, but she didn’t know how to be gentle with animals. She didn’t like to be touched, kissed or hugged. Yet at other times she needed the physical contact and would jump or squeeze too hard or just hit her siblings.
She was particular of what type of fabrics she would wear. It couldn’t have tags in the back. She would prefer not to wear shoes, socks, or sleeves.
When she started school she had problems reading, or having word retention. She had difficulty with the abstract. Her vocabulary was not fitting for her age, nor did she know how to express what she wanted to say, which would cause her and her parents much frustration.
Both of these personality types: Dovid who is clumsy (Developmental Coordination Disorder -DCD); and Miriam who has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) need early-on-intervention and professional care, as well as all the other ‘personality types’ that miss key milestones. Development immaturities that start young when the child is an infant can lead into many difficult learning issues.
Parents need the knowledge; to know what to expect, when to go for help, how to help their children grow into mentsch (es). The parents are their kids’ best advocates. They are the ones to help their children learn and use the right tools, build positive attitudes, and receive the correct help when needed; so their children’s particular personalities will grow properly. Rav Weber’s method is for the parents; so they can help their children mature into their full potential.
Rav Weber’s book is to recognize and know each of your child’s personalities and know how to help your child get the best care, direction and tools to develop them into a mentsch; the job of Jewish parent.
[i] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deia siman 245, s’if 9. A class that has more than 25 students is in need of another class. The Pis’chei Teshuva speaks of 25 students in the days of the Talmud, would be consider maximum. In our days, halevai we would fulfill our obligations with much less.
[ii] Source of how many children don’t read. At age.
[v] http://www.aharonhershfried.com/ “Dr. Aharon Hersh Fried Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Psychology and Education at Stern College of Yeshiva University (and formerly at John Jay College of CUNY, and the Azrielli Graduate Program in Jewish Education). Dr. Hershel Fried serves as a consultant to schools, helping to implement programs for the learning disabled and also working to help implement skill based programs in the teaching of Judaic studies in the mainstream day school program, with a special emphasis on developing thinking skills. Aharon Hershel Fried’s Kriah Program is the standard in virtually all Orthodox day schools in the US.”