By Carly Cherwony, TAP Teen

Having volunteered at Sunday school for the past six years and working in my congregation’s preschool for the past three, I have experienced children from multiple age groups, backgrounds, and with varying abilities. In the Sunday school I am not paired with a particular child, but I am part of something very special at my synagogue. We recently altered our entire curriculum in order to better engage the children as well as help them relate Jewish values and teachings to their modern life.

In my third grade classroom we have been creating a holiness museum. This is the kid’s museum: teachers are only there for support, guidance, and organization. The class got to define what “holy” was to them and work with their parents to select a holy Jewish object to display (ranging from kippot to candlesticks to one child’s grandfather’s ethical will) in the museum. They created and discussed the criteria for their objects and made a film about the museum. We just held a reception, unveiling their finished product, and it looked amazing! All the kids and their families were so proud of what they were able to build.

Through this process I was able to apply and educate the other aid on the tools we learned at TAP. Since their project was very abstract and hands on, the children, many of who had not been able to take on this kind of role in lesson planning and education, would get frustrated, confused, and upset when they didn’t understand the activity or agree with their classmates. I would be patient with the kids and used a range of methods to help them along. It varied from talking them down by explaining a simplified version of the lesson, letting them express their emotions and listen before calming them down, taking them on a walk to get a change of scenery and to move around, or telling them a quick story to get their mind off what was bothering them before addressing the issue.

The TAP program not only gave me great insight on how to work with children with special needs, but overall useful teaching techniques to help every child. Not all children learn in the same way and as teachers we need to recognize when one form of teaching does not work and be able to apply alternative methods so that every child has an equal opportunity to lean and be involved.