Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Kislev 5764 - December 10, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

In Those Days, In This Season

by Kaila Kohn

Since time immemorial, parents and teachers have been using stories and parables as a teaching medium, as a pleasant way of inculcating good moral values. Children listen wide-eyed to a good storyteller. In fact, they listen eagerly to a mediocre storyteller, too. Stories are the sugar-coating on homilies, and can be used as rewards for anything from going to bed on time to finishing set work at school.

There used to be a series of cautionary tales in rhyme which were absolutely hair-raising. Of a girl who was burnt to death because she played with fire, of a boy who had his thumbs cut off for sucking them, amongst others. [Nothing very tame about Snow White, either.] Older readers might well remember the book, Shock-Headed Peter. It is doubtful whether a tale of a boy who refused the same soup day after day and subsequently died would really influence a child's eating habits.

In England, decades ago, children read numerous stories like "Little Red Riding Hood" or "The Three Little Pigs" to improve their vocabulary and their reading skills. By now, most Jewish schools are more discriminating and do not think that fairy tales are suitable reading matter. Unfortunately, some Jewish books for younger children whose reading skills are not very well developed present a vocabulary that is too difficult and also too stilted. Nevertheless, parents can read these stories to the children and just change some words as they go along. In fact, children will probably prefer Mother's narrative alongside the illustrations.

It is wiser for parents who tell or read stories to children at night to choose a story with a happy ending. Furthermore, some say that they should not be too exciting, although others disagree and say their children fall asleep in spite of the most hair-raising stories. A dreamless sleep, with never a nightmare? Perhaps, but, still, at a certain age children have numerous nameless fears and it is unwise to tell scary stories at night. To some children, especially those under the age of seven, it is unwise to tell frightening stories at all. They identify with the hero of the story and suffer terribly with him. As a young teacher, I was frequently moved to see large tears flowing form some wide eyed children when they heard the story of Yosef, for example.

At the end of the story, children will ask, "Is it true?" If you are one of those fortunate people who can invent stories and serialize them to continue for night after night, or lesson after lesson, the answer will probably have to be, "It could be." Stories of gedolim abound, stories which depict generosity of spirit, humility, caring about others, moral courage etc. are all true, as are stories from history. If a teacher wishes to improve a certain character trait among his charges, he will have no trouble in finding stories to illustrate his point.

There is a definite art to story telling. Unfortunately, not everyone has developed this skill, but perhaps they could learn. There should be much facial expression (body language) and the voice, too, can be used to great effect. The weekly parsha should be told in small installments every day, rather than once a week, to the younger classes. The children will enjoy the stories all the more and certainly remember them better.

Very young children often choose the same story night after night, week after week and even longer. Woe betide the father or mother who varies the story by even one little word. The youngsters know the stories by heart and rejoice in the constant repetition even if they do not understand the whole story.

Many books nowadays, which claim to be for the Jewish public, are nothing more than regular fiction novels, with the characters having Hebrew names. They are not all suitable for our youngsters to read...

Stories are a powerful medium, so parents must make sure, especially when children are older, that the content is suitable reading material.


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