Tuesday, October 2, 2012

tackling mishnayot

Do you know what was the original reason why I did not homeschool my 8 yo when we moved? I was afraid that he will have to start on Mishna in 3rd grade, and I have no idea how to teach him Mishna. I was never taught Mishna. Yes, we have Mishna with translation at home, yes, I know the basic organization, and yes, I am aware that it is not that hard. Some brave souls might have even feebly suggested that I can do it, but I was so afraid, that I chose to put him in first grade because I was worried about teaching him a subject in 3rd grade.

As last school year was coming to a close, and I already had him at home, I had to confront this Mishan issue. I spoke to a few people and friends, trying to figure out whether I would find a rebbi to teach him. By this point, we were bending so many rules, that I found a suggestion of waiting another year (or two) and not starting Mishnayot at 8 quite reasonable. And it gave me more time to either tackle it myself or to find an appropriate teacher. Meanwhile, we invested in a book called "Tallis Ends and Other Tales" by Rabbi Don Channen. My boys devoured it. It presents a few different mishnayot in cartoon format, with rhymed story line. I figured that it is a good, fun introduction for now, with the hope of making Mishnayot less daunting in the future. I also found a file on chinuch.org about systematically teaching mishnayot, so that demystified the whole process to me a bit. In the meanwhile, I was planning on sitting this year out.
Tallis Ends and Other Tales (The Cartoon Mishnah Learning Series)

Well, a couple weeks ago, my husband took both boys with him to the early shabbos minyan. They davened some, helped set up kiddush (with great pride), noshed and then they had an hour to kill before Shabbos groups started in our regular shul. My husband decided to crack a mishna with 8 yo. 6 yo did not want to do it, so he was given Artscroll Chumash, opened to the weekly parshah. He read the whole thing while my husband introduced the older one to Nezikin. (He chose Nezikin because that's what his rebbe started him off on, and, I guess, he was familiar with it off the top of his head). That day, both boys came home happy to share what they learned. 8 yo told me about four damaging things and even remembered their names in Hebrew. I thought: great, he is not intimidated and even interested. Perhaps this whole Mishna learning could become a father-son bonding thing.

Another few days went by, and there was a quiet Friday night evening. Two younger ones went to shul, so I asked 8 yo whether he wanted to learn something. He said that he wanted to continue Nezikin. I trembled, I absolutely did not know what to do and where to start and how we are going to do this... but before I had a chance to voice any of this, he said that he will just read it in English and he does not need me. He spent an hour reading the mishnayot on his own. He excitedly called out when he came to a case that he was familiar with from "Tallis Ends".

This past Shabbos, as I was gearing up to read goodnight stories, he said that he wants to read more mishnayot, and he proceeded from there. He even said that he hopes to make a siyum on Nezikin, only he does not know what he'll give his d'var Torah on. It seems that mishna is not as scary I thought it to be.

I am aware that it's not the way Mishna is studied. I know that he is missing out on the intellectual rigor of setting up a case, establishing and organizing the categories, arguments pro and con, etc. I would love to pull out a chart and start organizing all that info. Just reading through Mishna is inefficient. But then I think about how many things that kids do which appear to be completely inefficient from the adult perspective. All that digging in the sandbox, pretending to be an astronaut, doodling, daydreaming, jumping into puddles so that the inside of the rainboots is wet, poring over maps, making dams with your food...all of these appear to be a total waste of time. But they are essential learning components of childhood. While on the surface these activities are unproductive, inside the brain is working something out, something which will come out at some other later time.

I think that 8yo's individual reading through the Mishna is the same. There is some kind of satisfaction that he is deriving from it which is not of the same orderly kind that grown-ups like to impose on it. There is some kind of informational intake, and, if I am patient, I will find out, sooner or later, how it will be processed ans synthesized.

In the meanwhile, I can consider myself off the hook as his Mishna teacher.

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