Yearlong program integrates Jewish life of young children with their developing scientific minds; connects Jewish learning relevant to the child at that time: holidays, Parshah, blessings, Mitzvot; inspires in children love of science & spiritual awe of the world around them; fosters creative, critical thinking, teamwork & empathic problem solving.
I came to this idea because I was in love with three separate but converging things: science, how children learn, and a Jewish sense of Divine in the world. For me, the integration of these loves developed organically as soon as I started planning the Kindergarten Science lessons. But what I have found in teaching the children is that each time we experience the lesson, new connections form and branch out, and new meaning is discovered, so that the program itself is continuously enlightening and moving, and in this way, much like learning Torah.
What evolved from the first year of lessons is a unique, year-long, weekly science program, which integrates the Jewish, spiritual life of young children with their developing scientific minds. The science lessons follow an educationally logical curricular path, but each one is inspired by an aspect of Jewish experience relevant to the child in that moment—whether the upcoming holiday, the week’s Torah portion, the cycle in the Jewish calendar, or a timely Mitzvah. In turn, many of the lessons lead us back to Torah, Mitzvot, Tefillah, or simply being moved by God’s world. The educational approach models and encourages curiosity—we notice, we ask great questions, we wonder—and actively involves the children in discovery—seeing what we didn’t see before, noticing changes and patterns and connections, and figuring out how we can learn more and use what we discovered. The lessons and activities directly and deliberately foster creative thinking, critical and scientific thinking, active listening, collaborative teamwork and empathic problem solving.
As the Science teacher, I work closely with the team of Kindergarten teachers in Judaics, Hebrew, General Studies, Arts and Music, integrating the weekly science lessons and curricular goals with their units and activities. For example, all the teachers start to use concepts and language such as observation, comparison, prediction, and hypothesis after they are introduced in Science; we write and draw in our Science Journals each week as a way for the children to develop their emerging written expression while also processing their science learning and ideas through their drawings and writing; the Judaics teachers follow the science lesson with experiential projects that reinforce both the science and Judaics component, such as cooking lentils soup for Parshat Toldot after we learn about sprouting and irreversible change (lentil lesson)or baking challah and matzah after we learn about yeast before Pesach (yeast lesson); concurrent with the science rain lesson (photo ), the children are learning songs and dances about the water cycle, the blessings for rain and the relationship of rain to the land of Israel. When we embark on our 5-week Space unit at the end of the year, the children are working in teams to plan, engineer and construct space ships—explicitly but organically learning how to be active and sensitive listeners to each other, how to brainstorm and organize ideas, how to creatively use materials and problem-solve. At the same time, because their Jewish selves are so present even when they are being scientists, we find them deciding on their own to build a shul in their spaceship, or figuring out how to create a Torah scroll they can open in zero gravity.
One year, as we finished our detailed biological lesson about how the heart works, one little boy took me by the hand and led me into the shul he and his classmates had made out of cardboard that week. He helped me face the “Aron ha-Kodesh” they had made of blocks and scarves, and put his hand on his heart: “Go like this, Morah Lisi. Can you feel your heart now?”
Through these integrated experiences, the children begin to internalize this incredible relationship between science and soul.
Another unique aspect of this program are the Letters for Parents which follow every lesson. These letters provide a description of the activity but also an explanation of the science—so that parents and children can engage with each other around the ideas, and continue the conversation and the experience —both from a science-discovery and a Jewish perspective. The letters are written in a way which can be read together by parents and children, and often include pictures or videos, and new questions to think about together. Parents express that these letters help them not only learn science but appreciate the beauty of Torah U-Madah through their children’s school experience.
Included here are a sample of the lessons, told through the parent letters. The full year includes 40 individual lessons each with its own activity and letter. The level of science is high enough, and the activities tangible enough, to provide a wide range of differentiation within the kindergarten age, as well as adapt the program for older students.
Included here is a sample of photos. In what has become an essential part of their school experience, the program is designed to inspire in young children a love of science, a spiritual awe of the world around them, and self-confidence in their abilities to discover and create.
Lisi Levisohn is a Developmental Neuropsychologist by training, and a Science and Judaics teacher at heart. A day school graduate who has continued her Jewish studies over the years, she teaches Torah to both adult and youth in her community. She is a passionate, life-long student of science, and equally passionate about nurturing a love of science in young children. Most relevant to this contest entry, she believes that one’s Judaism should inspire one’s love of science, and a love of science should inspire one’s Judaism, and that we can plant the seeds of this relationship from a very young age. Dr. Levisohn developed the Kindergarten Science program 12 years ago, and has been teaching it every year since.
After graduating Maimonides School in Boston and learning at Midreshet Lindenbaum, Lisi received her BA in Psychology from Harvard and her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Boston University.
Leah Bresler has been a Kindergarten Teacher at Berman in both General and Judaic Studies since 2001. She received her BA from St. Lawrence University, M.Ed from George Washington University, Hebrew Language and Judaic Certification from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The Board of Jewish Education of Greater Washington.