How to have your child say, “Abba, let’s learn”:
Real world strategies to bring love and curiosity back into your child’s learning and strengthen your relationship in the process
“I don’t want to learn and that’s it! I go to Yeshiva all week and I need a break!
Your son storms off and slams the door.
All you had done was innocently ask your son to learn on Shabbos afternoon. However, to your son it felt like asking a parolee to go back into solitary confinement. This is a painful experience for both father and son to say the least.
The Shema tells us that every father must be a teacher to his child, “V’limadtetem es b’naichem” (you shall teach your sons). It is true that sending our children to Yeshivot fulfills this obligation. However, many fathers rightfully want to learn with their children as well. This can be very difficult and a source of tremendous tension.
The following are 6 steps, which can greatly enhance the experience:
1) Create the incentive package-The Rambam in his famous “Introduction to Perek Chelek”, discusses the educational process of moving the child from learning “Lo Lishma” (not for its own sake) to learning “Lishma” (for its own sake). The Rambam list the progression of prizes that one should award the child for learning beginning with developmentally appropriate tangible awards (i.e.candy, shoes, clothing, and money), and progressing to more intangible rewards such as being known as a famous rabbi. It is clear that we are not to expect our children to have an automatic love of learning. You should discuss the structure of the incentive package with your wife and confirm it with the child. Here is a list of common examples in developmental order: candy, exclusive trips to the ice cream parlor or favorite restaurant, toys, trading cards, baseball tickets, and cash. You can award the child individual points for good reading, questions and answers. You tell them at 75 or 100 points you will win the promised prize.
2) Set the time and place in advance with the “package”. For most children announcing that you would like to learn now will generally be met with conflict. Sit them down and inform them that you will be setting up a Seder with them (e.g. 1 hour before mincha every Shabbos). You will discuss/ negotiate the incentive package at that time.
3) Select the curriculum- do’s and don’ts – I would recommend that you provide your child with 2 or 3 choices of topic. I would only recommend learning school material if your child is interested in it. This is your time to bond with your child by learning your own special material. Suggestions include studying your own Parsha, a Sefer in Tanach, Mishnayot, a Sefer in the Mishne Torah, a sugya in the Gemara, and classic works on Hashkafah all depending on the level. You want to select an area, which your child (and you) will find interesting and relevant. Ideally, you should pick an area which can be covered in a realistic amount of time allowing the child to feel a sense of accomplishment when you complete the unit.
4) Know the world of your child – As an effective teacher; it is critical that you understand the world your child. For example, if your son loves the Yankees and only talks and preoccupies himself with all aspects of baseball, then that is his world. It is counterproductive to fight it or diminish it (“don’t you know that is just bitul Torah” or “with that memory of all the statistics you could know all of Shas”). Rather, a wise parent understands his child’s world and uses it to bring the reality of Torah to him. For example, you could elicit from him how Derek Jeter prepares to face a tough pitcher and thus develop the concept of “being in the zone”, a state where the athlete is able to remove all extraneous thoughts and focus exclusively on the task at hand. This could function as an introduction to halachot of Kavanah in Tefillah, where a person is required to sit and remove himself from his daily pursuits and think exclusively of the world of Hashem. Always start from your child’s world and bridge to the world of Torah.
5) Prepare- Failing to prepare is preparing to fail! It is pure fantasy to think you are going to engage your son for an hour, by merely opening the sefer from where you left off last week. You have to digest the material first and determine what concepts are to be shared and how. This will ensure success.
6) Empower your child – Your son will ask great questions. Many of them you will not be able to answer. Tell him directly that you don’t know and that you will try to research the question. If you are unable to answer the questions, tell him, “let’s ask the Rabbi”. The fact that you think that his questions are important enough to research validates him as a thinker. This will give him a great sense of confidence and greater motivation to build this learning relationship with you.
If you have any questions, suggestions or ideas you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy!