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Narration Through Tears

If you do narration with your kids, what do you do with the tears? (Or are you the perfect parent who never inspires any?)

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This happened last Friday, so I couldn’t write about it at the time. Naomi was super-tired and crabby all last week, which culminated with tears over her narration on Friday. I don’t know why she was crying – honestly, I don’t.

She probably had something else she’d rather have been doing, but that is ALWAYS the case. She always has stories and parties and activities on the go with her Barbies and other various things… every single lesson pulls her away from her “real life,” but she usually handles the intrusion well. Not so on Friday.

Anyway, I read the short passage from The Shabbat Book and then sat back to listen, as usual. I try to ask as few questions as possible. Except last week, she started crying again, and finally sobbed, “I don’t know anything.” And it was such a memorable parsha!

Anyway, I stubborned it out and asked a few questions and she finally blurted out three lines that were not wonderful, and I wrote them down and rushed off to put GZ to bed, or whatever else it was that I had waiting for me to do.

By the time I came back, she had happily illustrated her narration with this lovely picture of matan Torah!image

I love how she’s “fenced in” all the Jews so they wouldn’t get hurt by going up on the mountain. While Moshe cheerfully ascends to receive the luchos (tablets – in this case, with 7 commandments!). She was troubled by writing just the letters alef, beis, etc., on the luchos, instead of the actual words, but I assured her that that’s a common convention. She has also added flowers to the mountain, something we didn’t cover in any of our formal readings, but which she probably remembers from last Shavuos.

At the Shabbos table, when I didn’t pull out her narration as usual, she specifically asked me to read it out and pass it around! So I did, and she had her usual pride and excitement at being able to participate, even though it had all started in tears.

Someone just emailed me this morning asking how to make parsha interesting to young kids. The story parts of Bereishis and Shemos are fine, but what about all the nitty-gritty stuff that comes later on?

Here’s more or less what I wrote back:

It's a toughie, that's for sure. The story draws them in - I love that we
start fresh with the story every year. The rest of the parshiyot are hard
and even (gasp) boring sometimes. It helps that I have two older kids - 16
and 15 - so I have been "doing parsha" for a LONG time, and for all ages...
so I'm sure I will find a way of getting even the hard ones across.

The secret - if there is one - is finding messages that kids can relate to.
"Finding a way in" so they will understand the essence of the story.
The particulars aren't as important - frankly, most of the adults I know
couldn't tell you exact details of construction of the mishkan, or korbanot,
or whatever. But it is important to know (for instance, from last week's
parsha) that korbanot were how bnei Yisrael drew closer to Hashem in those days. (and that these days, we use tefillah for the same purpose)

For a broad overview, My First Parsha Reader comes closest, in my opinion, touching on 2 to 5 major themes in the parsha on a very childlike level. I don't love it, and usually edit the text as I read, but it gives me some idea what to talk about.

Looking for something MORE than that, and more aligned with our own beliefs, I couldn't find anything in a book or website, so I started writing my own overview every week, in a kind of Q&A, fill-in-the-blanks format. I have those at my blog, though I'm not sure how useful they are to anyone other than me.

For narration, I don't use my overview - I think it's too long and too
broad. I use The Shabbat Book, which offers a simple one-paragraph synopsis of every single parsha.

After a few days of reading my "long version" of the parsha, I read her the
short paragraph from The Shabbat Book to help her focus... and THEN ask her to narrate, and illustrate.

I didn’t say that as a BT, “writing the parsha” every week, and even writing a parsha poem, gives me comfort and familiarity with Chumash that will no doubt serve me well for life. And even after so many years, I can use all the comfort and familiarity I can get!

I did add that the next couple of parshiyos (Terumah and Tetzaveh) are super-fun to do with young kids!

p.s. For the "mishkan parshiyot" in particular, don't worry! There is
nothing more interesting to a 4-year-old than BUILDING (ie constructing a
mishkan) and DRESS-UP (ie the clothes of the kohanim). Find a way to
describe it as a BUILDING PROJECT (use blocks! use legos!)... and figure
out some simple DRESS-UP ACTIVITY (use sheets! use scarves, bells, aprons!)

So there you are. The entire accumulated wisdom of 16+ years of parenting, and STILL my kid is in tears when it comes time to narrate.

But she loves parsha anyway, and is proud of her work anyway, and that makes me happier than you could ever imagine.

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