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Issue 145 - Training Wheels
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
This article orignally appeared in Mishpacha Magazine

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2/7/07

It was a few days after Rosh Hashanah 5756 (1995), and we had just arrived home from the hospital after the birth of our youngest child. After we put our older children to bed, my wife and I were enjoying some ‘quality time’ with our baby. At one point, my wife, who has the uncanny ability to read my thoughts, asked me to explain that faraway look in my eyes. I sheepishly admitted that I was calculating how old I would be when the time would come for me to remove the training wheels off Sara’s bicycle and run alongside her until she would be able to successfully ride without falling (I was about forty-two when the training wheels came off, if you must know, and that phase has mercifully passed).

Training wheels are a remarkable invention. Once they are properly affixed to a child’s bicycle, he or she only needs them for a short period of time. Once the child acquires better balance and agility on a bicycle, the training wheels are lifted a bit. Then a bit more. Soon, they are removed completely and the child never looks back. You know what they say, “You never forget how to ride a bicycle.”

I think that this analogy of bicycle riding and training wheels carries profound lessons for us as we chart a course for the chinuch of our precious children in these challenging times. If one takes a few steps back and surveys the overall landscape of how we impart Torah teaching to children and adults, one might be struck by a puzzling dichotomy. We seem to be offering our children a significant array of learning assistance and support after some form of educational failure has occurred. However, very few of these tools are offered to children who are in the critical ‘training-wheels’ phase of their learning experience.

Going back to the bicycle analogy; that would seem to be like having our children start riding their bicycles without the benefit of training wheels, and only providing them to those who severely injure themselves by falling off their bicycles repeatedly.

Think about it. If a child is falling behind in his/her learning, we place him/her in a remedial program. There, a skill-based educational approach is taken; where children are given more time to acquire the skills they will need to succeed. This phenomenon is even more pronounced in ‘at-risk-teen’ yeshivos, where all sorts of educational and motivational techniques are employed to help the young adults appreciate Torah learning. If a grown man finished his years in yeshiva without having mastered gemora learning, it is perfectly appropriate – and culturally acceptable – to make use of an Artscroll gemora, replete with nekudos (punctuation), translation, and learning tools, such as charts and diagrams that work so well with visual learners.

I am most certainly not suggesting that we start teaching chumash and gemorah to our children using Artscroll seforim. What I do recommend is that we invest the time to teach children properly in their formative years so that they have the tools to succeed and develop a lifelong love for learning Hashem’s Torah.

Take the limud of chumash, for example. More than ninety percent of all words that appear in chumash are variations of only 270 root words! (Click here for a listing of the most commonly used words). There are 26 verbs (ex. yatza, holach) and 38 nouns (ex. lechem, makom) that appear in chumash more than 500 times each**! If we were to give children a rudimentary understanding of lashon hakodesh – teach them the shoroshim and shimushim (‘root words’, prefix, suffix, etc.) – before or as soon as they start learning chumash, we would be providing them with the chinuch ‘training wheels’ they need to succeed.

This is not a ‘new’ concept. Even a casual reading of Rashi’s timeless commentary on chumash reveals how critical lashon hakodesh skills are in mastering chumash. It is impossible to understand Rashi’s commentary, let along his nuances, without these skills.

Ironically, many or most girls’ schools have been teaching chumash using the skill-based approach for decades. However, many or most mainstream boys’ school do not employ these methods. Schools for at-risk boys do, as do the resource-room programs in mainstream schools – but not the ‘regular’ classes.

As I mentioned in the previous column, these critical skills are even more essential in the learning of gemorah, where Aramaic is introduced, nekudos (punctuation marks) are removed, and the nature of lengthy gemorah logical threads is such that a few missed key words in the opening lines of a shiur can result in many days of frustration and underachievement until a new gemorah topic is introduced.

In the broader scheme of things, we are only discussing a minor investment of time in the formative years of the chinuch of our precious children to provide them with these critical educational training wheels. In today’s challenging climate, we must do all we can to teach them slowly, carefully, and well while they are young and eager to learn.

For the road they will need to ride is far more dangerous than was ours. The downhill slopes are much steeper and the boulders on the sides of the path are getting larger every day.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

This is the fourth in a series of chinuch articles that appeared in Mishpacha Family Magazine. Here are links to the first three articles in the series.

#1 -- Addressing the Chinuch Challenges of Our Generation

#2 -- Exit Interviews

#3 -- It Doesn't Start in Tenth Grade

Note to Readers:

It is my overall vision to create and disseminate skill-based materials that will help parents and mechanchim educate their children in a more efficient and user-friendly manner.

Several weeks ago, the Kriah (Hebrew Reading) component of “Bright Beginnings” was activated on my website www.rabbihorowitz.com. I am very pleased to inform you that we just started posting portions of Chumash section as well. Please note that Rabbis Yosef B. Ravitsky and Yosef Kitay created these materials (again, this is just a small start) for the first perek of Parshas Lech Lecha.

Hopefully, by teaching your children/talmidim/talmidos using skill-based methodology, you will help him/her acquire the skills to “take off the training wheels.”

In the chumash section, you can find materials to teach shorashim (click here and here) as well as teaching the prefixes of the words (Click here.) We hope to be posting translation sheets, as well as other types of learning aides.

Please take a few moments to review the Kriah Section of Bright Beginnings as well.

There are listings of Educational Organizations that provide kriah assistance (Click here and scroll down), and we will soon be posting links to a variety of currently available educational software and books to help your child read better.

I am proud to present to you many dozens of kriah review and remediation sheets created by Rabbi Zvi N. Meth, who serves as the Kriah consultant for Bright Beginnings. If your child is in need of reading support, you may find it helpful to print and use some of the many sheets that help promote letter recognition (click here), punctuation/nekudos skills (click here), and the critically important, often overlooked skill of reading Rashi letters properly (click here )

One of my favorites is the “RASHI BINGO” game (click here) created by Rabbi Meth. It is a stunningly effective and fun way to teach children (and adults) ‘Rashi’ script letters. The letters that are similar to each other are color-coded – so that the kids look at them carefully and learn to distinguish between them.

In the coming weeks and months, I hope to post similar tools for gemorah.

Your feedback is always appreciated. Please email any suggestions to comments@rabbihorowitz.com)



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Related Articles:
Issue 149- Rolling out the Welcome Mat
Issue 139 - Proactively Addressing the Chinuch Challenges of Our Generation
Issue 141 - Exit Interviews
Issue 143- It Doesn’t Start in Tenth Grade
Issue 147 - Pulling in the Gangplank


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