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Oct 18 2010

Too Young For Torah?

By at 7:24 am

My daughter turned 2 last week (yay!), and I’m wondering if perhaps I’ve been jumping the gun a bit with her Jewish education.

In general, in parenting, I tend to have a “less is more” approach. Not when it comes to the things that really matter–eye contact, loving touch, focused attention–these I try to provide with few limits. But when it comes to activities, I prefer letting my daughter learn about the world by grocery shopping with me, rather than attending the myriad of toddler classes offered in my neighborhood. And when it comes to toys, homemade and simple usually win in my book. (Some call it “slow parenting, ” some call it lazy or cheap, both might be right…)

And yet, very much not in keeping with this approach, I find myself shlepping my little gal to Tot Shabbat every Saturday and to a Jewish music class every Friday–where the parents sing their hearts out while the toddlers do what toddlers do. My particular toddler is pretty timid in groups, and generally she sits at these events completely still, playing the part of the perfect student. But I know she’s really frozen in fear.

At home, she happily sings the songs from these events. So I can see she’s learning. Great! Jewish education has begun!  But in all honesty, she’s just parroting a bunch of Hebrew words she’s heard over and over, with little understanding. Am I rushing things? She has so many years ahead of her for formal education–maybe a wiser mother would opt out of Tot Shabbat and just stay at the playground. Give her time.

I take seriously the idea of fostering my child’s religious and spiritual development, so I’m genuinely uncertain here. I can attest that she is genuinely captivated with at-home Jewish rituals: Putting money in the tzedakah box, lighting Shabbat candles, making havdalah. Maybe now’s the time for her Jewish life to be just in the familiar comfort of home, connected to activities that bring her closer to her parents and loved ones. And, even more challenging, maybe now’s the time for me to nourish my own religious and spiritual development, so that when my daughter is older and more ready, I’ll be able to offer her something more real and sophisticated than the classic Dinosaur Shabbat Song

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3 Responses to Too Young For Torah?

  1. Thanks for the response–it’s nice to hear from another parent who’s thinking about these issues. We do celebrate a pretty traditional Shabbat at home, which is why the Tot Shabbat experience is feeling a little forced for me. I totally agree with you about the importance of being with other parents, and that’s probably the main reason we keep going back to these events. But sometimes when you don’t know anyone at these activities, the anonymous feeling can just add to a parent’s sense of isolation, rather than the opposite.
    I read your most recent posting “A Mitzvah for Me” ( and I think your message about not letting the whole of our religious experience be about our kids is really crucial. I just find it so hard to make time for anything extra that’s “just for me”… (I know, I sound like every other parent in the world complaining that there’s never enough time)

    • homeshuling says:

      It is terribly hard to carve out anything for ourselves, Jewish or otherwise. Mine are 5 and 7, and in some ways it does get easier. Our resolution, because my kids don’t want to go to services, and I only sort of want to, is that we typically go to shul, but not necessarily for a service. We make it by kiddush, which keeps us on shabbat time, and connected to the community. (Oh, and we go to the playground there. Of course.)

  2. homeshuling says:

    Two points. One, if you are choosing between tot shabbat and the playground, then I think the question you should be asking is what kind of Jewish life do you as a family want to have, not what kind of life do you want your *daughter* to have. Do you make shabbat? If so, she’s hearing songs, smelling the smells, tasting the tastes, then the questions of whether to go to tot shabbat becomes fairly small.

    Two, many early childhood experiences, Jewish or other, are really about building community. Moms meeting other moms, dads meeting other dads, families developing connections that may last throughout their little ones’ childhoods. So, if it’s important for you to get to know other Jewish families with kids around the same age to, say, have shabbat dinner with, you and your child will benefit from these experiences.


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