Since last fall, 145 families in the Boston-Providence area have established Hebrew playgroups for their babies and toddlers, sponsored by a website called Hebrew Play. From day one, these moms and dads are referring to themselves as ima and aba, changing a lot of chitulim (diapers), and hoping that their babies will stop crying if they give them a motzetz (pacifier) to suck on.
The groups are modeled after other types of parent-led playgroups, with the only difference being that these are conducted exclusively in Hebrew.
The focus is on helping the children (and some parents) acquire age-appropriate vocabulary through songs, stories, books and learning activities. Most of the hour-long sessions are divided into two halves – the first devoted to formal instruction, and the second to unstructured play. Once the opening song of “Shalom, Shalom” is sung, only Hebrew is spoken to the children and among the adults.
Structured time usually includes telling a story or reading Hebrew picture books. followed by an activity reinforcing the story’s theme and vocabulary for parents and children to work on together.
Michael Goldstein established the Hebrew Play website to provide logistical and educational support for families as well as a social network. This summer, Shirah Rubin of Providence, took over the reigns from Goldstein and plans to add more lesson plans and videos for use by the parent volunteers leading the playgroups.