Monday, November 8, 2010

Frugal Jewish Education*: Learning Alef-Bet, Pretzels and M&Ms Edition

This week in Frugal Jewish Education: Learning Alef-Bet.

Since he turned two, Asher's been demonstrating an ability to recognize letters and, in most cases, the sounds they make.  Accomplishing recognition of letters and their sounds is the first step on the path to reading readiness. 

Even though it's not typical to start children learning alef-bet until they are much older and have completely mastered the English alphabet, usually around second grade, I figured it couldn't hurt to give it a go with Asher.  (We have been reading to him in Hebrew since birth and doing casual letter recognition like "Alef is for Asher" for quite awhile.)

I decided we'd focus on learning one letter per week, mostly on Mondays, when Asher doesn't have preschool, and then follow up with review the rest of the week.  I purchased an excellent pre-primer workbook, which Asher LOVES working with.  We keep each sheet in a binder and Asher is really proud to look back on what he's done and show Abba all his hard work.
(Asher "circling" the letter that matches the one at the top)

In addition to a classic worksheet approach, however, I'm looking for new and creative ways to engage Asher (and, by extension, Rami) in learning his letters.  I want him to look forward to each lesson as a fun activity that offers something new and exciting each week. Hopefully this will direct his attitude towards learning throughout his childhood and his whole life.

It is a custom to have children eat cakes or cookies decorated with Hebrew letters on the first days of their Jewish education, so that words of Torah will always be sweet in their mouths.  I thought it'd be fun to start our Hebrew letter learning by making the shapes of each letter out of something edible and sweet.  Pretzel sticks and M&Ms fit the bill!
(learning the letter gimmel)

Asher had a ton of fun with this and asks for "pretzel alef bet" on many days.  In particular, this exercise helped him remember that "bet has a belly button" because the "belly button" (dagesh, or dot in the middle of the letter) is made out of an M&M!

What fun (and maybe tasty?) ways have you found to teach your children their letters?  Please share in the comments - I'm always looking for new ideas!!!

*About the Frugal Jewish Education Series:
(The book of Proverbs teaches us, "Chanoch L'Na'ar Al Pi Darcho" - "Teach your child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." This is one of the bases for the mitzvah (commandment) to Jewishly educate our children. According to traditional interpretation, the commandment "P'ru Ur'vu" - "Be Fruitful and Multiply" is not only an imperative to have children if we are able, but also to raise and educate them.

Throughout the life of this blog I'll be sharing some frugal tools and methods that I've found for Jewishly educating my children. This is in no way intended to be a slam on formal Jewish education - I believe that formal Jewish education, such as Jewish preschool, supplementary religious school, Jewish day school, and Jewish camp - are powerful and important tools in educating and socializing our children in a Jewish communal context, among other things.
As a Jewish educator myself, however, I understand that formal Jewish education doesn't tend to "stick" as well unless those ideas and lessons are somehow reinforced at home. While I am an ordained rabbi and have an extensive education that allows me to someday (G-d willing) teach my children very in-depth and detailed lessons, you don't have to be a rabbi to instill a love of Judaism and Jewish learning and a sense of Jewish commitment in your children. There are tons of great things you can do in your home that require little to no knowledge of Hebrew or Jewish anything to reinforce what your kinderlach (kids) are learning at school. This series will highlight those as I encounter them myself.)


  1. Please please please keep these posts coming, they are wonderful! I'm doing the same kind of reinforcement work (well, it's really more like fun) for my son who is in gan, for just the same reasons. He's going to be an especially big fan of a "working" with pretzels and emnems, as we call them around here.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment! We are really learning as we go. Don't forget to save some emnems for yourself, too. :)

  3. Too bad I didn't see this post in time for the Kislev roundup of Jewish Homeschooling blogs. I did include one of your older posts, though, and perhaps this one will make it in for next time.
    Check it out, and spread the news!

  4. Love this post! Another nice idea is to trace letters in goop (corn starch and water, can add food coloring) or honey and water (not so frugal)... very Waldorfian :)

  5. Too fun. And the best part: eating the m&ms and pretzels after the lesson is done. :)


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