As we started developing the curricular structure for Mayim, we wanted to experiment with project based learning in order to learn and prepare our educators.
Why do people pray?
What is the purpose of a siddur (prayerbook) as a tool for prayer?
To explore these questions, the fourth graders created a siddur (prayer book) all their own to be used by all the children in the K-5 learning programs at TBS.
Phase 1: Understanding More About Prayer and the Role of a Siddur
To increase their understanding of these concepts, the children reflected on their own t’fillah (prayer) experiences, interviewed people – including our clergy – at TBS about a siddur and what would be important to include in a siddur, and thought a lot about why they pray and how they use a siddur when they do.
Phase 2: Planning for Their Siddur
The children divided into four working groups based on their interests: (1) Design and Layout group, (2) Kavannah (intentionality) group, (3) Illustration and Graphics group, and (4) Content and Order group. Each group began with several major questions that helped them craft their working group’s vision for the siddur, and brainstormed ideas about what they thought ought to be included.
The Design and Layout group considered questions such as:
- What materials should we use to make our sacred book?
- How do we get a siddur made? Do we hand write it or type it on the computer?
The Kavannah group was challenged by questions such as:
- What wording can we use for translation that is accessible for a K-5 reader?
- Should God be referred to as a “he” or a “she?”
- Do translations of prayers need to be literal?
The Illustration and Graphic group considered questions such as:
- Do illustrations enhance a reader’s prayer experience or detract from it?
- How do we translate the main themes of a prayer into an illustration?
- Should colors be used in a siddur, or would they be too distracting to the reader?
The Content and Order group thought about questions such as:
- What prayers must be included in our community siddur?
- Should morning or evening prayers be included in our siddur?
- Should transliterations of the Hebrew into English characters be included in our siddur?
After working through the questions in their groups, the children presented their ideas to the rest of the class, received feedback, refined their ideas, and created a plan to link their visions for the siddur together.
Phase 3: Creation of the Siddur
Once the teams figured out how they would create the siddur and what they wanted to include, they divided the t’fillot (prayers) and got to work on illustrations, kavannot (poems about the prayers and their themes), and writing a dedication for the siddur. Throughout the course of the project, two songs were even written by the children and their teachers and were set to music, showing yet another product of the children’s learning. This was a beautiful and natural outgrowth of the children’s learning and interests.
In keeping with the philosophy of project based learning, we held a dedication ceremony for their new siddur, celebrating our children’s accomplishments and allowing their work to reach a broader audience.