It’s all about the build

By Phil Liebson, Director, Camp and School-Age Programs

Do you remember when Legos were bricks and only bricks? For almost a year now the DCJCC and Play Well-Teknologies have been running both a Lego camp and an after-school engineering enrichment class. Working with these classes has taught me two things:

  1. You are never too old to play with Legos.
  2. The Legos of 2012 are much more than simple bricks for building.

As I watch the children working with Legos, I am always amazed at what they come up with during their free building time. I have seen elaborate scenes where the children use the classic “mini figures” to reenact movie scenes, complete with motorized escapes or a small pile of gears that is easily turned into a self-propelled walking android.

As remarkable as their free build can be, the most interesting part of all is the ongoing conversation between the students while they are building. The classes are appropriately named “Lego Engineering” because that is exactly what they are doing! Through the use of Legos, these students have been taught about structure, torque, speed, lift, and other complex physics principals that I only wish I had learned at such a young age.

I once made the mistake of asking a six year old student how the “rubber band” helped the car to move. With a straight face and a look well beyond his years, the student looked up at me and said, “It is not a rubber band. That is a belt, and it is linking the pulleys in my car. The front pulley is attached to the motor which drives the back pulley attached to the axel. A rubber band is an office supply!” I knew then and there that my houses and castle designs were no longer the extent of what children could do with Legos.

I have heard second graders debate over the way that a car should be geared: “Mesh the smaller gear first so it can be geared for torque.” “No,” another student replied, “we are racing. You need to use the large gear first so you can be geared for speed!”

Just yesterday I walked into class and the kids were in the midst of a team build. They split into different teams and were all responsible for creating a different component of what was to become a boomed crane like we see around the city lifting heavy loads to create buildings. As groups, the students discussed overlapping for structure and gearing to reduce the weight load being lifted.

Over the last year I have come to understand the brilliance of what these small plastic bricks have become. It has spawned birthday parties, cult like followings for the rarest of sets, and theme parks, but above all, it is a creative catalyst and one of the greatest educational tools ever made. Children are able to learn basic physics principles and have a wonderful time while doing so.

On Sunday May 20th the DCJCC will be hosting Camp-A-Palooza. At this event campers will get a chance to meet counselors and experience “a day of camp.” Play Well-Teknologies will be on hand that day and, with the aid of the kids, they will attempt to make a structure that is 30 feet tall!

You might see a plastic brick. They see unlimited potential!

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Parenting Towards Shavuot

by Miriam Szubin, Washington DCJCC Parenting Center Coordinator

Shavuot begins at sundown on May 26.  How do I get my kids excited about it in advance? 

Shavuot, the next major Jewish holiday after Passover (and considered of equal importance in Jewish tradition to its more famous predecessor), often seems like an afterthought.  An informal poll of the students in the Introduction to Judaism  class that I teach at the J revealed that, while all of them had heard of Passover prior to taking the class, none of the non-Jewish students and only a very small fraction of the Jewish students had even heard of Shavuot, let along ever celebrated it in any sort of way. 

And from a parenting perspective, Shavuot can be quite a tough sell.  Passover provides all sorts of fun and meaningful ways to involve children, but Shavuot lacks the intense preparatory requirements, the striking shift in eating habits, the ritual banquet, and the dramatic narrative.  Four weeks after Passover and with just over three weeks to go before Shavuot, my kids are still obsessed with the Ten Plagues and the parting of the Red Sea.  But I have yet to engage them in the stories associated with Shavuot, either the actual receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai (they like the thunder and lightning part but don’t really connect to the rest of it yet) or the story of Ruth and Naomi traditionally read in synagogue on Shavuot.   Furthermore, the main observance associated with Shavuot, the all-night study session known as a tikkun, happens after their bedtime.  And they love blintzes and cheesecake, but no one seems to know exactly why those foods are associated with Shavuot, so it’s not as meaningful an inroad to discussion as say, horseradish or haroset. 

But since feeding my kids seems to be the most effective way to accomplish anything in my house, I decided this year to try to build excitement about Shavuot through the seven types of non-dairy foods traditionally (and more explicably) associated with the holiday.  The Torah describes the Land of Israel as “a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey (Deut. 8:8)” and these seven species were the harvest fruits historically brought to the Temple as sacrifices on Shavuot.  With one quick post-work trip to Whole Foods, I was able to set up a little Shavuot Seven Species tasting menu on a random weeknight (added bonus: I didn’t have to cook anything for dinner that night!).  The kids loved the bread rolls, grapes, figs, olives, and honey sticks; they were iffier on the pomegranate seeds and mushroom barley salad but were good sports about trying them. 

More importantly, they loved the novelty of the evening and seemed to more or less understand the connection to Shavuot.  And they are now looking forward somewhat more eagerly to the actual holiday, when I’ve promised them a reprise of the tasting menu (plus cheesecake!).   

For more ideas about observing Shavuot with your kids, check out these resources from My Jewish Learning: 
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Shavuot/At_Home/For_Kids.shtml

Adam Sandler at the DCJCC! (sort of)

So ever since we wrote this description for our Chanukah Carnival, I’ve had Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song” in my head.

See, this is what I wrote:

Grab your socks and your yarmulke, it’s time to bounce for Chanukah. 

This year’s rockin’ Chanukah party will feature a moon bounce, games, crafts, treats and plenty of fun for the whole family.

Clever, but now it’s stuck.  So in the interest of fairness, I thought it was only right to share his song with you:

Why does this happen?  Apparently, it’s an earworm (I thought I just made that up, but it’s real, from the translation of the German Ohrwurm), and apparently women, musicians and people who are neurotic, tired or stressed are most susceptible.  It hardly seems fair.  I can’t help being female, And if you’re tired or stressed, it just seems cruel to add this.  (I can’t play an instrument, and I like to think I’m no more neurotic than the next person…)

So I suppose I’m stuck with this on my own until Chanukah actually starts on Tuesday, December 20.  For eight nights after that, the rest of the Jewish population can join me.  It’s a good song, no?

And if you want to know what started it all, join us this Sunday morning—yarmulkes not required.

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