Because of overscheduling and reliance on electronic devices, youngsters are losing their sense of imagination and play, according to Cindy Terebush, a leading educator.
“I’ve had two-year-olds who have asked me to Google something,” said Terebush, who has worked with young children for more than 20 years and is the author of Strategies for Nurturing Developing Minds. Being so compulsively “plugged in,” she said, seems to have led small children to lose their sense of imagination and play.
“Children have a right to have a childhood,” she said.
Terebush was the keynote speaker at a November 8 conference at Shalom Torah Academy in Morganville. More than 90 early childhood educators from area synagogues and day schools spent morning and afternoon workshops learning new strategies for teaching, including varied techniques of play, using art to foster curiosity, and incorporating yoga and meditation into the classroom. The conference was sponsored by the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey.
Keith Krivitzky, CEO of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, told the participants the conference was important to “secure the Jewish future” by developing connections with the younger generation.
Making these connections seems more difficult today, given the rapidly changing technological landscape and increasing pressure on academics. Terebish told the gathering that she has seen third-graders burst into tears because they are so upset and anxious about tests. She said that children are now so “overbooked” and stressed out that they often may suffer from depression.
“It’s a travesty that we ask them to sit in kindergarten as long as we do, like they were adults. They are so scheduled,” she said, that they tell her “‘I have to do this. I have to do that.’”
When Terebush was growing up in the Bronx, children learned socialization on their own by going out and interacting with others. Today, she said, even small children are likely to interact more with computers and video games than with other youngsters.
“You never see kids playing in the front yard anymore,” she said. “They are too busy for exploration.”
To lighten this enormous burden, Terebush suggested preschool teachers not schedule children for every task, but let them follow their curiosity and be given the opportunity to fail.
“‘Playing’ to a child means having a good time — and you can have good time learning,” said Terebush. “We’ve separated that: Learning happens here, but fun happens out there.”
She said it is crucial that teachers help children to become critical decision-makers because “people can’t discern fact from fiction anymore. People look at social media and they can’t decide whether something’s a scam, so they just repost it.”
For Jewish educators, the aim of transmitting a sense of belonging to the Jewish community should be paramount.
Children, she said, “may tell you they don’t want anything to do with the Jewish community, but when they’re in college they turn to the Jewish community because that’s what they know.”
Debi Chozik, a teacher at the Gan Yeladim Early Childhood center at Congregation B’nai Israel in Rumson, said she attended the conference to share strategies with other Jewish education professionals and learn new techniques, as well as to meet her own children’s former teachers.
At the conference, Rachelle Tibor, an educator at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick, said she “learned a lot about what is changing in the classroom…and about using imagination and play and working with children to develop skills.
“It got me thinking.”