Dear Parents,

This week was the Jewish Chag of Tu B'Shvat ~ Rosh Hashana for Plant Life. Why do we celebrate this day?  Not only do we depend on Plant Life for sustenance, but Judaism also strongly correlates the growth of plants to that of humans ~ as the Torah states: "A man is like a tree in the field".  This correlation can offer inspiration for us as educators and parents.  As gardeners, each stage of development asks us to look at children with a different perspective based on their needs.  

  • PLANTING STAGE: A seed is planted perfect, whole The child’s soul is perfect and unblemished. This truth remains unchanged throughout the child’s development. Knowing this, we realize that the child’s behavior (though not always desirable) is not a reflection of the child’s essence.  We address the child’s actions as opposed to the child. We work to enable the child to reach his/her ultimate level of self-fulfillment, revealing their soul to the fullest. Even a small scratch on the seed's surface can cause great damage to the future plant's growth. A child is most vulnerable and sensitive during the early years of development.  Great care is taken to protect and nurture the child.
  • NURTURING STAGE: The seed first disintegrates, preparing itself to receive nourishment (water, sunlight); though no changes can be seen.  There are times when it seems as if the child has reached a plateau,where little or no development is observed - sometimes even regression. The key is to be patient and consistent,for soon enough our efforts will result in improvement.  “Descent for the sake of Ascent” is a normal part of the growing process.
  • SPROUTING STAGEAs the plant begins to sprout, firmly implanted trellises help direct the plant's growth. When not pleased with a child’s behavior, we focus on redirecting the child, rather than moralizing. At a moment of mischief or in the heat of a tantrum, simple, firm statements and/or actions are effective in guiding the child in the right direction. Different plants require different care to grow.  “Educate a child according to his way”. Different children need different things to learn and grow. We cannot be limited to one particular parenting / teaching style or tool.  Knowing the individual child's needs is key. 
  • INDEPENDENT STAGE: As the tree matures, continuous care must be taken to protect it from outside elements.  As the child understands more about the world around them, they are more easily influenced by behaviors and attitudes in their environment.  Even though they are more independent, they still need and want the protection and guidance of the adults in their live. Sometimes, a leaf or branch on the plant may shrivel up.  After pruning and extra nurturing, the plant springs back to life. Sometimes the child goes through a difficult stage and it's easy to feel “all is lost”. Taking some time to gain perspective on what is really going on, and then acting accordingly can help the child back on the right track. The situation is always redeemable.  In time, the work will yield beautiful results.

Ultimately, creating a garden in the hearts and minds of our children is an everlasting mission for each of us.  Together, parents and teachers work to nurture our children and ensure a strong and bright future for each precious "plant".

Shabbat Shalom,

Chani Okonov, Head of School

Table of Contents

  • Preschool Highlights: It All Starts with a Spill: A Look at Fine Motor Development
  • Lower School Highlights: Our Discovery and Challenge STEM Program
  • Middle School Highlights: Middle School Hard at Work
  • Jewish Learning and Literacy: Parsha Inspirations ~ The Purpose of the 10 Commandments
  • Parent Partnership: The Collapse of Parenting: Why It’s Time for Parents to Grow Up
  • Teacher Feature: Spotlight on Morah Mushka, Grade 3

Upcoming Events

  • MPA Family Book Fair and Pajama Party: February 11th
  • Preschool Open House for Prospective Parents: February 12th
  • President's Day Break: February 16th and 19th ~ SCHOOL CLOSED

It All Starts with a Spill: A Look at Fine Motor Development

Recall your reaction when your toddler loads every toy possible into a plastic bin—only to spill it out? And then she starts over. You think she just loves to make a mess.  While this activity may seem dull to you, it takes tons of work on the part of a toddler: integrated muscle movements, concentration, and cognitive reasoning. Your child is mastering fine motor skills! Oh, here is another one... stacking.  What does it take to stack one thing on the top of other?  Your child needs hand and wrist stability to place blocks under control. Large wooden ones are easiest to manipulate. What your child is doing is mastering fine- motor skills, the use of the hands. Just as gross motor skills enable your child to perform important everyday tasks, such as getting out of bed and walking downstairs and upstairs, fine motor abilities allow for increasing independence in smaller but equally significant matters: opening doors, zipping zippers, brushing teeth, washing hands, and so on.

How can we help our children to master these skills?  Give them tools that inspire creativity and stand back! Let them loose, let them struggle even if things are likely to get rather messy. Sandra Schmieg, a pediatric occupational therapist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in the Journal for Parents writes that "preschoolers tend to focus more on process than on product. They throw themselves into exploring the properties and possibilities of materials like paint, mud, sand, water, and glue without worrying about the results. In fact, when your child proudly displays his latest masterpiece, you should try not to ask, "What is it?" That question may have never even occurred to him.  Instead, just say, "Tell me how you did it."  Encourage him to explain to you in his own words how he felt and what he was thinking about while he was making it.

The less control you try to impose on a child's creativity, the better.  One of the milestones of this age is becoming right-handed or left-handed. In fact, handedness is an important sign of increasing brain organization. By age 4, some 90 percent of children have become clearly right-handed, while the rest have become lefties. 

Pay attention to your child. Know that little kids have little patience to sit and copy a drawing of a circle over and over but can be on the playground for hours. The smaller muscles of the body (like those in the hands and fingers) tire out more easily, so endurance and strength must be built up gradually.

There's one more reason why your child's fine motor skills progress more slowly: they are closely linked to cognitive development. In order to build a fort with blocks, for instance, a child must be able to think in a three-dimensional manner. Adding limbs, hair, or facial features to an incomplete picture of a person means that your child is capable of understanding that two-dimensional drawings can symbolize real people. Your child must mentally compare the picture with stored images of what people look like to figure out what's missing from the drawing, and she must be able to manipulate a pencil or crayon well enough to fill in the absent features.

The thought process involved in such acts is far more complicated than that of figuring out how to climb a ladder, chase a ball, or walk out a door. So it's important for you to be patient, encouraging, and supportive of your child's efforts. Whatever she masters today will stand her in good stead once she starts more formal learning in kindergarten and beyond.

Let your child become independent and smart. 

Morah Inna Izman, Early Childhood Director

Highlights from this Week at Little Mazel

Tu B'Shvat Activities, Community Explorations and more

Our Discovery and Challenge STEM Program

Mazel Day School is so very proud of the enrichment program that we have built throughout the past four years. What started as a program solely focused on math acceleration has evolved into a complex, multi-faceted STEM experience that qualified students participate in weekly.

Led by Morah Milana, enrichment program participants engage in deep, thought-provoking projects. Students have to persevere through challenges as they encounter failure and error on their journeys to project completion. Participants seize failure as an opportunity for growth, at times working to collaborate across the grades.

Mazel Day School’s enrichment program provides additional challenges for those students who demonstrate a need for opportunities to further exercise their critical thinking and problem solving skills beyond the rich opportunities provided in their classrooms daily.

Students who participate in the program go through a rigorous selection process. First, students who demonstrate strong, consistent academic merit in all subject areas and, strong character receive a nomination for consideration from their teacher. Then, report cards are reviewed to gather more information about the student. Next, nominated students are invited to take the CogAT (Cognitive Abilities Test), a timed test that assesses verbal, quantitative and non-verbal skills. Students must score in the 95th percentile to be considered. Once in the program, students are required to continue doing well in all subject areas and are responsible to make up any missed classwork.

Our program uses Engineering is Elementary from the Boston Museum of Science curriculum as well as an STEM curriculum from CIJE (Center for Initiative in Jewish Education).  Blending rich resources, Morah Milana’s expertise and the students’ ideas and questions, projects are designed around real world problems that students solve collaboratively. One such project that our students successfully completed centered around the concept of insulation. Students learned the science behind insulation, researched its use in the real world and then created a question designed to solve a real world problem. The end product was a custom built insulated tent that was donated to a homeless person living in a cold climate!

Current participants continue to deeply explore scientific concepts and integrate engineering, technology, math and, art into their learning and experimentation.

We look forward to seeing more amazing things our students create as they journey through the challenges that take their thinking above and beyond expectations!

Sonya Finkel-Levy, Lower School Principal

Building from blueprints

Manipulating circuits in electricity exploration

Working together using trial and error

Lower School Highlights of the Week!

First graders celebrating Tu B' Shvat!

It's Literacy Month! A first grade mommy reading to a group of 1st graders!

Second graders enjoying a book together

Engrossed while practicing math on their tablets

Third graders actively researching as they explore The Oregon Trail - part of 3rd grade social studies curriculum

Second graders learn to write how to pieces and practice following directions as they make Rice Crispies treats!

Morah Rivky sharing the works of Dr. Seuss in preparation for Literacy Month events.

Middle School Hard at Work

A Look at Civil Rights

Students participated in a travelling debate while arguing over the best form of creating change, looking at the philosophies and beliefs of Martin L. King vs Malcolm X.

Language Arts

Seventh graders have been exploring The Giver by Lois Lowry.  On a "one pager" students had to cover theme, characterization, mood, main idea, conflict and symbolism using direct textual evidence.  Student work presented rich text reflections written carefully and with great depth accompanied by relevant illustrations.

Tu B'Shvat

Students celebrated Tu B'Shvat while enjoying the fruits of Israel: pomegranate, figs, olives, dates, etc.. Rabbi Jelen gave an inspiring presentation to deepen the understanding and experience of this very special and beautiful holiday.  Students shared fun facts and deeper meanings of each of the 7 fruits of Israel that they had researched in advance.

5th and 7th graders pictured focused on Tu B'Shvat events

Rabbi Jelen captivates his audience

Appreciating the gifts of the tree

The Purpose of the Commandments

Excerpted from the "Parsha Family Guide" attached.  Click the link to read more...

The Ten Commandments are in many ways the highlight of the entire Torah. But the Midrash makes a surprising statement: it says that the first word of the Ten Commandments is in the Egyptian language. What does this mean? The Ten Commandments are the summary of the entire Torah. They were heard from G-d by the entire Jewish people. The first Command, "I am G-d, your G-d, who took you out of the Land of Egypt" is the basic statement of our special relationship with the Infinite. The first word, Anokhi, means, "I am." G-d is speaking of Himself, and communicating with us. The Midrash is intriguing. It says this first word Anokhi is Egyptian, because G-d wanted to speak with us in the language we had learnt while we were in Egypt. This tells us something about the nature of Torah and of being a Jew. G-d does not want to relate to us only on the sacred, spiritual level of our lives, represented by Hebrew, the holy language. He wants to reach the earthly "Egyptian" dimension as well. We should not try to pretend that we do not have this lower aspect. Rather, we should try to control it, then elevate it and ultimately transform it into something holy. G-d helps us in this task: there are Jewish teachings about every aspect of life, including the most basic. The mitzvot (commandments) connect us to G-d on every level of our being. For this reason Anokhi, the first word of the Ten Commandments, is in Egyptian: it reaches down to the "Egyptian" person inside us and transforms him or her into a Jew.

The Sages tell us that every Jewish soul ever to be born was present at the giving of the Torah. This includes every single person who would ever become a true proselyte to Judaism. It was a moment of meeting of the entire Jewish people together, and a meeting of the Jewish people with G-d. The recognition of G-d which was experienced at Sinai remains in the heart of every Jew, & is the spark of his or her Jewish identity. 


The Collapse of Parenting: Why It’s Time for Parents to Grow Up

For modern families, the adage “food is love” might well be more true put another way: food is power. Not long ago, Dr. Leonard Sax was at a restaurant and overheard a father say to his daughter, “Honey, could you please do me a favour? Could you please just try one bite of your green peas?” To many people, this would have sounded like decent or maybe even sophisticated parenting—gentle coaxing formed as a question to get the child to co-operate without threatening her autonomy or creating a scene.

To Sax, a Pennsylvania family physician and psychologist famous for writing about children’s development, the situation epitomized something much worse: the recent collapse of parenting, which he says is at least partly to blame for kids becoming overweight, over-medicated, anxious and disrespectful of themselves and those around them.

The restaurant scene is a prime example of how all too often adults defer to kids because they have relinquished parental authority and lost confidence in themselves. They’re motivated by a desire to raise their children thoughtfully and respectfully. In theory, their intentions are good and their efforts impressive—moms and dads today are trying to build up their kids by giving them influence; they also want to please them and avoid conflict. In reality, parents are at risk of losing primacy over their children.


This week's Spotlight: Morah Mushka

This week, we proudly share an interview with Morah Mushka Zalmanov, our  3A Third Grade Hebrew-Judaic Studies Teacher 


BIO: I grew up in a suburb of Paris, France. I then studied in Israel and Vienna, Austria where I graduated with an international Bachelor’s in Education. I also received my BA in Hebrew language and history at the University of Lille, France. I have since been teaching for 10 years and it’s my 5th year in Mazel!

I became a teacher because…  Both sets of my grandparents immigrated from Russia and, after the hard years of the war, had one similar goal: to dedicate their lives for Jewish education. My paternal grandparents moved  to Tunisia in order to open a Jewish school and help guide Jewish children there. My maternal grandparents were also heads of a Jewish school in Yerres, France.  My parents followed the path of their parents and it’s only when I myself started teaching that I realized how much it means to me to have the privilege to influence the lives of Jewish children in a positive way. 

I love teaching the subjects that I do because…  For me it’s such a privilege to be able to transmit the values of Judaism and instill the love for Judaism to our children. They are eager to learn more about their Jewish heritage and feel an extra meaning and connection when we learn about Jewish history and holidays . The children are learning the tools and foundations for reading Torah texts and the practice of Mitzvot which is something that will remain with them for the rest of their lives!  It is so special for me to give the children of the next generation the tools to be able to follow the path of our forefathers.

My vision for our children is…  Every one is capable and it is never too late to change for the good; it all depends on our will. We are all different and the most important thing is that each child progresses at their own level.  It is the hard work and effort that counts. We are learning new things every day and each day we are a better person than the day before.

I joined Mazel because… Mazel Day School strives to meet the needs of each individual child. I’m also proud of our Mazel students who are tri-lingual!

My most favorite memory from being a student is…  As a student, I was very lively and curious and I really liked enthusiastic teachers. I try to model my teachers' image and communicate the values ​​of Judaism in a warm and enthusiastic atmosphere.

The difficult part of teaching is… making sure than every single student is involved and happy throughout the entire day without having things get in their way.

If I could teach my students only thing, it would be... to know that it is all in the hands of Jewish children. They are the future. They have the power the transform the world with their good deeds.

A trick I use in the classroom is... to have the students involved in every part of the lesson, and making sure to notice and encourage every little effort.

Outside of school I like to... spend time with my family and traveling.

Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat Candle Lighting Time: 4:57 PM

Shabbat Ends: 5:59 PM

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Mazel Day School

2901 Brighton 6th Street

60 West End Avenue