Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I volunteer on Kibbutz Yechiam - אני מיתנדבת בקיבוץ יחיעם

Almost a month after getting to Yechiam, we started volunteering. Oranim encourages its participants to volunteer in the local high school tutoring students in English. I was looking forward to working out in the fields, but this proved not to be an option due to my gender. So, I compromised and ended up volunteering in the kindergarten on the kibbutz.
The gan yeladim (literally, children garden) are split up by age on the kibbutz. I was placed in Gan Zamir (Zamir means nightingale) with the 5 to 6-year-olds. A typical day in the gan is mostly filled with preparing food, washing dishes and watching the kids play outside; sometimes I get to color too. On days that aren't too hot we go on mini field trips around the kibbutz for a picnic or to pick fruit from the trees to eat.

Two years ago I worked for a company that used fitness education as a medium for effecting positive behavioral change in children aged 3-6. That experience brought me into a handful of different pre-schools in central New Jersey and taught me a very specific philosophy in children's behavior management that I believe is very effective. There are a lot of differences between pre-schools in the U.S. and the ganim on the kibbutz. This is clear in the educational philosophy and the actual facility. In the U.S. the pre-schools have a hospital-like sanitary feelings to them with lots of bright colors on all the walls. All the classes are in one building but separated into different classrooms. Basically, they are just what they are called, pre-schools, school before school.
Here on the kibbutz, the buildings that are used for the ganim were converted from their original function as children houses, where all the kids on the kibbutz lived until it was time for them to live at high school or go to the army. So now, each gan has their own building which has a large central play area, one classroom, bathroom (including a shower and changing area) and a kitchen. The playground more closely resembles a trash yard than the hurt-proof rubber pits that are popular state-side.I really like the idea of re-using old items instead of throwing them away and I think this is a much simpler and effective way to use recycled products than how its done in the U.S. but I have to draw the line at a "giraffe" made from rusted metal frame work.
The most substantial difference between kindergarten here and at home is the educational philosophy. As it has been explained to me, the idea here is kids are going to be in school for a long time and they have all that time to spend learning, so until then they should have as much fun and play time as possible. The kids get one formal lesson a day which includes anything from hearing a story read to them to learning how Brazilians say hello, thank you and goodnight. The lesson, called a mifgash which means meeting, lasts about a half hour right before breakfast. The rest of the day is spent playing or working on art projects. I'm not sure how art class is organized in American pre-schools anymore but compared to what I remember from when I was in pre-school, the whole class does a project at the same time, together. Here, the thought is that all children have different strengths and the child should choose to spend his time doing what he/she enjoys the most. On one hand, I like this idea because it gives each kid extra time in an area that they enjoy allowing them to develop those skills. On the other hand, I think it encourages children to give up in areas where they aren't naturally inclined, instead of teaching patience and perseverance. Because there is very limited organized time led by the teachers and the children are left to choose their own activities, kids miss out on areas that they initially find uninteresting or difficult.

In terms of discipline, considering my aforementioned background, it almost seems like there is none here. This statement should be taken with a grain of salt though, as I can't understand most of what is being said in Hebrew. I only understand that the children are being disciplined if they do something heinous enough to be yelled at and removed from the group. Perhaps what is most frustrating for me, is that despite my training in behavior management, I can't use any of it without the ability to speak Hebrew conversationally. My discipline of the children is limited to saying "Enough! That isn't nice!" or just "Be quiet." Although, about 2 weeks ago I found out one of the kids doesn't speak English but can understand it, which made communicating with him a lot easier.
In the end, I don't think it matters much, as kids will find a way to beat the crap out of each other if they really want to:

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