Teaching Kids Social Skills in an Age of Technology by a Long Island Mom

In an age when we teach our children using smart boards in the classroom and much of their communication is through texting, it is clear that many of today’s children are lacking certain basic skills of human interaction. It is very easy for the world to seem “virtual.”  How can we teach our children to look outside themselves and care about others?

My sons have definitely been impacted by the lessons learned through community outreach initiatives at HANC (Hebrew Academy of Nassau County) Plainview Elementary School, which believes in teaching the whole child, including developing social abilities, community awareness, and caring for others. HANC’s Community Outreach Program takes the Jewish value of chessed (kindness, helping others) and lets children put it into action.

During one of the food drives, my sons came home from school and even before saying “Hello,” they asked, “Can we go to Shoprite to buy stuff for the people who don’t have enough food?”

HANCTo help our children develop sensitivity toward others, residents of the Atria, a local assisted living facility, are regularly invited into our school. These residents, Jewish or non-Jewish, have come for succah visits (A succah is a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Succot.), hamantashen-baking and model Seders, watched plays performed by our drama club, and have read to our kindergarteners.

It is clear from the smiles on their faces that our students and their elderly guests enjoy and benefit from these interactions. This is how a coordinated effort between the school, parents, students, and staff of the Atria can make events like these possible.

Other aspects of our community outreach program include having students prepare and deliver baskets of food and drink in honor of the holiday of Purim to our local police station, fire station, and to the homes that are adjacent to the school. The student council also runs a toy drive for sick children and a canned food drive for a local food pantry.

The outreach program has also given the school the opportunity to teach the older students how to mentor the younger ones. It is heartwarming to watch the sixth graders treat first- or third-graders with respect and tenderness, and it is beautiful to see all the children take ownership of the community programs and learn that they can make a real difference in the world. These are the values that my parents modeled for me and that are so important to me to transmit to my children.  These are the core values of Jewish tradition and they are essential for helping our children develop altruistic values.

Shani Kaufman is currently Co-President of the Parent-Teacher Association at HANC Plainview.  She lives in Plainview with her husband David and their four children, Eliana, Michal, Samuel, and Yishai.  Shani is a participant in Parent To Parent, a Jewish Education Project initiative that empowers day school parents to share their experiences and personal reflections via online blogs.
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