Now that the Jewish High Holy Days (Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, etc.) are over, the school year is in full swing in Israel. Happily, our daughter’s first grade teacher, who had been sick with COVID and was absent at the beginning of the school year, is back in the classroom.
To a large extent, we were primarily concerned with the teacher’s absence because we had been counting on her to facilitate our daughter’s transition into elementary and into her first grade class of 30 children, more than 25 of whom had been in school together last year. The teacher had met with the three of us before the start of the school year, as well as with all of the other new families; and we really liked her.
In addition to her being one of the few new kids in her class, our daughter is not a typical child in certain ways. This is something I’ve written about before:
… as an only child, our daughter spends a disproportionate amount of time with me and her mother… has an incredibly vivid and active imagination… seems to often be bored in conversations with other children…-Me, ‘Social skills taught at preschool’, Dec. 24, 2020
One week ago, we visited a family friend with a daughter who had also just started first grade for Shabbat (Saturday) lunch. The girls know each other, and are both very sweet, but they have different strengths and temperaments. Last time we’d gotten together with them for Shabbat (a long time ago), the girls ended up not getting along very well.
This time was better, but primarily because a garrulous, English speaking neighborhood boy eventually stopped by to play. Before he joined them and shifted the social dynamics, my child was clearly expressing boredom with the games and annoyance with her playmate’s loud pounding on the toys. The more articulate older boy was much more interesting. Watching this play out left me worried – how would she manage with her classmates this year?
Then, last week, I took my daughter to a classmate’s birthday party, and I was thrilled to witness an entirely different dynamic. She played with her classmates and fully participated in all of the activities together with them. At one point, she asked what a particular word meant in Hebrew, and the other girls helpfully explained to the adults present that her English was stronger than her Hebrew. (Two years ago, before COVID, I had taken her to a birthday party, only to watch her standing around, detached from the other preschoolers.)
Also, unexpectedly to me, one of the other little girls’ mothers approached me at the party to arrange a play date with her daughter. Apparently, the two had been playing together for the past several days, as their teacher had deliberately rearranged the children’s seats to encourage new friendships. And, then – when I brought her to school the next morning, another girl spied her on the sidewalk and asked to enter into the building with her. In short, everything is, apparently, going swimmingly; and I have no need to worry.
Having discussed this with my wife, it’s clear that there are multiple factors at play, in terms of our daughter’s successful social integration, but we’re convinced that the quality of her school itself is not the least of them. While it isn’t renowned for its academics, the school is extremely unique in Israel in that the student body is split between non-religious (secular) and religious (Orthodox) children. More importantly, most families that send their children to this school are deliberately opting for this community-oriented environment, which transcends social boundaries in Israeli society.
This brings to my mind a memory of somebody telling us last year, after our daughter had been officially accepted to her school, that it is a very special, supportive place where, for example, the school administrators know every single child personally by name. Then, hearing these words from a parent warmed my heart and brought me hope. Now, I know that my hope was completely justified.