Hebrew Through Movement has been energizing Hebrew learning across North American for the last 5 years. With its start in Cleveland, OH over a dozen years ago, HTM brings laughter and smiles to the learning of Hebrew. And, because of its kinesthetic nature, Hebrew is sticking deep in the kishkes of its learners.
While also part of learning in early childhood and day school settings, HTM has gained huge traction in part-time Jewish educational programs. Based on the number of educational programs who enrolled teachers in the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland’s online seminar (over 900), it would be easy to suggest that 9,000 – 15,000 youngsters have been jumping, running and pointing their way to Hebrew learning. [An overview video is here.] Why play the number game? Because it’s informing to consider how many children attending our Jewish summer camps might have a Hebrew background that is different from past generations of campers. It’s an opportune time to consider introduce Hebrew Through Movement at Jewish summer camps, creating a stronger synergy between Hebrew learning in congregational and camp settings!
OVERVIEW OF THE LEARNING MODEL
Hebrew Through Movement is based on the principles of “Total Physical Response” (TPR), developed by Dr. James J. Asher decades ago. TPR is an acquisitional language learning model, meaning that it follows the learning process of babies in their native language – they first hear language and then move their bodies in response (think of a baby who lifts her hands in the air when an adult says “up” right before lifting the child up). With multiple exposure, the young child develops a more sophisticated understanding of vocabulary – “chair” refers to that big soft brown item in the living room, the harder chairs in the dining room, and the highchair in which s/he is fed.
Following the natural flow of a young child’s language learning, there are no expectations for learners to produce language in a Hebrew Through Movement lesson. Rather, the teacher offers commands and the campers react to the language. When learners hear לָקוּם lakum they stand up, and when they hear לָשֶׁבֶת lashevet they sit down. To lower the stress that often accompanies language learning, HTM learners are encouraged to watch and then mimic others, if needed. This creates a very social experience, bringing all into the fun and learning process.
There is no doubt that HTM in Jewish summer camp looks different from a congregational or day school setting. Whereas the ultimate goal of Hebrew Through Movement in most congregations is to open up the Hebrew of rituals, prayers and blessings, summer camp allows for an expanded set of vocabulary like Hebrew names of camp buildings and locations, clothing, utensils used when eating, food, and names of sports.
Hebrew Through Movement takes minimal time – lessons are only 10-15 minutes each, taught with a specific lesson structure that creates success. In part-time Jewish educational settings, HTM is scheduled each time that children are in session, once or twice a week. Camp offers the advantage of daily (or almost daily) Hebrew learning. A two week session, with 10 HTM lessons, would produce as much if not more learning than a part-time program once a week over a semester. Frequent, short learning opportunities, with little or no absences, creates a powerful language learning model.