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.
While Jewish summer camps are ideal Hebrew Through Movement laboratories, they also offer unique implementation challenges. However, these are easily mitigated.
Learning begins with Foundational Units that teach that basic vocabulary that get learners moving, literally. In lessons taught completely in Hebrew campers are introduced to commands: Get up, sit down, stop, run, jump, spin, point to, lift up, etc. So as to fit the short bursts of learning time (10-15 minutes) the Hebrew infinitive is used לָקוּם (lakum; stand up) rather than the command forms directed to one male קוּם (kum), one female קוּמִי (kumi), or a group קוּמוּ (kumu). There simply isn’t enough time to help novice language learners gain all the grammatical nuances.
These infinities are then combined with nouns, for example:
Stand up and jump to the flower.
לָקוּם וּלִקְפּוֹץ אֶל הַפֶּרַח
Run to the dining hall.
לָרוּץ אֶל חֲדַר הָאוֹכֶל
Point to the cereal.
לְהַצְבִּיעַ אֶל כוֹס מַיִם
Lessons begin with a review of past vocabulary. Then, the teacher models the meaning of 3 new words, bringing campers into the movements and thus, the learning. Each lesson ends with an integration of the new learning with previous knowledge.
Campers progress through at least five of the Foundational Units before branching off into thematic vocabulary. The Hebrew Through Movement curriculum guide includes Holiday Units, though other than Shabbat which teaches key vocabulary for ritual objects and blessings, these aren’t appropriate for camp. However, the original written curriculum guide also contains Prayer and Blessing Units which could be used at camp to open up the meaning of t’fillot prayed on a regular basis.
BUT camp offers an environment that almost begs for other vocabulary to be introduced after campers have learned the basic, foundational commands. Camp staff members could choose to introduce in Hebrew
The Jewish Education Center of Cleveland has posted a camp-focused version of Hebrew Through Movement on the homepage of this website; it will be available for free download. Please let us know how HTM works at your camp! Come join the conversation on our Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/194398270732234/ (or search for Hebrew Moves Me!).
This blog will be updated by those supporting Hebrew Through Movement in a variety of ways. It might even be you!