Areivim Hebrew at Camp
Reflections on Starting a New Program: Hebrew Immersion at Day Camp
I do, we do, you do, can do… and so goes the “mantra” for developing, planning and presenting a program that teaches, inspires and excites, even the youngest members of our community. These words are the progress indicators for language learners. In theory, it seems easy, but in reality, faced with a group of ten 3-5 year olds, getting to the “you do” can be challenging. And so began the process of launching Hebrew Immersion at Day Camp.
The preparation for our newest day camp program was two years in the making. It included visits to observe other Hebrew Immersion at Day Camp programs, four inspiring days in Bemidji, MN at Concordia Language Villages and weeks of intensive professional development with a group of program directors from other JCCs. Preparation also included hours of reading about the proficiency approach – the ability to function in Hebrew in real life contexts. Each opportunity was an important step in thinking of how I would move beyond creating a curriculum that is a list of words, to actual communicative exchanges.
Luckily, neurology was on my side. Research tells us that children under 10 who are exposed to the sounds and rhythms of other languages are culturally flexible; they are hard wired to learn languages. The brain is most receptive to language learning before the age of 10. Gladys Lipton, Director of Americans National FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary School) Institute, says that children who start learning a language early automatically get more exposure and that this is ultimately an important factor in achieving high Advanced Placement test scores. The fun of language learning motivates children to want to get more of it.
Fast forward to the first day of camp – the first day of working with two Israeli staff, the first day with the campers and the first day of putting my training and theories in to practice. Good counselors always have a plan “B” and it seemed like we were way past plan “F”. The text message to my mentor in the Hebrew Program went something like “this is so hard.” The response was – “just make sure they are having fun.” My mind was put at ease.
Now, as JCC Chicago’s Apachi Village is well into the 7th week of camp, I see that we have made incredible progress. Campers are spontaneously singing the camp songs and following instructions to line up, clean up, get ready for swimming and to put their backpacks on their back. Most remarkably, they speak Hebrew! They can say what kind of ice cream they like, tell me their names, what they are eating for lunch and answer yes/no and either/or questions. And yes, we are also having tons of fun!
This fall JCC Early Childhood is launching a new program, Hebrew Immersion Enrichment, at ‘Z’ Frank Apachi and Bernard Weinger JCC for 3 and 4 year-olds. This opportunity is available for children currently enrolled in JCC preschool as well as other interested children. More information will be available soon.