This question has been raised by several people and it is a really good question. When our committee sat down to work on the new siddur Mishkan T’filah for Children we asked ourselves (as good educators do) “What are our goals for this siddur?” As we explored that question through many discussions we came to the conclusion that we would, in fact, need two siddurim. That one siddur for grades K-5 would not work well. The reason is something which we have learned from the Early Childhood Education world. The following is from the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children).
“Developmentally appropriate practice, often shortened to DAP, is an approach to teaching grounded in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education. Its framework is designed to promote young children’s optimal learning and development. DAP involves teachers meeting young children where they are (by stage of development), both as individuals and as part of a group; and helping each child meet challenging and achievable learning goals.”
DAP does not just apply to early childhood education, but to all education. Simply put, we need to understand where children are developmentally and meet them there if we are going to be successful in engaging and educating them. This applies to their intellectual, social and SPIRITUAL development. If you spend time with a 6 year old and then spend time with a 10 year old it does not take long to see that they are in very different places developmentally. A six year old will be a much more concrete learner while the ten year old is starting to think critically and will ask questions like “Which came first, Adam and Eve or the dinosaurs?”
The amazing committee of rabbis who worked on this siddur quickly came to the conclusion that one siddur would not work for all ages. Different developmental needs needed to be met by creating two different books. The book for the younger children, which Michelle Shapiro Abraham did an incredible job creating will reach our youngest children at a level they can understand and connect to. The book for the older children will have more Hebrew, English readings at a different level and questions which will engage our older thinkers. The goal was the same for both – to engage children and families in prayer and encourage their spiritual growth.
Rabbi Paula Feldstein serves Temple Avodat Sholom in River Edge, NJ