The current research focuses on the efficacy of Jewish children's stories, through the use of storytelling as a means to impacting the young child's moral development. The article opens with a study about the dynamic role of stories and their ability to engage children in a meaningful study of moral questions that they confront. The following section will consider selected children's stories from PJ Library and Sifriyat Pijama actively promoting moral development in sophisticated and age appropriate ways. Following this analysis, I will propose a table of learning that provides adult storytellers with guidelines on how to engage children in moral conversations about relevant issues that surface from the stories.
Some of the underlying questions include:
- How do certain stories stimulate conversations about moral dilemmas that are relevant for the child's world?
- What is the nature of the “bridge” between the world of the text, storyteller, and the young child that stimulates meaningful moral discussions?
- What types of Jewish children's stories trigger meaningful conversations about moral issues?
- How can parents exploit the potential moral impact of stories as a means to engage children in a joint exploration of moral issues that addresses Jewish ideas, values, and behaviors?
In attempting to demonstrate the potential impact of Jewish stories on children's moral development I refer to two pioneering projects under the aegis of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. PJ Library is a flagship family education program that was established in 2005, and has impacted Jewish children and their families in a variety of different ways—including a readiness to read Jewish books, increased levels of Jewish holiday celebration, connection to their Jewish heritage, and closer ties to the Jewish community (Berman Center, 2010). PJ Library books are being read by more than 70,000 children and their parents in Jewish communities across North America, and one of its celebrated outcomes is an ability to spur family conversations that are replete with Jewish content (Berman Center, 2010). Sifriyat Pijama, an Israeli version of PJ Library, was launched in 2009 and currently distributes Hebrew books to 200,000 preschoolers across the country. In partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Education, Sifriyat Pijama enables teachers to introduce a new book each month to their classes. In turn, each student receives the book to take home to read with his or her parents. In order to exploit the educational opportunity at hand, the Israeli Ministry of Education offers participating teachers a series of professional development training. Teachers learn to use the books as a means of enhancing literacy and engaging families in an ongoing family learning experience.
In conclusion, this article has highlighted the potential power of stories to shape and impact young children's moral development. At the same time, the storying experience can only realize its full potential if this exercise is an active one for children as well as their parents. In that sense parents must partner with children in an interpretive activity that treats the story as an opportunity to stimulate thought, ignite the imaginative process, and encourage reflection on the meaning of moral decisions for one's life. Under these conditions, story sharing will promote moral development and thereby fill a critical role in Jewish early childhood education.