The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

Parenting with Heart and Soul: Swimming Lessons

Posted in soulfish by Juliet on June 25, 2010

Are Jews really required to teach our kids to swim?

And if so, why? Of all the things to specifically point out for parents to teach kids, why that one?

The Talmud (collected wisdom of the rabbis) does say parents are obligated to teach their children:

  • Torah (first five books of the “Old Testament”)
  • how to earn a living
  • how to swim

Why single out swimming?

Taking it literally, the answer is “so they won’t drown.”  Every person should know how to swim so he can navigate water safely, for himself, without fear and without danger.

But the obligation doesn’t end there.  Take it metaphorically.  We are obligated to give our kids the skills they need to keep afloat through all of life’s challenges.  We don’t want them to drown:  in unhappiness, uncertainty, debt, ignorance, or helplessness.

The Talmud doesn’t say:  “Carry your child safely in your arms through water.”

It says:  TEACH him.  Teach him to do it for himself.  Our ancient sages knew this is the only way to create self-sufficient, confident, capable citizens.

It also doesn’t say:  “Throw your child in the water and through his terrified struggles he’ll learn on his own.”

We are obligated to TEACH him.  The Talmud assumes a reciprocal relationship of student-child and teacher-parent.   The parent can hire a teacher, of course, but it is the parent’s obligation to lead by example, and to make sure the child is enrolled, shows up, participates, and ultimately learns.

Finally, the Talmud does not say “Learn to swim for your child.”

The lesson to be learned is the child’s own property.  It is his reward.  My sister is an elementary school teacher and we had a heated debate recently about homework.  I respect her perspective as a teacher but we agree to disagree about how much involvement parents should have. Her position is that parents should be very hands-on and do the work alongside their kids, supervising. They should correct the work and go over missed problems, teaching (or re-teaching) the correct method to their kids if problems are incorrect.

I, on the other hand, don’t even like to be asked to sign off on homework. I feel that kids should learn their coursework from their teachers, and reinforce the day’s lessons through homework.  Homework should enhance what they’ve already learned.  The main lesson of homework is the responsibility to do work autonomously. I’m not in third grade; my child is. I’ve already learned my times tables. The homework, then, is for her, and she should know the material already. The main point of the work is to reinforce the day’s lessons and to teach responsibility. Did the paper make it home? Did the child bring the correct assignment? Did she follow instructions? Did the completed paper make it back into her folder and did the folder make it back into her backpack, and did that backpack make it back to school the next day?

Teaching my children to navigate the waters of a complicated world is my swimming lessons to them.

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  1. […] immodest conditions such as when they are wearing bathing suits. Judiasm also places a premium on teaching children to swim, so you can see the conundrum and how logical it becomes to have gender-segregated […]


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