Biographies – Teaching History to Third Graders

I hope to write a complete, well documented post about how and why I present the biography of a great Torah leader to the class. Until I have the chance to research and write the post, I’d like to mention how transformative teaching about gedolim to young children can be.

Every week, we read a biography of a gadol that I have written and edited. Most of the information, I am sad to say, is from wikipedia or other online sources but you use the tools you have to do what you can.

Gedolim time provides an opportunity to teach character building in a holistic way. I pick stories for their moral value. I knew that. It gives students a sense of their heritage. I expected that. But there is another side benefit. It has given me an opportunity to  present important events in Jewish history to my students in an non threatening way. For third graders, Jewish history skips from  the destruction of the Second Bais HaMikdash to the Holocaust. Teaching them about Rashi, the Ramban, up until Rav Moshe, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel has allowed me to introduce them to the time period of the Crusades, Communists, and even debilitating illness in a way that young kids can absorb without being overwhelmed. How do you explain the massacres of the Crusades? or the pogroms in Russia? But they can learn about how Rashi reacted to the Crusades, how the Ramban reacted to fleeing from his debates, etc.

Each week, I distribute a new gadol. The students put the new biography in their binder in the right chronological order. This helps them understand who lived before whom and what major events were happening in different locations. I draw a map on the board of Europe, Asia, and North Africa.

The kids love this story time and they now know a lot more about their heritage, geography, and Jewish history  than they realize