A meaningful Tefillah education program ensures that our students are taught to connect to the depth and beauty of Tefillah. At each grade level, individual Tefillot are introduced and become the building blocks of a full prayer experience. Teachers engage students in age-appropriate discussion of why we pray, to whom, how, and what our prayers mean. This pushes students beyond mere recitation or translation to build a meaningful connection to Hashem and the traditions of tefilla. From an early age, students are taught halachot of Tefillah, and what it means to be a part of a tzibbur, a community of prayer.
First graders begin the year talking about Tefillah as they practice the songs and tefillot they learned in Early Childhood. Each part of Tefillah is explained with a focus on making meaning. Students begin to appreciate that tefillot are not merely songs, but are part of their relationship to Hashem. In first grade, as children learn to read Hebrew, they make the transition from praying ba’al peh (by heart) to reading from the siddur. Students learn how to navigate the siddur and follow along in the text during Tefilla. This transition is celebrated during our Chagigat HaSiddur, a landmark occasion in which children receive their first siddur.
By second grade, students’ reading skills are improving rapidly. They use the siddur each day to improve reading fluency, accuracy, and word recognition through applying the skill of identifying root words (shorashim), prefixes and suffixes. Students expand their daily Tefillah to include key prayers such as Ashrei, Yishtabach, and Aleinu. Students take turns leading the class in Tefillah as chazan or chazzanit. Second graders place particular emphasis on the recitation of Shema, learning how to pronounce each word properly, following along inside the siddur word by word and reciting the accurate cantillation notes.
Creating meaning is emphasized alongside textual skills. Students are taught that Tefillah is the service of the heart (Avodah Shebalev). Throughout Tefillah, students are taught to connect the essence of each Tefilla to their own lives and the world around them. We begin to utilize the Ani Tefilla Curriculum, which is designed to instill a love for Hashem and understanding of the deeper meaning of tefillot.
Third grade Tefillah builds on the routines and norms established in first and second grade. Students continue to use the siddur to incorporate tefilla as a daily practice. The third grade focus is on the Amidah, or Shemoneh Esreh. Students learn the meaning and proper recitation of each blessing. We cultivate an understanding that Tefillah is a conversation between us and Hashem through which we develop our relationship as individuals and as a community. We talk about praying for ourselves and for others.
In fourth grade, students take increasing responsibility for their Tefillah. Teachers tell inspirational stories and provide chizuk (encouragement) so that the impetus for Tefillah becomes internalized. Enthusiasm and active participation are cultivated as students begin to see their b’nei mitzvah over the horizon. Textually, classes focus on the morning blessings and the blessings before saying Shema. Students are introduced to more of the physical dynamics of tefilla (when to stand, sit, and bow) as well as various halachot related to Tefillah. Particular emphasis is placed on the finer points of the Shemoneh Esrei, with the goal of students being able to independently recite it in its entirety on a daily basis.