By Keith Lee, Associate Pastor
Israel is known as the “Startup Nation” – the country with the highest number of startups per capita in the world! Over the years, Israeli startups have given rise to innovations in a range of fields, from agricultural irrigation and GPS navigation to life-saving cancer treatments. World class technology companies, such as Samsung, Intel, IBM, Google, Amazon just to name a few, have research and development facilities located in Israel due to access to creative and innovative tech savvy human resources. There are many factors for its innovative tech culture. In trying to identify these factors, some educators point out Israel’s creative approach to education as one contributor.
When I was able to observe its preschool system while I was staying in Jerusalem, the most prominent feature was a free play approach to education. In the early educational stage, it seems to have no formal curriculum and structured learning; mostly, children played outside and engaged in various art activities. For parents who are not Israelis, they think this approach is frivolous and undisciplined. Their main complaint was “In Israeli gans (Hebrew for preschool and kindergarten), all they do is play?!”
When I was looking for one for my daughter, I visited a preschool. After observing I thought to myself, “Why should I pay for this when I could just gather neighbors’ kids and play at the local playground?” But I was curious, so I asked one of the administrators, “I was told that playing was one of the main features of the Israeli education system. Can you explain the reason for this?” She corrected me and said, “We engage in creative play, not random play. The first verb in the Bible is the word “created” and we believe it is one of the most important principles of education.”
That surprised me in two ways. First, Israelis are mostly secular. Only twenty percent of the population practiced religion. In fact, many non-religious Israelis have a disdain for those who do. Therefore, when an administrator at this secular preschool quotes the Bible as a guiding principle, I was pleasantly taken back. Second, I read that passage multiple times and never thought of it in this manner. But after hearing her, it made perfect sense. The first act of God was to create. Furthermore, we are made in God’s image, so we should act to emulate our creator. Of course!
I recall all this because I would like to incorporate more play, specifically creative play and learning in our children and youth education. I love formal learning because that’s all I know. But playing games and creative approaches in teaching bring greater attentiveness and interaction. If you have creative approaches you would like to implement please let me know!