These days, a thirst for knowledge and to have fun while developing the skills needed for the fast paced lives that lie ahead lead kids to choose extra-murals that will develop them for life. We looked at a few…
By Chandrea Serebro
The way the world is going, one of the best skills you can give your kids is for them to be well versed in technology. And this starts with coding, the fundamentals of the high tech world. Torah Academy offers coding through Kids Coding Academy as an extra mural from Nursery school up until Senior Primary. “For children all over the world, learning to code will soon become as important as ABCs and 123s,” says Ashleigh Rielly of Kids Coding Academy, who aims to equip children with the skills they need to adapt to an ever-changing world, and help the next generation realise their full creative potential in a world of rapidly increasing technological progress.
“Large chunks of the 40-minute session are spent engaging with educational robots and solving puzzles that steer the learner into the direction of thinking like a coder. The content also focuses on teaching computer commands, sequences, loops, debugging, functions, algorithms, conditional statements, logical operators, and variables.” Sounds like Greek to us, but for kids it is the language of the future. “Coding nurtures creative expression, demystifies technology, teaches problem-solving and persistence, develops communication skills and resilience, as well as being a valuable tool in abstract thinking. The children are taught these skills through engaging and age-appropriate lessons and have the opportunity to progress through more challenging stages of the programme. This allows them to develop the ability to apply what they have learned and integrate their skills – something which is essential in our ever-changing and competitive global environment.”
And yet it does so much more than just focus on the high tech skill. Coding develops STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) and also can prepare students for their educational journey into these fields of further studies. “Torah Academy academic heads and staff are passionate about keeping up to date with the latest trends and research in education. We are constantly striving to evolve and upgrade our curriculum as well as extra-curricular activities to allow for the optimal holistic development of our learners. Although coding already forms part of our computers curriculum, we hope to give learners who have an interest in this field an opportunity to further their knowledge and skills in a recreational manner,” says Marissa Koffler of Torah Academy.
Shaarei Torah looked at the real world and recognised how busy both school children and their mothers are, and, with homework being an added strain on time and energy levels, tried to find a way to build an extra-curricular option that would not only help both the kids and their parents, but also let them do it in a more relaxed, fun manner. “We felt, in theory, that an extra mural of homework club would be a win/win/win for all – the mothers, the school girls, and for the Bais Yaakov girls who so kindly offer an afternoon a week to mentor the girls while helping them with their extra work,” says Lieba Moffson of Shaarei Torah. “Assisting our mothers, who have to fit homework for all their primary school children into their very busy schedules, is no small task. We respect their domestic commitments and time obligations, but feel that homework is essential for educational purposes and for purposes of developing a healthy work ethic.”
Now, with homework being taken care of twice a week at school, the mothers can be freed of that responsibility. And, for the students, it is a fun and social experience that makes homework that much more enjoyable. “Sitting in a classroom with other girls their age and with wonderful Bais Yaakov girls, they eagerly do their work. They work both in pairs and individually and access the help of the older girls. They can leave the school campus homework-free and are able to do all the other fun things without the worry of homework on those days.” And it is so beneficial to the girls who tutor the younger kids as well.
“We are proud of our sister school (Bais Yaakov) and feel confident that not only can the primary girls learn academia from our high school girls, but the high school girls play an important role as excellent role models with whom younger students can connect and learn from. “The older girls are required to do a chesed-a-week and they were happy to volunteer for this. It’s a nice choice and those who come, love it. In fact, they use their creativity to think of games for the girls that review their work and when the school work is finished, they play other games with the Shaarei Torah girls.” This makes for a fun, informal, but necessary extra-mural that is taking care of homework while the girls learn, interact, engage, and have fun all at the same time.
For those of you who think that the Hirsch Lyons Primary School Golf Club has them on the putting green practicing their swing, think again. Gold Club, which stands for Growing Our Learning Forever, is Hirsch Lyons’ extramural that took Torah, a fundamental of the school, and made it interactive, fun, and so much more relevant. “Each term we explore a new Torah concept or theme once a week for an hour and try and discuss it using many different mediums. We may go on an outing or play a game one week, and watch videos and have discussions another week,” says Ronit Hirschowitz of Hirsch Lyons, in order to teach the kids the principles of the week’s theme in-depth, but in a relaxed, informal, giving way.
And it helps the kids achieve what they want to do without the pressure of the classroom, but with the same goals. “There is only so much time that you have in the school day to get through the Torah syllabus. We felt that if we could choose a theme that would be relevant to the learners and really explore it deeply while breaking free from the constraints of the classroom, tackling the theme from many different angles and actually putting the Torah laws around the theme into action, we could make it real, enjoyable, and fun for the kids while teaching them so much about Torah and its laws.”
Golf Club is a voluntary extra-mural and appeals to those who may not be as sporty as others, but also those who feel that learning is important and want more opportunity to grow, irrespective of their other interests. “The skills and benefits they gain are invaluable. For example, when we did our Chesed term they learned how to knit and made squares for blankets which we sewed together and donated to a charity. We also then collected toys and clothes and went to visit an orphanage. This gave them an appreciation for all that they have and not to take family and their possessions for granted.” By living the Torah learning that they do this way, says Ronit, the kids gain an appreciation for things outside of themselves. “They learn that they have communal responsibility.” Golf Club is offered to grades 3-6 and Hirsch Lyons welcomes any children from any of the day schools to get involved and make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.
The King David High School Linksfield Makerspace is the hub for experiential learning in the school, to provide the tools to allow students to problem solve and produce prototypes as solutions to those problems. The Makerspace has been brought to life by the innovation electives, which aim to give students the basic skills to use the tools housed there, as well as teaching a process to follow to foster innovation. The tools in Makerspace include 3D printers, a laser cutter, sewing machines, wood working tools, robotics kits, and various craft materials. In Makerspace, learners get the opportunity to choose from one of many options which offer them skill sets that will give them the tools to delve into any one of their creative and technical heart’s desires while gaining so much of what they will need going forward both in the chosen field and for navigating life.
They can choose the basics of sewing, knitting, weaving, and electronics; to learn using programmable Lego sets to explore basic mechanics, robotics, and programming; sugar craft as a medium to explore puppetry and animation; and Scratch programming to bring creations to life; website design (HTML), app, and game creation and more advanced robotics; the basics of film centring around the hero’s journey, where they create and edit movie trailers which follow this theme, and then create movie posters to promote their trailer, before the final viewing at their own mini film festival; design concepts, where they will learn how to create 3D models on CAD software and print their designs on the 3D printer. In addition, they learn the basics of woodwork, create designs for laser cutting, and gain experience using the laser cutter.
The Makerspace Club then provides learners with the opportunity to experiment and explore more freely through a series of workshops furthering these skills. “The Makerspace Club is our main extra mural offering and the students in the Makerspace determine which additional workshops need to be offered depending on the projects that they have on the go or the skills they decide they need for their next product,” says Heidi Morgan of KDHL. “It remains a goal to offer workshops hosted by members of our greater school community to provide access to skills we don’t have in-house,” says Heidi, keeping the Makerspace offering on the pulse, fresh, and innovative.
“Makerspace offers a safe space to fail and learn from your mistakes. Failure is seen as just another part of the process. Students are excited by the opportunity to explore and express their ideas, and deal with problem solving in a hands-on manner to create prototypes.”
Sandton Sinai recognised the need of its students for soccer, the much-loved sport and pastime of many of its students, to be offered by the school as an extra-mural, but because of the size of the school they just did not have the numbers needed to do so. So, they looked at how they could problem solve this as well as find a way to make it an endeavour that would offer the kids meaning through the sporting activity, and developed an initiative that would foster positive social interaction with kids from different backgrounds and communities as well as get the kids’ legs moving.
“Sandton Sinai Primary School have partnered with Iphuteng Primary School in Alexander in a remarkable initiative of social cohesion,” says Lara Salkinder of Sandton Sinai. This project sees the two schools offering soccer as an extra-mural to their learners on the premises of Sandton Sinai, forming one team called the Sandton Strikers. “We believe that sportsmanship is critical in the development of a child’s self-esteem. Winning and losing require integrity of character both on and off the field, which is why sports is such an important activity to help kids develop these attributes. And the correct coaching and skills development are crucial to the success of this venture. We have had the privilege of being able to improve our soccer facilities and purchase the necessary equipment required to bring this initiative to fruition, and we have head-hunted professional coaches to mentor the team,” says Lara.
Children from Iphuteng Primary School will be transported by bus to and from practices at Sandton Sinai and match games. The programme will give the kids an opportunity to learn tolerance and acceptance as they collaborate collectively as a team at the same time as developing their innate sporting skills under the mentorship of Mike and Strike – renowned soccer coaches who are players both in the local and international soccer arena. The first truly Jewish South African soccer team is set to blaze its way across the field and the participants already love it.
Choir/Marimba is a much loved extra mural at King David Victory Park Primary School because it not only grooms the musical side of kids who have got the beat, but it also provides a cultural alternative for children who are not sporty in nature. And even for those who are, it offers a good balance between work, sport, and play in the children’s busy lives.
Music, singing, and the melodic tune of the distinctly African Marimba offers a host of benefits to the child. It improves mood, decreases stress and anxiety, and engages both hemispheres of the brain. But mostly, it gives the kids a fun outlet for their creative and musical expression. The kids learn many techniques and skills needed in the musical world, such as breathing, harmony, part singing, and understanding dynamics, as well as principles that will stand them in good stead beyond and into their lives, says Andrew Edgar, teacher in charge of choir/Marimba – such as a general love of music, friendship, and the importance of teamwork. Above all, it helps to build self-esteem and confidence, teaches kids listen to each other, and it teaches them the discipline they need in so many aspects of their lives.
Public Speaking and Debating have very important profiles at Yeshiva College, and both activities create enormous excitement among the learners. “This is a very important extra-mural because it prepares young people in the most profitable of ways. There are not many challenges that invoke more consternation amongst adults than the requirement to speak in public. Public Speaking and Debating ask of participants that they develop the confidence to face this challenge,” says Yeshiva College. Although, in the end, the events are very often limited to those that make teams, the entire school nevertheless participates in the challenge of trials and try-outs, which makes it an exciting and energised affair. The activities require learners to choose their own subjects and do insightful academic and personal research before they plan their deliveries. Learners are trained to speak with confidence so that they can stand before an audience and express their points of view with enthusiasm. They need to discuss and argue a variety of subjects and situations. And the learners at Yeshiva College do very well in competition. In fact, in 2018, the College won best school in the junior and senior divisions of the Speech and Drama College of South Africa’s annual festival. This year, the College’s best speaker went through to the final round of the Best Speakers’ event. “Speaking is an integral part of the education programme at Yeshiva College because it is a most critical skill of expression, which will stand students in good stead in their personal and professional lives going forward, in every way.”