Noach for Tots: Constructing the Ark

Noach, Genesis 6:9−11:32

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make the ark with rooms, and cover it with tar inside and out.

-Genesis 6:14

At the beginning of Parashat Noach (Noach is Hebrew for Noah), God tells Noah to build an ark. Well, actually, that's not quite true. God tells Noah to "make" an ark, but let's not split hairs. Regardless, there are very specific guidelines Noah must follow in order to complete this project.

This story of Noah's Ark that comes from this parashah is one that we often share with young children. We focus on the animals, the rainbow and the dove, among other things. As with any story from the Torah, there are a multitude of angles to study. For our purposes here, we will focus on the concept of building as it relates to children's learning.

Many theories of child development tell us that children acquire skills and concepts in a very predictable sequence. While the timing is unique to each individual child, the sequence in which they learn is typically the same. Some common examples would be that babies learn to roll over before they can crawl. They need to be able to pull themselves up to standing before they learn to walk.

This is not unlike the construction of a building, with each step in the process contributing to the next step. There is a predictable sequence that occurs. First, a plan or blueprint must be made. Then the foundation must be laid before any building can take place. Then the house is framed. And so on and so forth, until the building of the house is completed.

In these examples, a baby learning to walk or a house being built, each skill builds or scaffolds upon the next. In building, scaffolding is a structure used to provide support while a building is being constructed. Eventually, as the structure is completed, the scaffolding is removed and the building can support itself. The term scaffolding also refers to an educational technique, as these scholars point out in the article Scaffolding as a Teaching Strategy (1):

Scaffolding instruction as a teaching strategy originates from Lev Vygotsky's socio-cultural theory and his concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD). "The zone of proximal development is the distance between what children can do by themselves and the next learning that they can be helped to achieve with competent assistance" (Raymond, 2000, p.176).

The scaffolding teaching strategy provides individualized support based on the learner's ZPD (Chang, Sung and Chen, 2002).

In scaffolding instruction a more knowledgeable other provides scaffolds or supports to facilitate the learner's development. The scaffolds facilitate a student's ability to build on prior knowledge and internalize new information. The activities provided in scaffolding instruction are just beyond the level of what the learner can do alone (Olson & Pratt, 2000).

The more capable other provides the scaffolds so that the learner can accomplish (with assistance) the tasks that he or she could otherwise not complete, thus helping the learner through the ZPD (Bransford, Brown and Cocking, 2000).

Though not necessarily trained as teachers, parents can practice and utilize scaffolding to help their children learn and grow. By providing safe environments and developmentally appropriate toys and games, by spending quality, enjoyable time with their children, by providing structure and predictable routines, parents are constantly providing scaffolding for their children. As they grow and change, the type of support a parent provides will vary. A concept (and challenge!) that remains the same throughout the process, though, is the idea of providing enough support for a child to climb to the next level, without parents actually picking the child up and moving him/her there themselves.

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. Is there a skill that your child now possesses that you remember watching him/her slowly acquire? How did you feel as you watched your child almost get it, but not quite? What did you do?
  2. As adults we continue to grow and learn. What examples can you cite as an adult that show a progression of your skills?

Questions for Children:

  1. What is your favorite thing to build with (blocks, Legos, etc.)? Have you ever built something that you were really proud of?
  2. Have you even been to a construction site or watched a building being built? What part do they build first? What do you think would happen if they tried to build the top before the bottom?
  3. What do you know about the story of Noah's Ark?
Reference Materials

Pages 59–71 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.

Scaffolding as a Teaching Strategy, by Rachel R. Van Der Stuyf of City University of New York