I’ve long considered Mitzvah Notes to be one of Chabad’s most influential and innovative integrations (Did Chabad even start this? Did I just make that up? Someone please weigh in on origin!). It’s one of those things that has seemingly been around for so long, we don’t stop to think about how this was first initiated.
As a preschool teacher, I’d often marvel at the gift of the Mitzvah Note, as it enhanced the way I understood and interacted with the children each and every morning.
These scrawled and scribbled little notes let me glean a glimpse into the child’s home structure, their personal challenges and victories, the things they loved and those they didn’t, and brought a little bit of everyone’s home life right into the classroom.
The daily ritual of reading the Mitzvah Note aloud connected the parent to the teacher to child, and in that moment something magical happened: a spotlight shone on each little friend – even if just for a moment – and they were celebrated.
They were celebrated for being human; for a moment of being kind or thoughtful or patient or generous, and many times for struggling and for succeeding. It’s no wonder that this concept took off so well and became one of the most primary staples in the functions of a jewish preschool classroom. Whoever created the Mitzvah Note, must’ve been a straight-up genius.
Years later, when I was blessed with children of my own, I found myself surprised at how difficult it sometimes was (especially in the early morning hustle) to come up with a mitzvah my child had done in the 24 hours since the last one! I mean, she was a 3-year-old – chockfull of tantrums, and pint-size defiance, and I was a breastfeeding mom to her brand new baby sister – sleep deprived, distracted, and juggling so many responsibilities; it wasn’t always easy to think of something good she had done.
And it was then, in that bleary-eyed, early-morning, postpartum-ly distorted view of life, that I happened upon the real genius of the Mitzvah Note: noticing. The Mitzvah Note trains us, as parents, to notice! It calls for us to take note in all the little ways our children do good. And, as it turns out, they do plenty of good. All.day.long.
It’s so easy to overlook it – or to not even see it to begin with! – but a few weeks into a jewish preschool year, the parents become experts at extracting excerpts of good deeds gone down daily. And this becomes an integral parenting skill that lends to gratification of day-to-day life with little ones, and celebration of their qualities and accomplishments. This new way of “noticing” somehow subconsciously extends to other areas of parenting too, and turns into a gift of a skill we hadn’t even noticed we were honing. Like I said, straight-up genius!
But it gets even better. Mitzvah Notes essentially mean that as a parent I have the opportunity to write to my child’s teacher every single morning, and know that she will take the time to read it! Once I grasped the reality of this, I took full advantage of the situation.
Meaning, I would utilize the chance to let the teacher know that my daughter: had a hard morning (she could give her extra love), went to bed late last night (she could give her more time to relax and read alone), was nervous about an upcoming trip (she could talk about how exciting travel is) etc. This was especially helpful to me when I was going through my divorce and needed a private and painless way to notify the teachers when things were getting stressful for my daughter.
A “notifying” note would look something like this:
“Freida’s eczema has been really flaring up lately, and while she gets super itchy at times, she has been such a champion about putting on the cream that’s in the small pocket of her backpack and trying to distract herself with new activities or games so that she doesn’t scratch. Way to go, Freida! ”
A note like that not only encourages the child to keep up the very hard but very good work, it also let’s the teacher know what is going on and what they can help with. I know I would have appreciated something like this as a teacher. It’s not extra work – it’s extra insight. And that’s always helpful in the classroom.
But Mitzvah Notes get even more dope than that! (Likely, lots of you older, more experienced, and well-seasoned mothers out there have probably known this for years! But I’ve only just discovered it.) And here’s the trick part: these few small sentences read to my child every morning by her beloved teacher, encouraged her and made her believe even more in her own internal power to do good! It’s known that we grow to believe what we are told about ourselves, and here we have the opportunity to tell them something good every morning. It’s a common chassidic belief that what you call a child they become. And let me tell you, it works!!
For a year now, I’ve been writing mitzvah notes that focus on something my child is having a hard time with, and emphasizing how I know they try so hard and will surely succeed. The results of this have blown my mind, and that’s why I’m writing all of this to begin with – to share the discovery of decoding the daily dictation. When Hudi was having a hard time with food and going through a super picky stage, her Mitzvah Notes looked much like the one in the photo above – focusing on what good care she takes of her body and how much she loves to feed it fuel.
Three days later, she was showing off her broccoli eating skills and bragging about her muscles! When Freida was having a hard time sharing and going through a stage of big-sister angst, her Mitzvah Notes would focus on what a caring. loving, and generous big sister she is. Within a few days she was teaching Hudi how to color in the lines, making a friendship bracelet for her, and being an all-around giving big sister. I even tried using Mitzvah Notes as a (single) parenting survival tactic…that worked too! So before a cross-country trip alone with the kids, I’d write about how proud I am that I know they’ll behave so well on the plane because they are so good at making a Kiddush Hashem.
And when I was having a really hard time with how crummy and kvetchy our mornings were lately, I’d focus their Mitzvah Notes on how wonderful it is when they wake up with a smile and brighten everyone’s day. Or when they were going through a stage of waking up way too early in the morning, I’d write Mitzvah Notes that focused on Kibud Av V’eim and what a giant mitzvah it is to respect their mother. Etc. Etc. In short (just kidding), Mitzvah Notes have quite literally enhanced my parenting life, and this “trick” continues to quite figuratively blow my mind.
Fellow mothers of the internet, this works. And while it sounds like manipulating the system, you can rest assured that it IS manipulating the system, and it is awesome!
Mitzvah Notes are one of those things that when I stop to think about in concept, I am overwhelmed by how lucky we are to be a nation that cultivates encouragement, praise, and celebration. What a gift.
Menucha Belkin, creator of the Babyccino curriculum, is now offering a High Holiday Children’s Program. It has 4 hours of creative holiday-themed fun for ages 2-9, complete with davening, story time, and helpful tips for no-fail fun. Get it at thefroo.com