Stages in the Educational Development of a Child

Brit / Baby naming: The Shulchan Aruch advises parents to be particular when it comes to washing negel vaser (the ritual hand-washing upon arising in the morning) with their children from a very young age. With girls, they begin after the baby is named. With boys, they begin after the brit milah (circumcision). Sefaradim wash an infants hands upon his immediate arrival to the world.

When the child begins to speak: The Gemara of Sukah states that it is proper to teach the child to recite verses from the Torah.

Third birthday for boys: The Midrash Tanchumah teaches that the age of three is considered an age of greater understanding. It is for this reason that many have the custom of postponing the first haircut of boys until their third birthday. Their first haircut (known as an “upsherin” in European circles) is then a learning experience in which the boy is taught that the pe’ot (sidelocks) may not be shorn. At this age, it is customary to train boys to wear a kipah and tzitzit.

Third birthday for girls: The Lubavitcher Rebbe (a”h) urged parents to train the little girls to light Shabbat candles from a young age, at least from the age of three, or even earlier if appropriate. And at this age girls are taught to keep the basic rules of tzniyut (modesty in dress).

From the age of three and up: Both boys and girls should be trained to say berachot before and after eating and to recite the Shema in the morning and evening. It is also considered appropriate to begin to teach a child how to read Hebrew from this point.

The age of nine according to the holy Rama (a”h) is the appropriate age to begin training children to fast on Yom Kipur. At first they should fast for several hours. If the child is healthy and strong, he or she is permitted to fast a full day from the age of eleven. If the child is weak, her or she need not be trained to fast for a full day prior before reaching the age Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Rather, the child should fast for several hours according to his or her strength.

A boy at age twelve or a girl at age eleven who makes a vow, and understands the concept of making a vow to G‑d, must keep it. A vow made by a child under this age is not considered valid. The Shulchan Aruch states that parents should nevertheless train their children from a young age not to make vows.

The age of thirteen for a boy and twelve for a girl is when they become Bar or Bat Mitzvah and are obliged to fulfill all of the mitzvot as an adult.

Milk and Meat

Regarding the age to begin training a child to wait between consuming meat and milk, I have heard the following guidelines from Rabbi Moshe Shaul Klein of Bnei Brak:

  • Although very young children do not need to wait between eating meat and milk. It is best and preferable to feed them something else in between.
  • Children ages six and older should wait six hours between consumption of meat and milk.