Sometimes the most innovative and therapeutic teaching methods are also the simplest ones, encouraging a personal connection to art rather than requiring impersonal technology. Just ask Hagit Shalev, an educator and dedicated Origami specialist, who founded Theragami, workshops that use the art of paper folding as an educational and recreational tool to enhance academic, cognitive, behavioral and social skills. In fact, Friedrich Froebel, the German educator and kindergarten’s founder, was the first to introduce Origami into the formal education system, recognizing that Origami activates the whole brain. Inspired by Frobel’s work and a visit to schools in Japan, where she observed children learning Origami, Hagit realized Origami’s significant effect on mainstream and special education students. In her Theragami Center as well as in her classes at the 92nd Street Y and the Museum of Natural History, Hagit continues to encounter young children and adolescents who rarely concentrated, remaining completely focused, folding pieces of paper into intricate designs. Origami, the method of carrying out a specific sequence of instructions through paper manipulation, also appears to induce feelings of pride, achievement and self worth, while enhancing multisensory abilities. Connecting mainstream and special education students with the far-reaching benefits of Origami, Hagit leads frequent instructional workshops in her Theragami Center. Unlike other craft programs that require expensive materials and some artistic ability, Theragami calls for only paper and a person’s willingness to try something new. For more information call the Theragami Center.

Taken From: Parent Guide Newsletter (September 2005)

Origami as a rehabilitation tool for special education by Hagit Shalev, MSW

Business of Parenting Folding Paper, unfolding hearts and minds

By Jan Wilson

It might be surprising for the average parent to learn that children who have trouble decoding a simple sentence, or waiting patiently for their turn at a game, can spend hours folding paper in the ancient Japanese art of origami.

Yet Israeli-born Hagit Shalev, who operates Theragami out of her Upper West Side studio, says you’d be astounded at what making flowers and frogs out of sheets of flat paper can do for a child’s temperament.

“Children who otherwise have trouble concentrating remain diligently focused, folding small pieces of paper into intricate, complex designs,” she says.

Shalev got her start in origami when her son, who is now 23 years old, picked up some paper-folding tricks from a counselor at sleep-away camp. “I have a gifted child who was diagnosed with auditory processing disorder,” Shalev explains. “After he saw this counselor making a crane, we went to the public library looking for books on origami. My son started teaching himself. Origami helped him with his language problem. Instead of struggling with academics all the time, he could participate in something that made him feel special.”

Working as a social worker with mentally and emotionally disturbed clients, Shalev also saw how origami could improve social skills. “People like this have a flat feeling and nothing interests them,” she says of her clients. Yet suddenly, they were showing one another models and talking together about their experience. “It was true in this experience that when the paper folds, the mind and the heart unfold,” Shalev says.

Judy W. Hall, a retired elementary school teacher from Connecticut who is active in Origami USA and has met Shalev, confirms that origami can be beneficial to special education students as well as average ones. “Following directions in math or any other area is such a difficulty for some kids,” Hall says. “You have to be focused in origami and the kids learn how they have to follow steps in order with a specific goal in mind. With special education kids, you frequently see children who can’t always read the directions. But with origami, they can look at a picture and follow it, or the teacher can give the instructions verbally. So it helps them learn without having to use skills that are really difficult for them.”

Over 120 children have taken workshops with Shalev at Theragami since its founding in 2003. The educational benefits of the programs include teaching children about sequencing, mathematical/spatial perception and social skills. In addition to small workshops that cater to elementary and junior high school-aged students, Shalev also runs mother-and-toddler programs that introduce origami to the very young. “I tell the children a story and at the same time they see the model folded in front of their eyes,” she says. “At every step, the model is at a point where it is parallel with the story and then the story ends with the completed model. Young children relate to the origami in this way, and sometimes their parent also gets involved and folds as the story goes along.”

Steve Friedman has two children, Judith, 10 and Michael, 9, who attended courses at the studio after seeing the origami tree at the American Museum of Natural History. “Judith was very happy to take that course. She used to come home with a couple of models each time,” he says. “Michael has a learning disability and we decided to sign him up for six months because he took an interest in the models Judith was doing. I believe it helped him even more than it helped her. He is very talented in origami and he is always walking around with origami paper. He even taught a class on origami at his school. His social skills are not that well developed, so anything that could help him attain friends and raise his self-esteem is a real bonus.”

Perhaps one of the greatest measures of success for Shalev in working with special education students is that they begin to realize there are activities at which they can truly succeed. “These children see everything in terms of failure,” Shalev says. “But then they see that an improperly folded crease is not a permanent sign of failure — and that failure gives way to success.”

Taken From Big Apple Parent (http://www.parentsknow.com)