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What would happen if we had “The Week of the Young Jewish Child”?

Mary Lou Allen

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), “The Week of the Young Child” is a time to recognize that children’s opportunities are our responsibilities. It’s an opportunity to recommit ourselves to ensuring that each and every child experiences the type of early environment – at home, at child care, at school, and in the community – will promote their early learning.”

For forty two years NAEYC has been celebrating “The Week of the Young Child” (this year April 14-20, 2013). Each year parents, teachers, schools, and child care advocacy groups draw attention to the unique needs of young children and their families. Everything from developmentally appropriate curriculum, children’s literature, child care subsidies, to licensing regulations and legislation, is celebrated, challenged, marketed and examined.

What would happen if we had “The Week of the Young Jewish Child”? As Jewish early childhood professionals, how would we make early childhood Jewish education a major focus locally and nationally?

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Photos are of Mary Lou and her grandson.

The Talmud teaches us, “Call them not your children, call them your builders.” One might interpret this as our children will be the builders for the Jewish future. So, how soon do we begin to prepare the children for that task? Who will be the teachers and who will support this education? And what would the focus be for “The Week of the Young Jewish Child”? Allow me to offer some possibilities:

How soon? How early is early childhood Jewish education? Children are not born at two and half years old. In fact, 65% of brain development is completed by three years of age. What are we waiting for?  What programs can we institute for infants and toddlers and their families in Jewish settings? What is stopping us from offering more infant toddler child care if that is what our Jewish families are seeking? An investment in infants and toddlers may not generate income in the beginning, but what are the dividends for the future?

Who will teach our Jewish children? Investing in the staff development of professional early childhood teachers is crucial to the success of any program. Would anyone go to a doctor (or a hairstylist, for that matter) who is not educated, credentialed, and up to date with best practices in their field? I think not. Yet many of our early childhood teachers and caregivers are well meaning but not necessarily well knowing. We must invest in their education, in Judaics and early childhood education. Staff development budgets must be increased not eliminated.

Who will support early childhood education? According to Julie Wiener, in her recent article in THE JEWISH WEEK, Jewish Childcare Model Poised for Growth Spurt, March 29, 2013, “…the Jewish early childhood sector, unlike Jewish day schools and camps, lacks a strong national advocacy group and has been unable to garner significant or sustained attention from major philanthropists.” Why is this? Do major funders see early childhood Jewish education as “not real education?” Who are the stakeholders and the winners when we have quality early childhood Jewish education? I suggest it is the children, their families, the teachers, the institutions, and the greater Jewish community. When we meet the needs of Jewish families with young Jewish children then we create relationships based on trust and mutual respect. That’s how we build our future.

Mary Lou Allen is an independent early childhood consultant specializing in infant toddler development and quality child care.

Additional information about Jewish infant care and the research and efforts currently being put forth by the Jewish community, including The Jewish Education Project, see Research Indicates Early Engagement Crucial for Unaffiliated, a companion article to the one mentioned above, also by Julie Wiener.

Temple Israel’s Kehillah school continues to inspire dialog and interest around full day infant/toddler care

Shariee Calderone

Early Childhood Directors in our networks are continuing to dialog with each other and consider exactly what it takes to add extended or full day infant and toddler care options to their current programs. As Julie Weiner notes in her article, Jewish Child Care Model Poised For Growth Spurt, there are only a limited number of Jewish early child care centers who currently offer this model but it looks like bright horizons (sorry for the pun) are ahead.

In collaboration with the UJA Federation initiative mentioned in the article, The Jewish Education Project is helping to explore the landscape and identify centers and directors who are ready to take a closer look at the model. Feedback from you tells us that our In-site-ful Journey visit to the Kehillah School for Early Learning in January was informative and inspiring. Here’s some of how the visit impacted you that day:

  • It made me more aware of the challenges today’s families have with regard to childcare.
  • I think it’s [the full-day model] a way of helping parents make connections to a community.
  • We will be starting a 3 year old full day class next year and now have a better idea of what to do and expect.

But, I would be remiss if I didn’t also share some of the concerns and challenges that were raised during our visit. Things like:

  • The full day model in a Jewish setting
  • Collaboration with Bright Horizons which is a for-profit company
  • Staffing and professional development
  • And the profitability of the model

But it’s a start. So as we continuing to inspire others we’ll address the concerns as well. I’m glad we can be part of this innovation in Jewish education and know that there IS a tremendous amount of growth ahead. I look forward to hearing about each directors own journey in the months/years to come.

Click here to see the resource page we put together about Jewish infant and toddler care after our visit. 

What’s a grandmother to do?

Susan Golob Poltarak

My son and daughter-in-law have just announced that they are expecting a baby in June and that makes me the joyful soon-to-be-grandmother in this newest family journey.

But wait, they both work, and need to both work, so who will care for the baby?

As I walked through the Kehillah School for Early Learning at Temple Israel New Rochelle (TINR) it made me think about who would care for the baby? Where would care take place? And how much would it cost? Can you put a price on such a thing? YES, and it’s quite high for quality child care in Westchester or just about anywhere.

Nancy with baby All of these questions were swirling in my head as I listened to Nancy Bossov, Director of Early Childhood Programs; describe her journey to create a high quality Jewish Full Day Child Care Program at TINR. The thing is that I already walked through this space 28 years ago when I enrolled my own children into the nursery school program from 9:00 – 11:45 AM. That’s what I needed then, and it worked for me and my family. But the world has changed dramatically, and more and more families with young children need to work and are looking to enroll their children in care for a longer day. And as an educator who tosses around the term “families with young children”, it’s now personal for me. Who’s going to care for my grandchild while Mom and Dad work? All I can say is thank goodness for Nancy and the leadership of TINR for undertaking such an important step – to think about the care of our youngest in such a thoughtful and carefully designed environment. I wonder if there will be space for a baby this summer?

To see pictures from the Kehillah visit, click here.