From learning about important Jewish holidays to being introduced to the Hebrew alphabet, early childhood education (ECE) programs are critical for setting a Jewish foundation for children that will last a lifetime. But oftentimes, it’s not just the child who benefits. After families are introduced to a program’s supportive group of Jewish leaders, teachers and parents, they often join the affiliated congregation, which in turn helps the synagogue grow to new heights.
Adat Ari El (Valley Village, CA) and Congregation Beth Am (San Diego, CA) have seen firsthand how their ECE programs can go a long way toward ensuring children are learning key Jewish values in the classroom, while also creating a community for parents.
Adat Ari El
Jewish customs and traditions are at the core of Adat Ari El’s ECE. Holidays are taught through an integrated curriculum that includes music, art, dance, science, language, math and cooking. ECC Director Ori Zadok is well aware a child will not grasp all the Jewish traditions, so the program teaches children fundamental ideas in a supportive community.
“The program has created a Jewish environment that centers on caring for one another, celebrating together, being engaged socially and knowing we’re responsible—these all are Jewish ideas and who we are as people,” Ori says. “These are the type of things that stick with a child and we don’t just talk about them, we do them for both children and families.”
As a result, the vast majority of children in the preschool program end up enrolling in the Adat Ari El’s day or religious school. For the parents, one of the program’s main focuses is keeping all families on the same page. Every other month, the program hosts a parent education night that discusses a host of essential parenting topics such as sibling rivalries, toilet training and different support mechanisms.
“We acknowledge that we have a demographic of Jewish adults that are working full time, so we want to support them in their careers by making them feel comfortable and secure knowing their child is well cared for,” Ori says. “Not only does it allow parents to remain in the work place, but allows them very early on to have a sense of community.”
For more information about Adat Ari El’s ECE, visit here.
Congregation Beth Am
Congregation Beth Am’s ECE program has been on a steady rise since opening more than two decades ago. With a commitment to supporting children in becoming independent learners and creating an environment filled with respect and imagination, the preschool program focuses on Jewish holidays, prayer and blessings, Jewish values and the essential words in the Hebrew language.
Congregation Beth Am’s ECC Director Denise Neifeld, who came to Early Childhood Education with a background in pediatric social work, has been at the center for 22 years. She believes that “Working with young children involves embracing the entire family unit.” The school’s “Coffee with the Directors” is an educational series of workshops for parents, which topics that include Kindergarten readiness, toilet training, sibling rivalry and talking to children about difficult topics.
The synagogue, which recently completed construction on its early childhood center, administration offices and Hebrew supplementary school, serves approximately 135 children in its preschool program. It also became the first synagogue-based program in San Diego to open a nursery nearly four years ago after the ECC leadership researched the high number of dual-working parents in the local community. “We identified that there are many families in our community that have dual working parents, so opening a full-time infant program was really important for our community,” ECC Associate Director Tammy Marcus says.
Parents also receive special benefits that ultimately help attract them to affiliating with the synagogue. “At High Holy Days, we offer an age-appropriate family service for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur especially designed for ECC families, as well as childcare for those who need it,” Tammy says. “As members, parents receive a preschool tuition discount, which is an incentive for joining the synagogue.”
For more information about Congregation Beth Am’s ECE, visit here.