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  • Writer's pictureTziporah Altman-Shafer

Building Independence and Jewish Identity

Imagine two different scenes:

Scene 1: An adult sets the table for snack, puts food on each plate, drinks in each cup, then calls the children to the table. The children wash their hands, sit down at the table. The adult leads a blessing over the food and the children start to eat. If they want more, they raise their hands to ask for more food.

Scene 2: Children work together to set the table. They put food on a plate in the middle of the table. There is a small, child size pitcher in the middle of the table. The children wash their hands, sit down at the table. Together, the children decide which blessing is the right one for the food they are eating and they say it together. Then they pass around the plate of food, each taking what they would like to eat. They pour their own drinks. If they are hungry, they ask their friends to pass the plate of food and take what they want.

Which of these would you expect to see in a preschool? Which one would you expect to see in someone’s home? Which one makes more sense?

Many, many years ago, when I was a preschooler, snack time definitely looked like scene one. Today, when I visit any of the three wonderful Jewish preschools in Milwaukee (Gan Ami, Jewish Beginnings, or Mequon Jewish Preschool), it looks a lot more like scene two. Why did it change? Because of an approach to early childhood education called Reggio Emilia used by all three Jewish preschools in Milwaukee. The Reggio Emilia approach to education in based on the idea that children are full and capable human beings with unlimited potential for growth. This philosophy fits perfectly with the Jewish idea that people are created in the image of God and that we all have an unlimited capacity for goodness.

So what does it matter who sets the table, who leads the blessing, who hands out the snack? When we teach our children, from the youngest age, that they are independent, caring, strong human beings, we support their journey to becoming mensches (good people).

Why Go Jewish when you choose a preschool for your child? Young children, as independent, capable people, start to absorb Jewish values and identity from the earliest years of their lives. Surrounding our children Jewish stories, holidays, foods, traditions, and role models will have a profound influence on our children, and possibly the whole family. Check out our local Jewish preschools. You will be amazed by what you see.


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