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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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  hanukkah2011

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.

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