There’s such a lot to consider when families are looking for a preschool. For Jewish families, it’s sometimes a dilemma whether enrollment in a Jewish preschool is the right choice for them. We have many high quality early childhood programs in the Pomona-San Gabriel Valleys for families to choose from. The range of early childhood centers include non-profits, campus child centers, city-sponsored, faith-based and public programs. The educational philosophies and program structures often differ among the schools, as do the size, cost and proximity of school to home/work.
From my experience, as the Director of TBI Preschool, the choice is really whether it’s right for the family, not only for the child. Being within a Jewish preschool community opens up a Jewish experience for parents, as well as for children. At TBI Preschool, the expectations are only that parents partner with teachers to nurture a child’s development. The level of involvement in congregational or Jewish activities is always a family’s choice
Over the years, many non-Jewish families, even non-Jewish clergy, have enrolled their children in our program. When I asked these parents about their choice of schools, and why they didn’t choose one that was closer to their own religious beliefs, the answer basically comes down to values. Values which they have witnessed through children’s behavior or heard about from other families in regard to our program. TBI Preschool aims to incorporate the values of quality early childhood practices plus Jewish middot (values) into a daily experience for young children, as do many other Jewish programs.
From my personal experience, and the feedback that I hear from families whose children have gone on to various elementary schools, the benefits of going to a Jewish preschool are numerous. A Jewish early childhood program has the added dimension of:
• Helping to instill a child’s Jewish identity. The budding development of Jewish identity among young children is partnered with their families’ Jewish traditions. As children go on to elementary schools in our communities, they are usually among the minority. I’ve often heard examples of children’s confidence with their Jewish identity as they become involved in a larger school environment.
• Introducing a child to Jewish communal activities, such as holiday celebrations. The TBI Preschool experience includes such traditions as a weekly celebration of Shabbat, the daily chanting of HaMotzi and the Passover tradition of eating matzah, not bread. The children are participating together, with their peers and their Jewish experiences are extended beyond their homes.
• Experiencing Jewish activities together. As children are exposed to the various aspects of Judaism at the preschool level, parents have the opportunity to review and renew their understanding and participation in Jewish observances. Families feel that special level of comfort, understanding and commonality from their beginning days in the preschool.
• Being a gateway into the Jewish community… be it a congregation or a havurah of other Jewish families. So often parents, along with their children, build friendships and possibly share Jewish bonds which continue beyond the preschool years.
When TBI Preschool celebrated our 25th anniversary a few years ago, we began a campaign to raise money for new outdoor shades. The campaign was called Shelter of Shalom. This phrase has become a beautiful way of explaining who and what we are for all young families….. a SukkaShalom, a Shelter of Peace. This special feeling is a part of our Jewish preschool community. For Jewish families in particular, a Jewish preschool can elevate a child’s early childhood experience, and make for a deeper, more meaningful early childhood experience for the whole family. _
Deborah Pruitt is the Director of Temple Beth Israel Preschool in Pomona, a Jewish preschool that has been serving the community since 1988.