Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Beyond the colored posters: A new trend in Jewish preschools


In line with the Reggio-Emilia approach, Chai Preschool emphasizes the individual child with customized goals and learning plans.

By Dini Druk

Remember your own preschool days?  Colored posters covering the walls, brightly painted classrooms and circle time with alphabet flashcards as part of the morning routine? If you plan on sending your preschooler to any of today's award winning preschools, you're highly unlikely to find any of that. 

The overall themes in today's progressive preschools are nature, open spaces, and child-directed learning experiences. Educational movements such as Montessori, Bank Street, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia have been leading the trend towards child-centered education, where the focus of an entire preschool will be on the children's unique characteristics, interests, and needs. The idea behind child-centered education is that children are natural learners and will learn best when they are allowed to develop their curiosity, follow their interests, and develop personal relationships with their environment and caretakers. 

Gone is the one-size-fits-all approach, where teachers create goals for what children need to learn and what concepts they must cover.  Today's progressive preschool teachers will observe children as they play, using the children's natural curiosity as a que for the creation of personalized lesson plans. Children will learn math concepts while counting the seashells they find in the yard, and they'll pick up literacy skills by exploring books on the topics they love and writing their questions and ideas for display on the classroom walls. Talking about the walls, gone are the colored borders and streamers that used to make me dizzy in my own preschool days. These naturally themed schools encourage lots of windows, clean white and wooden designs, and many plants, pets, and homelike decorations to adorn the walls.

"Progressive preschools today provide a sense of calm and security by mimicking a relaxed home environment and putting children in constant contact with nature," says Chani Konikov, director of Chai Preschool, the first Reggio-inspired Jewish preschool in Orlando. "We recognize that every child is an entire world, a treasure of thoughts and ideas are that are uniquely his or her own.  Instead of trying to shove information down children's throats, we work on helping them understand themselves and allowing them to be independent, individual members of society.  It's a very individualized approach, and it only works when there is a dedicated staff that is trained in cultivating these relationships and getting to know every child on a personal level."

Reggio Emilia is unique among other progressive approaches by its focus on celebrating children's ideas and learning processes.  Teachers will spend a lot of time trying to understand and document how the children think, how they play, and why certain topics interest them over others.  The focus on process over product is highlighted in Reggio preschools by the constant publication of pictures and essays documenting learning experiences.  The children's own ideas and hypotheses will be posted on classroom walls and printed in the weekly newsletters, as families are constantly included in the how's and why's of the children's school experiences.

"It's simply a natural way of learning," says Bracha Liebowitz, a preschool parent and mother of four. "If you think about it, it's probably how most of us learned what we now know best. When a child is curious about something and is allowed to explore it, encouraged by the adult community, he or she is most likely to master the concept or the skill. A great teacher is one who can encourage this curiosity, not douse it with printed flashcards and forced circle time."

Chai Preschool's program is unique in Orlando, and it is part of a national network of Chabad Preschools that are known for remaining ahead of the educational curb while allowing children to celebrate and take pride in their Jewish heritage. Their newly renovated facilities allow for expansive sunshine in every classroom, a large natural play area, modern natural décor, and a staff that is specially trained to provide a rich, individualized, and child-centered experience for every child.

For information or to schedule a tour visit http://www.chaiorlando.com or call 407-354-3660.

Dini Druk has a master in education with a specialization in transformational leadership and specialized training in education technology. She spent over 10 years directing Jewish elementary schools in New York and Connecticut before moving to Orlando with her husband and 3 children. She currently serve as a consultant for Jewish day schools in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California, and is an on-staff educator at Orlando Jewish Day School.  


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