THE CORNERSTONE OF high quality early childhood education is that learning is experiential, and that the learning activities include all areas of whole child development. Preschool activities, then, need to span the interrelated areas of social-emotional, physical, cognitive and language development for a child’s optimal growth. What makes a Jewish preschool unique is that the area of moral development also becomes an integral part of a child’s preschool experience. In a Jewish preschool, such as TBI Preschool or B’nai Simcha, activities and discussion which include middot/values, Jewish holiday observances, customs and rituals help lay the foundation of Jewish identity and the love of living Jewishly.
The fundamental concept of mitzvot is introduced to our preschoolers at a young age. On Friday mornings, as all of our children join together in the TBI sanctuary for a Shabbat Experience, children carry tzedakah food that they bring from home. We encourage tzedakah in the form of packaged food items, to add to our ongoing congregational food drive, rather than money for tzedakah. Children know hunger, and giving food to others, who might not have enough, is an appropriate concept for young children to grasp.
This year, the TBI Preschool community is engaged in two very special, ongoing mitzvah activities. We are fortunate to have a garden in front of Temple Beth Israel, which is run by Fiddleneck Family Farms, of Uncommon Good. In the past, our teachers have often walked through the garden, viewing the seasonal organic vegetables and flowers (and even having samples of the harvest). We have now begun saving our daily food scraps, from snacks and lunches, to add to the composting at the garden. Our children are learning to differentiate the food/compost waste from non-recyclable materials, and scooping it into the proper containers. Thus, we are not only enjoying the beauty of the garden, occasionally eating the food from the garden, but also replenishing the compost for the garden soil.
The other mitzvah project that we’re participating in is collecting used crayons for The Crayon Initiative. This wonderful non-profit organization accepts old, used crayons, melts them down and remanufactures crayons. They then donate boxes of crayons to children’s hospitals around the country. Thus, our children are helping pediatric patients receive new crayons, while reducing waste and recycling at the same time.
Our young preschoolers are at the beginning of their Jewish educational journey, and are learning through their experiences. In the words of John Dewey, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself”.
Deborah Pruitt is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine and the Director of Temple Beth Israel of Pomona’s Preschool.