Preschools already provide educational and developmental opportunities for children.
According to Abby Berkowitz, early childhood director at the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School in Beachwood, and Tracey Bortz, director of early childhood education at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike, religious preschools help inspire children.
“Early childhood is such an important time,” Bortz said. “At this young age, children are naturally curious and ready to learn. It is a gift to impart to them now the Jewish values that will sustain them for the rest of their lives.”
Beyond the core values of Judaism, Bortz said the addition of Hebrew is “critical at this age.”
Berkowitz said research shows involvement in a Jewish early childhood setting promotes longterm engagement in the community.
“A Jewish early childhood education allows students to learn about Jewish holidays, values and Hebrew language in a natural, meaningful and social setting with their peers,” she explained. “It also takes the responsibility off of the parents in these early years of identity formation.”
Jewish preschools cultivate children differently than secular programs.
“Jewish preschool promotes an early sense of self as a Jewish person,” Berkowitz said. “The connection of the values between home and school renders the learning environment meaningful and relevant.”
Some of those connections include teaching character development through Mandel JDS’ “derech eretz,” meaning social skills, program.
“This values-based curriculum helps a young child conceptualize the importance of their words and actions,” Berkowitz explained.
Bortz said Jewish preschools teach the typical rules of a classroom but also focus their teachings to create lifelong learners and mensches.
“The songs that they will sing will go beyond your typical preschool tunes to incorporate songs parents have been singing with their own families at Jewish holidays,” she said. “The lessons are based on the Jewish calendar and plant the seed for children to look forward to each Jewish celebration throughout the year.”
Both schools use Judaism to inspire every aspect of the learning process.
“Our program is steeped in a love for Jewish learning and tradition,” Bortz noted. “We aim to socialize our students so they begin their educational journey with the best tools – learning how to share, following the rules of a classroom and respecting their peers and adults. We do so through a robust, integrated curriculum that features an equal focus on general development and Judaic topics.”
Mandel JDS also promotes Jewish learning as well as offering dual language skills. Offering Hebrew immersion and later Spanish. It’s important to develop those parts of the brain, Berkowitz said.
“We find that our early childhood students learn to understand modern, conversational Hebrew within a few months,” she added.
Selecting the right religious preschool depends on a family’s goals.
“We recommend that parents should do their due diligence by visiting at least two to three early childhood programs prior to deciding on one,” Berkowitz suggested. “This will enable parents to compare and contrast characteristics of different programs and make an educated choice about the program that will best meet the needs of their child.”
Bortz added, “The only way to determine the best fit for your family is to tour the program during a regular day. Tell the school representative about your family and ask about the school’s approaches to see how the two jell. Preschool can be a wonderful time to learn alongside your child. As your child learns more, you may find your family establishing new traditions by incorporating what they bring home.”