Specialized preschool and day care programs can add something extra to early education.
According to Lori Kowit, director of The Temple-Tifereth Israel’s Ganon Gil preschool in Beachwood, and Barbara Streeter, education director at Hanna Perkins School in Shaker Heights, specialized programs can tailor teachings to specific interests or needs.
Streeter said specialized and individualized programs are a necessary part of the early childhood education community.
“Some adults work better alone while others prefer an open and social environment,” she said. “In the same way, different children do better in different environments. Some children need the opportunity to explore, while others need more structure. Some are fine in a large group, while others need more one-on-one assistance.”
In terms of development, Streeter added children develop at different rates and patterns.
“The wide range of specialized programs offers parents the opportunity to find the just right match where their child will thrive,” she said.
At Ganon Gil, which is a Judaism-based program, Kowit said the specialized programming helps both Jewish and non-Jewish children.
“What we offer is more or less a foundational experience for families raising young Jewish children or families who may not be Jewish to be exposed to Jewish traditions,” she explained. “For a family who is Jewish, that is the first time they are raising that child through the Jewish lens. For a family who is not Jewish, we’re educating families and adults on the culture and traditions to hopefully break down barriers.”
At Hanna Perkins, which offers options for children with special educational, emotional or social needs, Streeter said classrooms promote independence in a “calm, structured and engaging environment.”
“The 1-to-6 teacher to student ratio makes it possible for teachers to individualize their approach and expectations according to the needs of each student,” she noted. “The availability of child development specialists who work individually with parents and meet separately with the teachers provides insight that empowers both parents and teachers to optimally support the child’s healthy emotional and social development.”
On the other hand, at Ganon Gil, Kowit said teachers find opportunities to weave the Jewish narrative into activities.
“We provide holiday resources to all families in the school and how to celebrate the holiday,” she said. “It’s in our monthly newsletter and we share those resources with our families. There’s also PJ Library. So, there are a lot of ways to help educate and support families on their Jewish path with their children.”
Kowit and Streeter said there is further opportunity for personalization in specialized programming, which is important.
“All children develop the ability to learn and get along with others within the context of caring relationships,” Streeter stated. “When they are listened to and helped to notice their own feelings, they are more able to develop self-regulation skills and emotional intelligence.”
Kowit added personalized programming also allows children to learn concepts better.
“We have a program called Hebrew Through Movement, which is where children develop a foundational knowledge of Hebrew, knowing what the words and phrases mean,” she said. “That’s the merit. And it’s all done in an age-appropriate manner.”
When it comes to searching for a program, Kowit said families should tour their options prior to committing.
“I suggest the families tour the school and bring their child with them on the tour as it’s easier to envision the child in that space,” she stated. “We also offer parent references so families can ask those questions of families who have done it and to learn about our culture and community.”
When a family finds the right program, Streeter said all parties benefit.
“When a family finds the program that is right for their child, everyone benefits,” she said. “The right fit can send the family in a completely different trajectory than the one they were on. This relieves them from feelings of helplessness and guilt that come from experiences where things don’t go well for their child.”