Like the adage says, if you want something done, get a mom to do it—right? When three city moms couldn’t find specific, unique—and engaging— Jewish-themed programs for their children, they decided to create their own. If you’d like to introduce your child to a Jewish education at an early age, consider signing them up for one of these new programs.
photo: Little Roots
Little Roots and Little Sprouts: Upper East Side, Manhattan
Background: Founded by Rachel J. Levy, MS. CCC-Speech-Language Pathologist, Little Roots (for kids 17 months and up) and Little Sprouts (for babies 6 to 16 months) are described as “Mommy and Me With a Jewish Twist.” Explains Levy: “I took on a Mommy and Me class eight years ago and developed a multi-sensory curriculum; each week a new class theme is introduced to children ages 16 months and up that incorporates Jewish values, Hebrew language, fine motor and gross motor skills, literacy and language skills.”
What to expect: “Little Roots is deliberately structured like a microcosm of a preschool setting with an emphasis on experiential learning,” says Levy. “Each child takes away something from the class that is applied to their daily life because they learned it through experience.” Each 75-minute Little Roots class has a daily theme; which consists of free play (toys, blocks, Play-Doh, kitchen corner); circle time with puppets, the opening up of a “mystery box” which holds props the children can touch—it’s generally something Jewish-holiday related such as dreidels around Hanukkah. There’s also story time, a baking/art/messy activity, such as make your own Hanukiya or decorate a large wooden dreidel; music time with instruments; and the sessions conclude with a healthy Kosher lunch. Additionally, Levy’s new Little Sprouts class (for babies 6-16 months) incorporates music, puppets, literacy, baby signs, parachute, bubbles, child development tidbits and a support and resource for questions about development.
Why it’s unique: During music time, Levy, who is also a vocalist, has a set track that she sings for class; she adds new songs along the way that relate to that day’s specific theme. In each class she also incorporates some Hebrew words related to the day’s activities. “Since it’s ‘Mommy and Me,’ and the adults learn too, the idea is that the parent/caregiver will reinforce the lessons learned,” adds Levy. Note: All classes have approximately 12 children.
Registration info: click here
Where it’s held:
Congregation Edmond J. Safra
11 East 63rd St.
Upper East Side
Kinder Klub: Forest Hills, Queens
Background: “Kinder Klub is the only progressive Russian language early childhood program in Queens,” says founder Jane Tuv, an early childhood Jewish educator. “Our approach is based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy and children learn about Jewish culture and traditions through various modalities, including sensory and dramatic play, music, art, cooking, movement and storytelling.” The program, adds Tuv, intends to “open minds about Judiasm.”
What to expect: This fall, there will be three different programs: one for mobile infants, one for children ages 14-20 months, and one for kids 2 and 3 years old. The program will follow a co-op model where a parent will also serve as an assistant, with a new parent rotating into that role each class.
In every class, a parent/caregiver will read a selected PJ Library book and/or Russian book and each class features free play and lots of engaging learning about Jewish holidays through various activities. “The idea is for this program not to become a passive cognitive experience, but rather an active one, where children get to interact with materials and their peers, and also share meaningful experiences with their caregivers.”
Why it’s unique: “Though the parents speak English and we have some English-only speaking parents, the program was created to further Russian language development and instill an appreciation for Jewish heritage through various modalities,” explains Tov. At the conclusion of class, while the children play, adults discuss topics such as how to introduce celebrating Jewish holidays with children at home.
Where it’s held:
The Forest Hills Jewish Center
106-06 Queens Blvd.
To register; email: email@example.com; Kinder Klub participants and educators communicate via a facebook group.
photo: Rachel Weinstein-White
Fig Tree: various locations, Brooklyn
Background: Founded by Rachel Weinstein-White, a Brooklyn mom of three boys, this is an independent Jewish education program for children ages three to 11. Weinstein-White wanted to expose her children, who are interracial and being raised Jewish, to Judaism at a young age, but in a really fun and creative way. (She wanted to make sure they didn’t find Hebrew Education boring and traditional.)
The purpose of Fig Tree is to provide a rich and accessible Jewish education to kids from interfaith, interracial and/or secular backgrounds, or simply to families seeking a Hebrew School alternative.
“Our kids learn Torah, prayers and blessings in Hebrew, Jewish holidays, and so forth. However, we have no expectations or opinions regarding how our families do or do not practice Judaism.” Weinstein-White consulted with Hebrew school teachers and Jewish educators to developed the Fig Tree curriculum. It’s standardized so all instructors teach the same lessons at all five Brooklyn locations, ensuring all kids are learning the same content. She also created an advisory board for Fig Tree which includes two rabbis.
What to expect: Every weekly class is 50 minutes and semesters run approximately 10 weeks. Hebrew language is taught for the first 15 minutes of each class, followed by a class session incorporating age-appropriate lessons in religion and Jewish culture/heritage. Note: Unless your child really, really wants you there, all Fig Tree classes are drop-off.
Fig Tree’s approach to religious education is progressive, with an emphasis on core Jewish values of charity, environmental responsibility and social justice. Of course, the holidays are explored as well, including lesser-known ones that may be unfamiliar to some Jewish children (and adults!).
Classes are divided by age or grade, with the youngest students ages three and four, and the oldest in fourth and fifth grade. Similar subjects are adapted for each age range. For example, when discussing Passover, younger kids might design puppets and use dramatic play to experience the “telling” of the plagues, while a class of fourth- and fifth-graders might consider the 10 plagues more critically, evaluating their “fairness” and effectiveness, considering them within the context of modern social ills and their own morals and values — effectively developing their own midrashim. “It’s very-hands on in a bite-sized amount of time. it’s fun and helps children develop their Jewish identity,” says Weinstein-White.
Why it’s unique: “I think Fig Tree is really reflective of the diversity within Brooklyn’s Jewish community,” says Weinstein-White. And this year, in addition to its core curriculum, Fig Tree will be offering a year-long Hebrew language-only class. “Unlike our core Fig Tree classes which incorporate both Jewish cultural, textual and religious instruction and Hebrew each week, our Hebrew language classes are language-only for students in 2nd through 5th grade,” explains Weinstein White.
Additionally, all Fig Tree participants take an educational trip; this fall they’ll be visiting an urban farm in Brooklyn to learn about sustainability with a Jewish twist. Also, if enough parents request it, busing can be provided to and from Fig Tree classes, which are held in five locations in rented spaces throughout Brooklyn.
Where it’s held:
At reserved spaces in Clinton Hill, Park Slope, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, and Fort Greene.
For more info, visit: figtreeprogram.
Where do your kids learn about Judaism and Jewish identity? Tell us in the comments below!
— Rachel Sokol