For the past ten days we’ve had the pleasure of participating in the 2017 Early Childhood Morim Project, organized by SOS International: Bridging Jewish Communities. This project is targeted at educators and teachers who work in Jewish nurseries and kindergartens. Delegates from three countries have been invited to join this year’s edition of the project: Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania. We, Olga Danek and Małgorzata Pustuł, representatives of JCC Krakow’s ECC „Frajda,” have been fortunate to enjoy the company of fellow educators Dalia Golda („Gradinita Gan Eden,” Bucharest, Romania) and Vanessa Cameron („Gan Balagan,” Sofia, Bolgaria).
We started our trip by taking part in the Jewish Early Childhood Education Conference, organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. As many as 750 teachers gathered together at the conference. Our group attended sessions led by Mark Horowitz (Director of the Sheva Center for Innovation in Early Childhood, Jewish Education & Engagement) and Dr. Erika Brown. At the conference, we met directors and educators from various kindergartens, who invited us to visit their educational institutions during our stay. Dalia and Vanessa worked at the Beth Sholom Early Childhood Center, and we got assigned to the Sondra and Howard Bender Early Childhood Center at the Bender JCC of Greater Washington. Ora Cohen Rosenfeld, Director of the Sondra and Howard Bender Early Childhood Center, and the Center’s teacher Sandy Levine Lanes told us a lot about their work, shared their best practices, and demonstrated how the Reggio Emilia approach was being implemented at their school.
The Reggio Emilia approach, which has evolved into an educational system, is a teaching method focused on preschool and primary education, based on the philosophy of Loris Malaguzzi. It was developed in Italy in 1945, spearheaded by the residents of the town Reggio Emilia, who wanted to open a school that would differ from more traditional educational institutions. According to this approach, teaching is an ever-evolving process, subject to constant changes and transformations depending on the needs and observations of teachers, parents and children. Teachers who practice this method should be open to new knowledge, and the wellbeing of children is both a starting point and a goal.
We’ve been observing the work of the Center’s teachers for a week, while also working with children ourselves. Everyone has been very understanding and patient with us, answering our many questions. In addition to our work at the Center, we’ve also had the opportunity to see other nurseries and kindergartens that use the Reggio Emilia approach: we’ve been given a tour of The Rose and George Teller Preschool of Shaare Tefila (a Jewish religious kindergarten in Maryland), led by Beth Adler, and a tour of Rodef Shalom Preschool, led by its former director Fran Pfeffer.
Our stay and program of events were organized by Mara Bier (Senior Education Officer for Early Childhood Education, Greater Washington area; EC Morim Project Advisor), Glynis Rosenberg Smith (Chief Operating Officer), Alan M. Reinitz (Chief Executive Officer) and Fran Pfeffer (EC Morim Project Advisor).