by Gan Mom, Julie Rosenberg
Dear Gan Yeladim faculty, Parents, relatives, and friends,
I am the blessed mother of two children who have blossomed here at Gan Yeladim over the past seven years—this incredible garden where both of my children took root—my son, Jonah, at 18 months of age, and my daughter Sylvie at 17 months. For most of those years, both my husband and I worked full-time. I mention this only because the role that Gan has played in my life extends far beyond that of a typical preschool. Gan Yeladim has been a home to my children from early morning to early evening five days per week, year after year. The morahs and faculty here were the gardeners who tended to the physical, cognitive, social-emotional, and spiritual needs of my children. What I did not anticipate when I filled out my first registration form, was the extent to which the Gan and Chabad would also tend to my needs and nurture my soul. The Gan community has nourished each member of my family in ways that allowed each of us to grow at varied paces and in various directions while always strengthening the roots that helped us weather storms and ultimately blossom with true and brilliant colors.
I have been fortunate to experience Gan through the lens of a parent, a Jewish mother, and a Speech-Language Pathologist. As a parent, what I saw and experienced made me feel good—I still remember my first day dropping 1 ½ yr. old Jonah off at Early Bird. I remember being in tears as I tried to leave and Morah Sonya saying, “Come here, you need a hug!” She was right—I did! Morah Alice and both Morah Melissas adored my Sylvie nearly as much as she and our family adored them. From Morah Pujah and Morah Leah’s class we get the “good” feelings from listening to Sylvie expertly explain the events of her day, delightfully display her art work, and sweetly sing herself to sleep with songs she learned that day. As if all of those warm and fuzzy feelings weren’t enough, there’s still more.
The synergy between Judaic and secular education at the Gan has always been magical to me as a Jewish mother. I seem to be at once in awe of how the morahs so artfully interwine both aspects, while at the same time—thinking, “but, of course, how can the lessons and values of the Torah be anything BUT central to learning?” I am encouraged by how easily my children formed such a strong Jewish identity with little prodding from me. When Jonah was three, a waiter at a restaurant served him ice-cream in a tall, fluted glass. His response: “It’s ice-cream in a kiddish cup!”—our first piece of evidence that he looked at the secular world through a Jewish lens. One day, I caught Sylvie—probably also at the age of 3-- putting a plastic coin into the CD-Rom drive of my laptop. Luckily, I grabbed it before any damage was done. When I asked her—in exasperation--what she had been thinking, she simply explained that she was putting Tzedakah in the Tzedakah box. Another example of how the Gan provided my children with a strong Jewish identity.
I also have the benefit of viewing Gan through a professional lens—that of a Speech-Language Pathologist. Actually, due to Windows on Their World—no advanced degrees are required because Reb Dovid, Morah Michal, and Morah Vivi, have created a learning community that both uses and aims to enlighten us about Emilio Reggiano principles. I have always been struck by how this philosophy is completely consistent with my evidence-based training in language development. Following a child’s lead to identify his or her interests and then using those interests, as context for eliciting and expanding the child’s language, is precisely how a therapist facilitates language development. Even more impressive are the number of open-ended questions posed to the children to expand both language and cognition. Posing an open-ended question and allowing nearly all children to respond highlights that each child is valued, allows children to hear and build upon multiple language models, inspires them to form opinions, promotes patience and respect among group members, develops early conversational turn-taking skills, and teaches that each child has his or her own—very special-- thoughts and opinions.
One more component considered critical by the Gan faculty and child development specialists alike is the importance of play. Language skills develop in parallel with pretend-play skills; They are both manifestations of symbolic thinking. As a child’s play becomes symbolic—for instance, a child uses a wooden block as a car—a child’s language develops. The child begins using words as symbols for objects. In my field, it is widely known that up until the age of three, children learn language through play; after age three, they use language to organize their play—you’ve likely heard this (You’re the sister, you’re the baby, I’m the mommy, etc.) It is through play that linguistic, cognitive, problem-solving, and social-emotional skills develop in addition to countless others. My point is simply that Gan’s focus on play—is a critical one. Research shows that rich, imaginary play that expresses a range of emotions positively predicts a child’s coping skills and their overall well-being. We are so fortunate to have a faculty that employs evidence-based approaches to learning using the context of our children’s interests as well as the rich history of Torah and its timeless values.
Current educational trends are all about experiential and active learning—as if these were new ideas. If only everybody could just peer through our windows—it’s what the Gan has always known.
I have spoken way too long because I am so passionate about all that Gan Yeladim has provided to my children and yours. While many of us “graduate” Gan today, I do hope we will all remember how the gardeners of Gan Yeladim enabled our children and all of us to flourish in our own unique ways.
Thank You and Mazal Tov to all of you!