Katie Elliot, lead teacher at The Gan-Garrett Jewish Preschool in Vancouver, WA, is sold on the importance of Jewish education – even though she herself is not Jewish.
Judaism, she says, brings so much meaning to early childhood education.
“The children have opportunities to practice compassion, kindness and charity,” says Elliot, whose master’s thesis focused on how teachers can help preschoolers develop empathy and conflict-resolution skills.
Elliot led a “Peacemakers’ Circle” when she taught at a Montessori preschool in Southern California for 10 years before moving to Clark County. Each week, she says, “We discussed concepts such as kindness and helping those in need.”
In contrast, in her Jewish school, she says, “We talk about these ideas every day. We sing a prayer about loving our friends as ourselves, about treating them the way we would want to be treated. We reflect on whether we have treated others kindly, often by asking ourselves, ‘Would we want to be treated in the same way?’ This is part of our daily ritual.”
Giving charity, or tzedakah, also encourages compassion, she says. “Every day, at least some of the children bring in a few coins to donate. And the most heart-warming aspect of this is that the children are as excited about sharing these coins with friends and classmates – so that everyone gets to give – as they are about giving to charity.”
Elliot adds that saying daily blessings and celebrating the cycle of Jewish holidays are important educational as well as spiritual practices.
“It’s a regular reminder of all that is good in our lives, which many children take for granted,” she says of the blessings recited before snacks and lunch. “I also get excited about every holiday because each one provides an opportunity to explore what it means to be a righteous person.”
“During my first year, I remember telling someone I felt I’d struck gold when I was offered a teaching position at The Gan. This feeling deepened when the rabbi said it is the job of teachers to help children become kind, contributing members of the community, not just in the future, but here in the present. I could not agree with him more.”
“In early childhood education, there is so much focus on preparing children for the future,” she notes. “Judaism’s focus is equally on the present. A mitzvah performed by even a very young child can change the world for the better.”
Katie Elliot, known as “Morah (Teacher) Katie,” blogs weekly about her classroom activities and early childhood education at MyGanblog.blogspot.com.
- JEWISH PRESCHOOLS
Portland Jewish Academy Preschool
The Gan-Portland Jewish Preschool
Ma’ayan HaTorah’s Preschool
Neveh Shalom Foundation School
Kochavim/Notz’tzim Hebrew programs
503-246-8831 ext. 122
Congregation Beth Israel Preschool
Milt & Cissi Carl Parent-Child Preschool
(at Congregation Shaarie Torah)
The Gan-Garrett Jewish Preschool/Vancouver
Temple Beth Israel Preschool/Eugene
Gan Neve Shalom Preschool/Ashland