You already know how important early childhood education is to build the foundations for academic, social, emotional, and physical development for our tiniest family members. But all pre-schools are not created equal. The newly renovated, state-of-the-art Early Childhood Center at the JCC of Northern New Jersey in Washington Township is focused on supporting and educating the whole child, providing endless opportunities to explore, move, and learn indoors, outdoors, and in the center’s newly unveiled play space. The school utilizes the seven core principles of early care and education of Sheva, the JCCs of North America Early Learning Framework. And while Jewish values and traditions are infused into the curriculum, children of all faiths and backgrounds are warmly welcomed.
We spoke with Debra Frankel, Director of The Early Childhood Center at the JCC of Northern Jersey about the center’s curriculum, philosophy, dedicated staff, and the mission to help little students make big strides.
What is the philosophy of the JCC of Northern NJ's preschool:
The Early Childhood Center at JCC of Northern New Jersey is devoted to cultivating relationships and a lifelong love of learning through inquiry and meaningful experiences. By incorporating best practices in Early Childhood, along with Sheva, the JCCs of North America Early Learning Framework, we provide opportunities of engagement for young families, both in our Parenting Center and in our Early Learning Center.
Children’s voices, passions, artistic visions, and questions are driving forces in our curriculum. We believe that children are competent thinkers, problem solvers, and builders of their own knowledge. Teachers and children together identify paths of wonder and engage in extended collaborative work that fosters individual growth and the ability to learn in large and small groups. We think of our children as members of ever-widening communities, including their own classroom, the school, the JCC, and the world. Our staff views the environment, classrooms and common spaces, materials, bulletin boards, and print materials as powerful tools for learning.
Children use their physical world in a myriad of inventive ways, finding pathways for self-expression at every turn, transforming the every day into the extraordinary. Teachers facilitate this process by working collaboratively as researchers, guiding and following the interests of the group. We support each child’s learning, their connections with one another, their achievements, and their points of view by making their work visible through many forms of documentation. Daily reflections, journey binders, small booklets, visual narrations on the walls, and videos provide windows into the world of the children at school. This documentation helps teachers, parents, and children understand and deepen the learning at school, as we think collaboratively about children’s learning.
We embrace families from all backgrounds as we cultivate a connection to Jewish values and tradition. We offer children many experiences that encourage students and families to make a positive imprint on their world. Social Action activities such as preparing and collecting food and clothing for local soup kitchens, pajama drives, mitten drives, toys drives, and intergenerational activities are hands-on experiences that allow our children to be actively involved in Tikkun Olam, the Jewish concept of repairing the world.
What makes your preschool different?
We are a Jewish Community Center and welcome families from all walks of life, as they chart their own Jewish journeys. We follow the Sheva Framework, which emanates from JCCA. Sheva, which means seven in Hebrew, is a powerful number in Jewish thought and practice. The Sheva framework employs seven core principles of early care and education, along with contemporary and ancient texts, and uses seven Jewish lenses to reveal universal values. Sheva classrooms weave these values throughout their educational day.
How do you handle the new and littlest students?
The first year of nursery school is geared toward successful separation and socialization. We implement a gentle separation, which, for us, means parents/caregivers stay in the building, at school, for the first few days of school, as both students and their primary caregivers gain comfort with our program.
What is the one thing every teacher shares as their approach to teaching?
Children are natural learners. Our Jewish teachings provoke us to inspire children to question their world and appreciate multiple perspectives. Based on an image of the child as a competent and capable learner full of potential, teachers and children engage in research as a way of co-constructing knowledge. When we declare our image of the child, we are held accountable to that image in our daily interactions. When children are agents of their own learning, they build lifelong critical thinking skills and are more deeply invested in the process.
Tell us about the parts of the program you think kids will love the most?
Children will love the emergent curriculum: the idea that we conduct inquiries based on their interests. These inquiries will afford both students and staff the opportunity to delve more deeply into areas of interest. They will also love our extraordinary materials and the MUD KITCHEN in our outdoor play area.
Kids are growing so quickly during preschool years, how do you step up or graduate each child to new things as they are ready?
By looking at developmental milestones of typically developing children, we are able to assess each learner as s/he masters skills in the classroom space. We scaffold curriculum accordingly, in order to meet the individual needs of each student in our school. We also monitor each child’s progress through individual assessments across the school year, ensuring that they reach developmental milestones and master the academic skills necessary for continuing their educational journey. We foster a love of literacy and language, mathematics, science, social studies, and the arts, as well as Jewish life and living.
What are three areas of focus to have kids ready for Kindergarten?
There is so much that needs to happen in order for children to be ready for Kindergarten! In addition to the mastery of pre-academic skills, children must be socially and emotionally ready as well. We develop our entire curriculum with kindergarten readiness in mind! All walks of classroom life are carefully planned to ensure that children are learning how to socialize, take turns, share, attend to the task at hand and participate in small, large and individual activities. We focus on the whole child and believe that preschool is the place that best prepares students for a lifetime of learning by supporting the cognitive, social/emotional and physical growth of each child!
Please see the website or call the school at 201.666.6610 for more information.
The Early Childhood Center at the JCC of Northern NJ
605 Pascack Road, Washington Township