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Jan 6 2011

The Perfect Preschool, Except For One Thing…

By at 12:06 pm

As you may have read, I’ve been searching for the right preschool for my older daughter, Frieda, who will turn 3 next fall.  I just learned today that we got a spot in the program of our choice.  It’s perfect in every way, except one.

It’s not Jewish.

When I first started looking for the right school for us, I spoke with a family friend who is a consultant to local Jewish preschools.  She recommended a number of synagogue programs, as well as the local JCC.  And then she suggested that I check out one non-Jewish preschool, noting that it is so good she sends her teachers there when they need training.  I agreed to go visit, even though I was certain that we would choose a Jewish school.

The Jewish preschools I visited were… fine.  They were all clean and safe and the teachers seemed nice enough, but none of them felt like the right place for my daughter, and each one had at least one fatal flaw.  One director told me how the kids did lots of worksheets because “even though they aren’t great for learning, the kids love them.”

Frieda’s a color-in-the-lines kind of girl who would like nothing better than to do worksheets all day, which is precisely why I don’t want that for her.  Another school required that all 3-year-olds attend five days per week, and yet another one offered only 30 minutes of outdoor time all day because they had so many classrooms competing for playground time.

The program we chose is excellent in almost every way.  It’s close to our house and small.  The kids spend an hour outside each day, unless it’s raining or ridiculously cold.  The staff has a high retention rate, and the directors have years of experience.  There is a lot of interaction between the age groups, and they welcome parent involvement.  They emphasize child-centered play, and the teachers spend their time listening to the kids and following their leads, designing activities according to the children’s interests.  They don’t focus on themes or holidays or worksheets or canned projects.  Rather, all the art on the walls was clearly done by 3 year olds, with minimal guidance from teachers.

Overall, it’s great.  But, it’s not Jewish.  And if I sound like I’m trying to justify my decision, well, perhaps I am.  I always pictured sending my children to a Jewish preschool, and I wonder if we should have decided that the Jewish education is more important than philosophical approach or recess. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to make that choice. But we are diaspora Jews, and I suspect this won’t be the first time we’re faced with this decision.  What would you have done?  What did you do?

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5 Responses to The Perfect Preschool, Except For One Thing…

  1. Sara says:

    We have to choose between three kindergartens for our daughter right now.
    1). A so-so religious school that is halfway across town and requires busing (but with the families we know and feel comfortable with, we see the director daily)
    2).One that is tiny and hectic but with a great curriculum
    3).One that has an entirely secular curriculum mixed with 1/3 special needs and 2/3 regular needs children.

    The catch, we would generally run away from their no religion approach (we live in Israel after all) but the teacher to student ration is far better, the place is more organized and it is a larger space for the same number of students.

    We are in an absolute quandary. But like every other parent we really just want the best for our kids.

  2. homeshuling says:

    What’s the real goal of preschool? Or, more specifically, what’s the goal for *your* family? For us, it was giving my daughter more positive social experience with other kids, and a chance to be creative in ways she might not experience at home, not any particular thing she would learn. So, we also chose the high quality, lovely, play-based, very parent-involved non-Jewish preschool. I knew that my girls would *do* plenty of Jewish at home and eventually at Jewish day school. I think if preschool is the way your family is making friends and building community, and you are seeking a connection to the Jewish community, then you might come to a different conclusion than we did.

  3. Hope says:

    I had a similar experience when it came time to choose an afterschool program. Do I choose the wonderful, less expensive, more convenient program at my kids’ elementary school or the Jewish local program. It would eliminate the need to go to Hebrew school and it is also a highly regarded program. I went with my heart and kept them in the program with their public school friends. Only one of a million choices that face us as parents.

  4. Jill says:

    I think you have to look at the “whole child” and not just the religious part of her. It would have been great if the Jewish preschools were better, but they weren’t. You can still provide her with a Jewish education at home and at Temple. My twins will be attending a Jewish preschool, but only because it is amazing, fits my philosophies and is very welcoming to Jews and non-Jews. It is more than a Jewish preschool, just like my kids and yours are more than only Jewish.

    I think you should feel very comfortable with your decision, and if you feel like you need more Judaism in your life, I bet you can find it in a million other ways!

  5. Amy says:

    Our perfect program has Hebrew emersion for 3 year olds – occasionally. I kind of hope that they don’t offer it next year so that we do not have to leave the secular day care that he is at now. (Would I be happer if he did not make a Rudolph last month, yes. Do I want to upset/uproot him by moving him to a place that he might not like just because it is Jewish – I don’t know?)

    Meanwhile, Kindergarten, etc. will be Jewish.


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