To create a truly excellent school, our professional staff worked diligently to make our dream a reality. We are thankful to have had the guidance of Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal and Ahavath Achim lifetime congregant, Elisa Ezor (co-founder of the five Crème de la Crème Preschools in metro Atlanta).
When we began to explore all of the curricular options in the world of Early Childhood Education, we quickly fell in love with the method of learning that the Reggio Emilia region of Italy brought to the world. Through this philosophy, we found a way of being with children respectfully, of teaching them and guiding their experiences, that echoes the values of the Jewish tradition and that builds a strong foundation for lifelong learning, preparing children for Kindergarten and beyond!
Elisa Ezor and Rabbi Rosenthal received insightful guidance and advice from Anna Hartman and the The Paradigm Project. Together, they visited the top preschools in the country and researched the best curriculum approach.
We were very lucky to have had such thoughtful, expert help along the way!
Reggio and Judaism, Shared Values
Image of the Child/Tzelem Elohim – According to Jewish tradition, each person is created with a spark of the divine, in G-d’s image. In the Reggio Emilia philosophy, each member of the community is valued and respected. We believe children are capable, competent and curious; they are able to co-construct their own experiences. This philosophy is an approach to learning and teaching that helps children tap into their natural potential to construct new knowledge through interactions with their environment and each other. Teachers are valued members of the community who collaborate with the children and their colleagues to provide enriched experiences and guide new learning based in hands-on authentic experiences. We provide each child with the individualized attention s/he needs in order to learn and grow.
Collaboration/Brit – Cooperation is an intentional value in the Reggio Approach. The philosophy is structured around relationships and community. Connectedness is at the heart of Ahava. As a Jewish preschool, we recognize that we have entered into a covenant – an obligation to the children and families who share their lives with us. Teachers, staff, families and children are all equally engaged in the continual connections that will enable the children to thrive and help our school shine as a model of excellence.
Emergent Curriculum & Project Approach/Hitorerut – Emergent Curriculum and the Project Approach are intertwined at Ahava. Teachers facilitate “Aha! Moments” large and small to spark awakenings in each child’s understanding of his/her world. Our teachers observe and listen to the children, then ask questions and listen for the children’s ideas, hypotheses and theories. After observing children at play and engaged in new experiences, the teachers reflect upon their observations to plan new activities, and long term projects. Projects lay the foundation for the children’s and teachers’ learning experiences. Ideas for projects come from both the children and the teachers and they can last anywhere from a few days to several months. Teachers lay out academic, physical, and emotional and social goals for the children and make intentional choices in designing and implementing the curriculum to ensure that the children are challenged academically in all areas, including math, science, and literacy. Just like the Jewish calendar, learning is seen as a spiraling progression of moments of wonder and discovery.
Children, Families and Teachers/Masa – The Torah teaches that Abraham left his home on a journey, not knowing what would await him at the end of the road, or even where he was going. The trust that became the story of his journey became the story of the Jewish people. At Ahava, we understand that each child, each family, each teacher is on a journey that relies upon trust, too. All people, children and adults alike, must feel secure in order to take the risks that are involved with growth. Children, especially, need to know that the adults in their lives are secure and their needs are met. We partner with families in a connected community to help each other along our journeys.
Environmental Responsibility & Social Justice/Tikun Olam – Our beautiful indoor and outdoor learning environments were designed to help children understand they can be active partners to repair the world. Not only do our gardens, and recycling and up-cycling programs teach your child stewardship of the earth, s/he will also learn to care for living creatures by taking care of class pets and that all people are responsible for one another by participating in tzedakah projects that reinforce the idea that even young children can make a difference. We may donate the food that we grow to a food pantry, raise money through tzedakah to support an organization that the children choose, or use our leftover food scraps to feed the worms in our vermicular compost bins.
The School Environment/Kedushah – Jewish tradition encourages people to be aware of the holiness that is present in their lives. This awareness and presence echoes the mindfulness and intentionality that structures the environment of a Reggio-Inspired school. Parents and Educators are children’s first and second teachers, and the school environment itself that is the third. Ahava was built from the ground up, and the teachers intentionally design, facilitate and create new and interesting discoveries for the children. They plan daily schedules to balance the needs of each child, between individual, large and small group activities, between the indoors and the outdoors, and between child and teacher directed experiences.
Documentation/Drash – Each child’s story is important, just as each child’s family story is important, just as the story of the Jewish people is important. These stories help children construct awareness, self-image and knowledge of the world around them. We honor the children by telling their stories and the stories of their learning in the Documentation that graces our walls. In this way, the children learn that their ideas have value, not only to themselves, but to those in their community. The children and teachers use Documentation to revisit what the children have learned previously, to construct new hypotheses, learning experiences and ideas.
The Hundred Languages of Children/Hiddur Mitzvah – There is a tradition of making a mitzvah beautiful that goes back to ancient times. To add a level of aesthetic awareness to the mitzvah being performed symbolized and enhanced its great significance. In the Reggio philosophy, as in Judaism, there is an understanding that there is value in pursuing beauty in our actions and creations. At Ahava, children are provided the sacred time and space they need to experiment with and explore their creativity so they may to tap into their inner artist and feel free to express themselves. The children have ample access to the Atelier, our art studio. The Atelier is an intentionally designed space, containing artistic and natural materials and tools to pursue thinking and concepts through many languages – observational drawings, paint, wire, paper, glue, crayons, cardboard, up-cycled materials, markers, pinecones, pencils, twine, and sticks. In addition to the larger Studio, mini-studios are found in the classroom spaces and outdoors, as well. The children’s explorations of these artistic media are not a separate part of the curriculum, but an integrated part of the process of learning. (We technically refer to this as cognitive symbolic expression!)
For more information, we invite you to enjoy this report from CNN that aired in the 1990’s, when America was first discovering the model of excellence in Early Childhood Education that is the Reggio Approach. It remains on the cutting edge, supported by brain research and child development experts and continues to be studied and implemented by vanguard educators worldwide.
Websites to visit to learn more about the Reggio Emilia Approach and Project Approach: