How do you begin to teach preschool children about the Jewish holidays?
In the Fall of 2017, members of the JCC’s Early Childhood Education Center team assembled a beautiful document providing answers to that question. Over the course of six months, they developed a resource guide for fellow JCC teachers entitled: Chageinu: Our Celebrations!: An Early Childhood Education Curricular Resource for Teaching Holidays.
The principal authors behind Chageinu were Judy Bickford, Assistant Director of the Meyerhoff ECEC, Staci Katz, Early Childhood Educator (who conceived the idea), and Rabbi Jessy Dressin.
According to Judy, “In creating this text, we wanted to develop a dynamic, growing document. We published it in the form a notebook, so everything is removable. We can add to it as the need arises, or we can subtract from it.”
The enduring goal behind the creation of Chageinu is to create excitement among the children for Jewish learning and traditions. It was developed as a resource for ECEC teachers. It is not intended to take away the creativity and individual choices that make teaching so wonderful. Rather, it is a roadmap for teachers as they prepare experiences for students around the Jewish holidays.
Chageinu consists of the stories of 14 Jewish holidays.
In Chageinu’s introductory address to fellow ECEC Educators, Judy, Staci, Rabbi Jessy, along with JCC Sr. ECEC Director Carly Schwartz, describe how young children are “so curious and inquisitive about the world around them.”
“Your role,” they write, “in shaping the hearts and minds of our students is critical to their early development. You are charged with creating an environment in which they feel safe and secure. As you care for them, you will create a sense of community and family in which the children explore Jewish holidays, their own identity and the world around them.”
“As a teacher, you will help mold their character and play an integral role at the very start of their Jewish journey. If you are Jewish, you will share your own connections to Jewish ideas, holidays and stories with a new generation. If you are not Jewish, your role will be just as special as you will have an opportunity to learn about and educate students about Jewish holidays and stories.”
The authors continue to explain that:
Chageinu instills a sense of understanding around Jewish holidays and builds on that understanding as learners move throughout the Early Childhood Education program.
Chageinu provides scaffolding within the school to intentionally build the foundation of holiday knowledge our students gain year to year.
Chageinu opens a community practice of engagement with Jewish holidays and culture in order to foster a love of Jewish tradition.
Appropriately, the text of Chageinu was dedicated to both students and teachers.
According to Judy, “With this document we are trying to inspire children to be world citizens. Respect for life, kindness, other beings, and parents — culture to culture!”