A Note From Noah

Dear parents,

This Note includes three topics that I wanted to highlight for you. The first is my upcoming paternity leave, and the second two are “can’t-miss” school events in the coming weeks.

Beginning Monday May 8th, I will be taking a twelve-week paternity leave with my baby boy Solomon. I will be back at work for the final four days of the school year, to say goodbye and be here for the conclusion of our year together. I will then be in part-time over the summer months.  During my leave, Shari will assume many of the responsibilities of Director and will be your go-to person for anything you might have come to me for, including any exmissions conversations. As always, please reach out to Tara for any admissions or enrollment matters. I am proud to work in a family-friendly organization that supports fathers taking leave for child care.

Please see below for an overview of two important upcoming events, both of which I am deeply passionate about. These two events – Peer Learning Cycle on May 4 and Our Immigrant Stories on May 21 – showcase two of the many ways in which we are more than a school; we are a community.  By enrolling your child in our nursery school you have become a part of something much deeper and broader than the four walls of your child’s classroom. Our Immigrant Stories is a chance to explore the roots of our community; the Peer Learning Cycle is a chance to explore where our teachers will be bringing our school in the years to come. I would love to see you at both events.

Peer Learning Cycle – Thursday, May 4, 5:15pm-7:15pm, 2nd floor classrooms

A teacher does a lot of things. A good teacher is not only a “teacher” but is also a friend, counselor, judge, psychologist, mayor, artist, author…the list goes on. We hold our teachers to a high set of expectations and broad responsibilities – and at the JCC they always seem to exceed even the highest of bars! Yet, the title “teacher” sometimes obscures those responsibilities that are not strictly “teaching.” One role which our teachers have devoted themselves to is “researcher”, a muscle they flex through our Peer Learning Cycle (PLC). The PLC is designed to offer small, self-selected groups of teachers the opportunity to research a particular school-related topic throughout the course of the year, yielding fresh understanding on an element of our school. In a paradox of nomenclature, our teachers are learners.

On Thursday May 4th our teachers will be sharing their research journey with you. It would mean so much to me – and them – to have you there with us that evening. We believe that curiosity – that essential ingredient in all moments of authentic learning – is cultural and contagious. Join us for an evening of exploring our teachers’ curiosities, and share with your children that you, too, want to learn from, and with, their teachers. This evening is inspired by a statement by Dr. Robert Schaefer, a former dean of Teachers College, Columbia University, who wrote about teachers and parents: “How can children fully know the dynamism of learning if the adults around them stand still?” The PLC encourages our teachers to not “stand still” but rather eagerly pursue the exploration of ideas. We invite you to join us on May 4th in a community evening where we can all enjoy “the dynamism of learning.”

During the evening, you will have the opportunity to attend two half-hour presentations from different PLC groups. The full description of each group is available here, as well as which teachers are doing which group, if you want to attend based on teacher instead of content). Please RSVP to Linda at lsierra@jccmanhattan.org and indicate which two groups you would like to attend.

The schedule for the evening will be as follows:

5:15-5:45pm - Arrive, check in, schmooze over snacks and wine in Common Space
5:45pm - Transition into classrooms
6:00-6:30pm - First presentation
6:30-6:45pm – Transition
6:45pm-7:15pm – Second presentation

Our Immigrant Stories – Sunday, May 21, 4:30-6:00pm, L2 Auditorium.

Come celebrate the diverse global roots of our nursery school community! After spending months interviewing many of our PreK parents and children, this program will share audio and visual aspects of Our Immigrant Stories. Interwoven throughout the evening will be a perspective on Jewish history and values on the topic. This is our first time hosting this event and we look forward to this becoming an annual staple and part of the fabric of our community. Please see the event flyer here.

RSVP by Sunday, May 14 to Linda at lsierra@jccmanhattan.org. Please include name and number of adults attending the event. We will also be offering childcare during the event for children currently enrolled in nursery school (no infants or alum, sorry!). If you will be using this service, please also include the name and number of children for childcare in your RSVP to Linda.

Shabbat shalom,

A Note From Noah

After school today, two of our teachers are flying to Reggio Emilia, Italy, to participate in a week long international conference hosted by the staff of the Reggio infant-toddler centers. These are the schools and teachers which gave rise to the Reggio-inspired approach, which you have witnessed unfolding in your child’s classroom throughout their time at our school. This is an annual conference, and this year the largest number of educators ever are attending (460!). We are proud to be sending Alex Reynolds, co-head teacher in classroom 1 (2s), and Aida Mehmeti, co-head teacher in classroom 6 (PreK).

The Reggio-inspired approach is one in which the child-as-citizen’s voice is listened to deeply, and the school community is sculpted around what we hear the children saying and thinking. Carla Rinaldi (a progenitor of the approach) has referred to this as “the pedagogy of listening” – the more we listen to children, they more they teach us and themselves. The Reggio approach is one of deeply ingrained democratic values, where communities are constructed through meaningful relationships of all involved parties. Teachers, children, and parents come together to create the world they want.  Rinaldi refers to this as the capability of a classroom to create culture rather than simply transmit culture from one generation to the next. Learning, from this perspective, is about generation and not consumption.

These values and educative ideals have influenced our school in many ways over the past decade. Sari Lipschitz, our school’s atelierista, models her work after the atelieristas in Italy (Sari attended the conference in Reggio last year, along with Sarah Loeser in room 5). Our Journey Binders and Daily Reflections are inspired by practices in Reggio; our emphasis on process over product in the classroom comes from Reggio educators as well. Our teachers have also presented at Reggio conferences in NYC.

Throughout next week, our community will be able to follow Aida and Alex’s time in Reggio Emilia through the Common Space bulletin board, which we will update daily with pictures and information about what they are up to. We will also be scheduling a time to Skype with them through a TV in the Common Space at drop off one morning.

Our journey as a Reggio-inspired school is a dynamic one, always shifting in response to our curiosities as teachers and researchers.  We are excited to see how this trip inspires Alex and Aida and what new ideas and approaches they bring back from their travels.

Shabbat shalom,

Life's a journey not a destination, right?

Yet as New Yorkers, we often lose site of the journey and are so pre-occupied with the destination. We are upset when the train is late, when the cab takes a less-then-ideal route, and when that person in front of us just isn’t walking fast enough! We enroll our child in the right nursery school so they will get into the right kindergarten so they will get into the right college. The destination seems to be, often and unwittingly, obscuring the journey.

As early child educators, we are privy to the world’s best reminders to enjoy the journey and let the destination arrive when it may – your children! Watching one of our infant younger-siblings in the Common Space today I was reminded of the young child’s ability to find such joy and exuberance in the small moments. He was gleefully army-crawling across our recently-buffed tile floor, scotching along at a rapid pace. He and his caregiver had arrived early for the big siblings pick up. Rather than wait idly by, the infant made life beautiful. And suddenly a small crowd of us – caregivers, teachers, and parents –were watching joyfully as he wriggled his way around the floor.

Earlier this week, the New York Times had a brief and humorous, yet insightful, article in the Travel section highlighting the author’s realization that her three year old son actually enjoys the waiting time (and incessant delays) at airports (read the article!). This was our infant on the Common Space floor – he wasn’t early for picking up his big sister, he was perfectly on-time for enthusiastic crawling. Earlier this week, picking up Jonah from daycare, we entered the 96th street train station and I audibly groaned as I saw the ticker read five minutes until our train would arrive. Jonah asked me why I groaned - and I felt so silly explaining that I was upset we had to wait a whole five minutes. I mean, who is the three year old here?! Impervious to the adult-perceived deleterious effects of waiting a few minutes, Jonah smiled and looked around the train station. He was soon bubbling over with questions and observations about just about everything he saw. Lesson learned, dad – waiting for the train is just a good opportunity to learn about the world.

This has come up recently in my course this semester at Teachers College (I am working towards and EdD there). We have been speaking about the stellar research focusing on the positive impact that high quality early education makes over the course of a child’s life, and how despite the clear improvements this has made to public policy regarding early education and care, it has also left some of us (parents and educators alike) with a narrow-minded focus on using nursery years to “prep” children for later experiences. The discussion in our class recently has turned towards re-inserting an emphasis on the here-and-now for our young learners – they are not in school only so they can be successful later (the destination), but because they deserve – they have the right – to slow down, enjoy themselves, along the way (the journey).

As educators, we are at times put on the defensive and asked to explain our choices – Why do you still use playdo in PreK?  Why does my child play mommy/baby every day? Shouldn’t my son be doing something other than blocks all day long? Often, we answer these questions from a child-development-perspective: Playdo helps your child develop stronger graphomotor muscles, allowing them to obtain more fluent penmanship in elementary school; family play gives your child a safe space to establish social relationships, allowing them to feel confident during recess and in the cafeteria in the years to come; block play is setting your child up to have a strong foundation in STEM concepts such as gravity and symmetry, and STEM jobs will be exploding when your child graduates college!

All of those answer are true. And yet, they leave out what we deeply believe here – children’s lives should be full of whimsy, spontaneity, and – yes – moments of boredom that they must strive to fill with their own ideas. Just like the three year old in the airport, our attention to your children while at school is not only on getting them to arrive at their destination, but on making sure they soak up every moment of the journey as it passes by. We play in water and sand tables because of the developmental benefits, of which there are many – but also importantly, because of how gosh darn fun it is! Play time is the most important part of our daily schedule here not only because children learn through play, but because children deserve protected spaces to simply enjoy themselves.

Shabbat shalom,

A Note From Noah

On Monday, February, 7th, two swastikas were carved into the door of the Fourth Universalist Church (DNA.info article). The church sits right around the corner from us, on Central Park West at 76th street. Rabbi Joy Levitt, our executive director at JCC Manhattan, reached out to Reverend Vogel, the senior minister at the church, who invited us to join at the Interfaith Solidarity Vigil the church will be hosting this Friday, March 10, 5:30-6:30pm (details here; speakers include, among others, former nursery parent Rabbi Marc Margolius and Borough President Gale Brewer). We are sharing information about the vigil with members of our JCC community, as we believe it is important to stand with our neighbors in solidarity against the rise in anti-Semitic and hate crimes our city is witnessing.

Last week, we hosted Nancy Kaplan from the Anti-Defamation League for a parent chat in my office. Nancy and Jean Schreiber facilitated a conversation with several of our parents about how to promote an anti-bias attitude in our children and communities, and how to respond when our children are exposed to acts of anti-Semitism, racism, and bigotry. Many parents who could not attend the talk requested notes from the morning; sharing the above invitation for the March 10 vigil seems the right opportunity to offer these notes.

Nancy encouraged us to ask our children (and ourselves), “What can you do, in your space, every day, to be the type of role model that you want to be?” We spoke about how each of us has the power in “our space” to promote acts of kindness, to strive to create the world you want, and to show your children that their words and actions matter. Nancy urged us to tell our children that, “even as a young child, you do have power. Be powerful in your circle.” I found this line so meaningful, and particularly resonant in the context of a Reggio-inspired school.  Our children flex their power in a democratic society every day in our classrooms, as they discuss and debate the details of classroom life: Who gets to be the line-leader? Why do you get to use the paints and I don’t? How do we share playdo? These questions, and how our children navigate them, really do matter. These questions are where meaningful education takes place.

We spoke with Nancy about showing children their power rather than our despair; about “keeping adult thoughts at the adult level” yet impressing upon children that when they see something wrong, they should stand up and say it.  Our children might be troubled, scared, or confused if we choose to share the depth of anguish that swastikas on a church door bring us; instead, they benefit from seeing us, their role models, standing proudly together and saying “no” to such hateful acts. Nancy drilled in on the nuanced yet significant difference between these two reactions.

Lastly, Nancy shared three important ideas for parents interested in raising strong, resilient Jewish children in spite of anti-Semitic actions: (1) Instill a sense of Jewish pride; (2) Show them that being Jewish in your life is a really important thing; (3) Teach them that we stand up for people who are marginalized.  

For each of these points, I keep going back to the upcoming holiday of Purim and the story of Esther. In my Purim Note last year, I wrote that “Our JCC is a place where religion is used as a vehicle with which to access values, and through Purim we have accessed the power of our children. They can scare away the boogeyman, shaking their groggers at Haman; they can stand up for themselves as Vashti and Esther did; they can take action for their community in times of need, as Esther and Mordechai did.  Purim reminds us to not shy away from evil or hide from a challenge but to step forward bravely, to find the Esther in our hearts that cares deeply about the well-being of our neighbors.”

Those ideas will always be at the heart of a Jewish community.

There are many ways of doing this – of standing up proudly, of being the role model you want your children to see. This year we saw Sandra Brudnick, Amy Kessler, and Ilona Coleman each deliver a heartfelt d’var Torah at PA meetings; we saw our students band together for bake sales and drives to benefit those who have less than they do; and this Friday we are looking forward to our first ever nursery-alumni Shabbat dinner, where 70 people will be attending and affirming that in life-after-nursery-school, their connection to Jewish community remains strong and matters deeply.

Whether you are attending the alumni dinner with an older sibling, or attending the vigil (they happen to be at the same time), or standing up in any of a variety of ways, I encourage you to keep Nancy’s words in mind:

Find power in your space, and show your children the power they have in their space. 


A Note From Noah

My little Jonah suddenly turned three last week. He’s right in that sweet spot, constantly referred to by me and Shira as “our little baby” and “our big boy.” Talk about confusing! I think about these two phrases a lot recently.
In my roles as an educator, a parent, and a doctoral student, I’ve come to hone in on one constant thread: children respond according to our treatment of them. When we treat them as competent, they display competencies; when we infantilize them, their maturity shrinks. The words we use (little baby vs. big boy) and the opportunities we give our children (let them figure out how to climb onto the adult chair or hoist them up ourselves?) matter in their development.
A recent example with Jonah drove this point home for me. Since we moved apartments earlier this year, Jonah has enjoyed working with me to settle in to our new place – building furniture, moving boxes, opening packages. At first, I encouraged him to use his own set of plastic toy tools to bang alongside me, or his training scissors to attempt to open a package. He would have none of it – he saw me using a real hammer and real scissors, and he wanted the real deal. As a result, he’s become surprisingly proficient with a pair of adult scissors and an actual screwdriver. 
Fast forward a few months, and Jonah’s zaydie taught him how to cut off the bottom of a disposable straw, in order to fit neatly into his tiny Danimals yogurt drink (a trick he absolutely loves). This is now part of Jonah’s morning routine – he asks for “my yogurt drink, straw, scissors” and then “measure and cut” the straw “like zaydie teached me.” With time and practice, he does this fluidly. Fast forward again, and I am dropping Jonah off in his daycare class earlier this week. Jonah had (shockingly) not drank his yogurt at home, so brought it to daycare that morning. When we enter the classroom, he asks his wonderful teacher (who I absolutely adore, he has known her since he was six months old) for “straw and scissors” so he could “measure and cut”. The teacher, of course, hands Jonah a pair of child scissors, with a dull protected blade. Using the small scissors, Jonah struggles to cut the tough plastic of the straw – in fact he mangles the straw and cannot cut it. His teacher warmly says don’t worry, she’ll get him a new straw, and then cuts it for him.
I think 9 out of 10 early childhood teachers would have done the same. It is, by all accounts, what a teacher is “supposed” to do – it is developmentally appropriate to give a young child small, dull scissors. But having seen Jonah do this countless times with a sharp blade at home, I was struck by how we as adults – teachers, parents, caregivers (society, really) – often interfere with the child’s actual capabilities by making broad assumptions about what children of a certain age “can do”. The notion of “developmentally appropriate practice” and standardized norms of development, while offering numerous beneficial learning opportunities to children, often wind up homogenizing children. We begin to believe “three year olds can do this” and “four year olds can do this” without actually stopping to look, at the individual level, what this person in front of us is capable of doing.
Here at our nursery school, a child asking for help with a task (buttoning their jacket, opening a Ziploc bag, etc) will be met with a three-tiered response (you might remember this from your admissions tour – but then again you might have had a lot on your mind!): (1) Did you try it yourself? If yes and you couldn’t do it, (2) Did you ask a friend/classmate? If yes and s/he couldn’t do it, then, (3) Here, let’s do it together.
When we push children to try new things in this fashion, they show us in amazing ways just what young children are capable of.
Five years ago, my last year as a teacher here, I remember a three and a half year old student approaching me with a piece of yarn from the craft area and asking me to tie it to a ring, almost like a leash. I asked if she had tried it herself. I showed her how I tied knots with other pieces of string, but did not tie hers. I then watched as she struggled and fiddled with the string for a while, and then, quite proudly, came back to show me her successful knot. She had really done it. She became known as our “knot expert”, and her classmates would call on her to help whenever they needed a knot for their project.
My point is, if I had seen this student as “a little girl” she never would have had the opportunity to tie the knot herself. Simply by re-orienting our perspective on children we can contribute to their growth and development. When we children as competent, they become competent – not every time, and not in lockstep fashion, but enough that this avenue is worth pursuing. There is a small but significant field of literature around this, referred to as critical or deconstructive developmental psychology, producing literature that makes the claim that normative developmental theories can be “oppressive” (Erica Burman) or “belittling” (Allison James). Erika Christakis writes, “We have to try harder to see the power in little children that is hiding in plain sight.”
I think she is right. If I have learned anything from children after spending nine years with them in our nursery school, after studying child development through a masters program and now a doctoral program, and watching my own two boys figure out this world, it is that when we respect children’s competencies rather than seeking to overly-infantilize them, they will consistently amaze and impress the adults around them.
I invite you to reflect on your own parenting: When do you give your child time and space to try things for himself? When do you do things for her, assuming she’s not ready to do it on her own? How do these decisions impact your child?
Shabbat shalom,

Postscript - I feel compelled to write, in today's NYC parenting/schooling environment, I am not championing teaching our young ones how to read, write, and do math at a young age. I am speaking more to allowing their natural proclivities to emerge in ways that are individual and unique. I am urging us to believe our young ones are each different, that they each develop differently and at different times, and that is what makes them special and powerful. I am not claiming that children should be rushed our hurried to hit "developmental milestones"; in fact just the opposite - let your particular child guide your sense of what his or her particular milestones are, rather then compare them to a homogenized norm.
Sunday, April 23, 4:00pm: We are happy to invite you to join us for an informal chat with James and Lynne Heckman (grandparents to Emma Heckman, Room 8 PM). Their work on the economics of human capital is beyond much of the current groundswell around the push to expand access to early childhood education. James is the name behind the “Heckman Equation”, the notion that for every dollar society invests in a child’s early education, it will be repaid thirteen times over the course of that child’s adult life. James is a former Nobel Prize winner, heads the Center for the Economics of Human Development at the University of Chicago, and is the principal investigator in an ongoing study of the longitudinal impact of the nursery schools in Reggio Emilio, Italy. Put simply, he is a giant in the field. We will send out a more formal invitation to this event shortly but wanted to flag this date for you. Thank you to Jonathan, James’ son and Emma’s father, for helping to coordinate this event for us!
Gender survey: A group of our teachers are exploring how gender is constructed in the early years, and have developed a survey they would love you to fill out for their work. We sent this link a while back, but wanted to include again here in case you missed it the first time around. Please see the survey here.

Coffee Chat: Friday, March 17, in my office, see you there! (it was not the first Friday of the month due to our admissions event this morning).

Around the JCC - Exploring How the Brain Learns with Barbara Allen-Lyall, Ph.D. – March 8, 2017, 7:15PM - 8:45PM: We learn every day of our lives, but what is the process, exactly? How do we know when we have been successful in this endeavor? This interactive workshop engages participants in the use of various learning pathways and looks at the research behind why learners of varying ages access different pathways at different times. Understanding the learning process helps us make better sense of our own lives. Register here.