Ottawa has several warm and caring options for Jewish early childhood education – including the Early Beginnings Multicultural Child Development Centre, the Soloway JCC Ganon Preschool, and the Westboro Jewish Montessori Preschool – each with a unique approach. Louise Rachlis reports.
Lauren Lee, director of the Soloway Jewish Community Centre Ganon Preschool, is very proud of the preschool and the quality of her staff. She has been at Ganon, which serves children aged two to five, for a decade, and many of her staff members have been there a long time as well.
“It’s a really excellent first step in Jewish education,” said Lee.
The children learn about and celebrate Jewish holidays and welcome the Shabbat each week, and the curriculum stresses such Jewish concepts as tikkun olam, tzedakah and performing mitzvot.
“The [SJCC] facility is excellent and we can keep the children active with swimming, gym and other extras,” she added.
Enrolment is “phenomenal”, she said. “I hope we can keep expanding.”
She said the preschool, which has a junior kindergarten, is getting more creative and creating more programs for two- and three-year-olds in response to full-day kindergarten in the public system.
Ganon hours are 8:30 am to 3:30 pm with extended care options from 7:30 am to 6 pm.
Once children graduate from Ganon, many of them move on to all-day kindergarten at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.
Visit www.jccottawa.com/ganon or call Lee at 613-798-9818, ext. 280 for more information.
Devora Caytak, director of Chabad-affiliated Westboro Jewish Montessori Preschool (WJMP), a program of the Jewish Youth Library of Ottawa, describes her preschool as “a boutique, a gentle introduction to school before they go on to ‘big school.’ The children take it all and carry on with a beautiful, solid foundation.”
The preschool was launched informally in 1992 and received its licence in 1994. It became a Montessori preschool in 2008 and serves children aged 18 months to six years old.
“We give a lot of individual attention,” said Caytak’s daughter Sara Loewenthal, a Hebrew teacher at WJMP. “We know the families and the kids personally. It’s the house of children.”
“Every family that walks through the door is held in high esteem. Every child is given 120 per cent of their teachers’ ex-
pertise and love,” said Caytak, who has 12 children of her own, ranging from 12 to 34.
“Mrs. Caytak and every teacher she has selected believe in the limitless potential of children,” said Elianna Saidenberg, whose two daughters attended WJMP. “They have designed a curriculum that is engaging and challenging for children.”
Saidenberg likes that children of all ages learn and play together at the WJMP.
“When my kids were among the youngest, they benefitted from learning from the older kids and trying to emulate them … When they were older, they learned the importance of being good role models to the younger students
and also were able to gain pride in themselves when they were able to help the younger kids.”
Visit www.tinyurl.com/WJM-Preschool or call Caytak at 613-729-7712 for more information.
The Early Beginnings Multicultural Child Development Centre opened in 1989 as the Jewish Community Day Care Centre and moved to its present location in 1999 after the Jewish Community Campus was built, explained Sandy Deyo who has worked at the day-care for 21 years and has been its director for the past three.
One of the big differences in early childhood classrooms now is that “kids today come in so inundated with screen time,” she said. “We have to teach them how to play with a toy. They are so used to being entertained.”
She said that “what parents expect is started earlier and earlier – to write early, to read early. Kids are under a lot of pressure … They are only this age for a short time. We are a play-based program, and we think kids learn the most through play. That’s what their job is at this age.”
While it is open to all families and has a multicultural approach, the majority of children at Early Beginnings are Jewish and the day-care maintains a “strong Jewish flavour,” said Deyo, noting that Shabbat is welcomed weekly with songs and candle-lighting and that the day-care’s kitchen, which has a full-time cook, is strictly kosher (including during Passover).
Early Beginnings serves children aged 18 months to five years. The junior kindergarten (JK) class has a weekly French class and a basic Hebrew language class twice a month. All classes have weekly music, and the JK and senior pre-schoolers visit the library at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.
Early Beginnings is open weekdays from 7:30 am to 5:45 pm and closes only for statutory holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Visit www.earlybeginningsottawa.ca or call Deyo at 613-722-5157 for more information.
Programs for very young children include
PJ Library, Shalom Baby and Shabbat Shalom
By Louise Rachlis
‘Starting early, that’s how you build it,” says Ella Dagan, who, as manager of the Family Life Centre at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC), oversees the Shalom Baby and Shabbat Shalom programs.
The parent of any Jewish child born in Ottawa can submit an online form to Dagan to receive a bountiful Shalom Baby Gift Basket with all kinds of products and information. The form is available at www.shalombabyottawa.ca.
Another wonderful way to “start early” is with PJ Library, a program spearheaded by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and made possible in Ottawa by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. PJ Library sends free Jewish books to young children on a monthly basis and a CD of Jewish music at Chanukah time.
“The program is an exceptional means of educating children Jewishly at a young age and exposing children to Jewish holidays, festivals and values,” said Ariel Fainer, the PJ Library co-ordinator.
“The books are always age appropriate,” said Fainer. “PJ Library’s main goal is to turn snuggly pyjama moments into Jewish moments and I think that goal is achieved every month as children receive their books in the mail and sit down for story time with their parents.”
The Federation began running the PJ Library program in Ottawa and surrounding areas in 2011.
“The program started strong and continues to grow every month,” she said. “Currently, over 350 families and institutions are receiving books. Over 630 children have received PJ Library books since the program began in 2011.”
Fainer constantly receives positive feedback from parents about the PJ Library program.
“For some families, PJ Library is the main source of Jewish education in their homes and they are so appreciative of the Jewish gift they receive every month. In a recent survey we conducted with our PJ Library families, 85 per cent of the families said they feel connected to the Jewish community as a result of receiving PJ Library books. There couldn’t be better feedback than that.”
She believes PJ Library is invaluable.
“The program introduces Judaism and Jewish values into children’s lives at a very young age and will hopefully teach them the Jewish lessons that are so important in shaping our Jewish lives,” Fainer said. “For families in areas with very few other Jewish families or resources, this program connects them to Jewish life on a very real level.”
And PJ Library is not only about the books. It sends out monthly newsletters and holds family-oriented and parent-oriented events.
“It is about creating Jewish community. And that is what PJ Library aims to do – create Jewish community through a love of books and tradition,” she said.
For more information about PJ Library contact Fainer at 613-798-4696, ext. 240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another important program for young children is Shabbat Shalom, an informal drop-in program held every Friday morning. First, the Shabbat Shalom group meets at the SJCC and joins the children from Ganon for a structured Shabbat program. Then, there is play and story time for the children while the parents sip tea, eat challah and chat.
“Parents appreciate that it’s a drop-in program and they don’t have to register,” said Dagan. “It’s a great feeder for the Ganon preschool. [Several] families have recently signed up for Ganon.”
For more information about Shalom Baby and Shabbat Shalom programs. contact Dagan at 613-798-9818, ext. 243 or email@example.com.