About 85 educators of preschoolers from synagogues, day schools, and Jewish community centers came together Nov. 3 to gather with colleagues, share ideas, and learn innovative teaching methods.
The annual Jewish Early Childhood Educators’ Conference, held at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, featured workshops on using music and dance in the classroom, methods of imparting Jewish values through popular books, the different learning styles of boys and girls, speech and language development in preschoolers, and how to manage their own stress to prevent burnout.
Keynote speaker Rick Ellis — a renowned expert in early childhood and elementary education and an adjunct education professor at Rider University — discussed the power and necessity of play in the lives of young children.
Although sponsored by the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey — which covers Monmouth and Middlesex counties — and its early childhood directors’ group, the conference drew educators from throughout central and northern Jersey.
Directors’ group chair Inna Shepard, who serves as early childhood director at the Gan Yeladeem Learning Center at Anshe Emeth, said the group meets monthly to demonstrate ways to incorporate innovative techniques and programs into the classroom.
At the gathering, said Sharon Grossman, an educator in the Yad B’Yad program for children 18-30 months at the Jewish Center in Princeton, she had learned many creative techniques to try out in her classroom. “It’s always nice to come to a conference where you are invigorated with new ideas,” she said. “It’s especially good for me because I’m new to the area and it’s nice to meet colleagues from all around New Jersey.”
In a workshop conducted by Debbie Levenberg, the award-winning early childhood educator at the JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains showed participants how her students had created their own Jewish-themed storybooks based on classic children’s stories. Levenberg said the books, with such whimsical names as Let Pidgeon Celebrate Shabbat or Passover A-Z, stimulate a child’s creativity and connection to Judaism.
Later, teachers browsed through stacks of children’s books, coming up with their own ideas for using them as a springboard for teaching such Jewish values as kindness to animals or taking care of one’s body.