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‘Enchantress’ to keynote preschool parley
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‘Enchantress’ to keynote preschool parley

Tova Halpern demonstrates creative drama techniques in the preschool classroom at Netivot, the Jewish Montessori School in East Brunswick, December 2013.
Tova Halpern demonstrates creative drama techniques in the preschool classroom at Netivot, the Jewish Montessori School in East Brunswick, December 2013.

Karina Zilberman believes that “enchantment” is key to early childhood education.

“I believe spiritual magic can be taught and can help turn lessons into experiences,” said Zilberman, director of Jewish Family Life and Culture at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.

Zilberman will explain how as the keynote speaker Tuesday, Nov. 4, at the Jewish Early Childhood Educators’ Conference at Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan.

The meeting, structured as a professional development day for early childhood teachers and directors who work in Jewish settings, will be sponsored by the Early Childhood Director Group and the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.

Zilberman said her presentation would focus on “92Y Shababa,” which she founded in 2007 and still leads. She described it as an innovative pathway to intergenerational Jewish family experiences.

What began as a modest pre-Shabbat sing-along is now what one writer for The Covenant Foundation called “a weekly celebration attracting hundreds of children and their families and others from the community.”

The celebratory nature of the Shababa experience is suffused with educational content, such as discussion of the weekly Torah portion. Most important, said Zilberman, is that it embodies her “most deeply held beliefs in the power of community, the need for connection, and the fact that spirited and personal Jewish experiences have tremendous potential for meaning and joy.”

Scores of Jewish educators are expected to attend the conference, which will feature 10 workshops running from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Miriam Tennenbaum, director of community impact for the Monmouth federation, is coordinator of the gathering.

Tova Bomzer Halpern of Highland Park will conduct a sample lesson using techniques she learned while a theater arts major at Rutgers University. They include storytelling, creative movement, and drama games.

In the past year, Halpern founded Fresh Theatre Arts, a company designed to provide arts programs to schools and institutions that lack the resources and/or expertise to mount such efforts on their own.

Contact with nature is another essential part of experiential learning, said Irma Philmus, a Matawan resident and member of Temple Shalom in Aberdeen. Philmus spent about 30 years working with the Monmouth County Park System, where, she told NJJN, she was responsible for developing and conducting programs for young children in schoolrooms and in the parks themselves.

Citing Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, Philmus said, “Evidence shows that contact with nature is as important to children as good nutrition and adequate sleep. Therefore, educators need to address children’s access to nature.”

At the conference, Philmus said, she will stress the connection between the love of nature and the Jewish concept of tikun olam — repairing the world. “Knowledge and respect for nature are necessary to this belief,” she said.

Robin Wander of Bradley Beach said in her conference offering she will attempt to answer the question, “What makes a preschool classroom Jewish?”

Currently an independent educational consultant, Wander has been an educator for 18 years and the Judaic program coordinator for the JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains for the past six years. 

“My feeling is that a preschool is Jewish when the students are living Jewishly,” she said. Wander said she intends to urge conference attendees to treat their classrooms as “sacred places where the environment conveys a sense of calm, peace, and safety.”

A Jewish class, she added, “is one where preschoolers have ample opportunities to ask questions, where they learn to work together as a team and to care for each other, and where they learn to take care of plants and pet animals,” the latter a dramatic way of demonstrating tikun olam.

Also among the conference presenters will be Sheldon Low, a Jewish rock music performer; Rachel Saks and Ora Warmflash, who will discuss their love of food and the ways in which nutrition can be taught to preschoolers; Marla Rottenstreich, owner of Mekor Fitness in Highland Park, who will focus on creative movement for preschoolers; Marla Edlin, a learning disability teacher consultant from HoHoKus, and Amy Naphtali, preschool director at Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen, who will focus on constructive use of building blocks; Sharon Raven, early childhood director at Above & Beyond Child Care Center in Highland Park, who will address school enrollment strategies, including recruiting and retention techniques; and Cindy Terebush, from Temple Shalom, who will present on two topics — Special Needs in the Preschool Classroom and Appropriate Expectations of Preschoolers: Early Literacy, Socialization, and Behavior.

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