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Classrooms Without Borders

2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators in Jewish Pre-Schools

An Israel experience for early childhood educators is a crucial component in advancing the quality of Jewish early childhood programs in Pittsburgh. It is clear that such an experience would impact the way Israel is taught in Jewish early childhood programs. However, it is our feeling that Israel's connectedness to Judaism as a whole, and its links to virtually every other area of the Jewish studies curriculum makes the engagement with Israel a gateway to change with regards to the way one's own Jewish identity is defined, which will of necessity change the way one teaches all Jewish subject matter. Israel can be a prism through which the entire practice of Jewish early childhood education can be examined and reflected upon and studies have shown that teachers who have been to Israel bring more of their own experiences and feelings to their teaching, creating a more enriching experience for the children.

For non-Jewish teachers, learning about and experiencing Israel can sharpen and enhance their understanding of the goals of the programs in which they are working. Engaging teachers with Israel can change not only the way Israel is thought about and taught; it can be the starting point of a re-conceptualization of the practice of Jewish early childhood education.

Pittsburgh's early childhood educators are well trained from a pedagogic perspective. However, very few of them have actually visited Israel, and even fewer have engaged in any serious intellectual application of the topic to their own professional contexts. For many teachers, Israel is separate from their definition of Judaism rather than central to it, and is therefore taught separately and many teachers are ignorant of the cultural wealth of the Jewish people that is embodied in Israel.

The proposed early Childhood Educators' Seminar will also provide an exposure to the practice of early childhood education in Israel which can serve as an inspiration and resource for participants.

Many of Pittsburgh's Jewish Early Childhood programs have been exploring the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education and implementing key principles of the approach in their classrooms. This seminar will also provide an additional lens through which Israel and the Israel experience will be examined.

This will manifest itself in two ways:
  • A key principle of the Reggio Emilia approach is to build learning experiences on prior knowledge and capabilities and to allow learners to individually respond to the provocations which resonate most strongly and reveal their understandings using different modes of expression. Site visits and encounters will take into account what participants already know and know how to do and be structured to allow each participant to respond to what most speaks to them and to express their learning in a variety of modes. They will also document the experience and reflect upon it. In practical terms this means providing ample time to do these things and carefully choosing which aspects of a site to make visible and accessible. The understandings revealed by individuals and by the group as a whole will serve as the foundation for further learning once home.
  • During the course of the seminar, participants will meet Israeli colleagues and visit some programs that are inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach.
The objectives of the seminar are:
  1. To strengthen and increase the Judaic knowledge of early childhood educators through in-depth Jewish study and an experiential program in Israel so that they can transmit this knowledge to the children in their programs and their families.
  2. To provide early childhood educators with significant professional development and to empower them to more adequately fulfill their role as guardians of the pre-school gateway to Jewish life.
  3. To acquire firsthand knowledge of Israeli and Jewish culture.
  4. To participate in Israel-oriented, Judaic experiential learning activities over an extended period of time both prior to the trip to Israel and following it.
  5. To learn about and from Israeli early childhood education.
  6. To forge links and opportunities for interchange with Israeli professional counterparts

The seminar includes three distinct components: Pre-trip study sessions, the seminar in Israel and post-trip sessions.

Pre-trip sessions will be devoted to:
  • Reflection on current Israel education practices in participants programs
  • The Biblical connection to the Land of Israel
  • The connections between the Jewish festival cycle and the Land of Israel
  • Israel today
  • Goal setting and formulating individual instructional projects
The Israel seminar will include the following elements:
  • Sessions devoted to text study related to the Land of Israel, the Jewish calendar and Bible stories. Study sessions will be conducted immediately prior to site visits or on site.
  • Experiencing Israel through visits to the key historic locations on the Israeli map, visits to sites of significance in contemporary Israel and through meetings with representatives of Israel's diverse population.
  • Becoming acquainted with the Israeli early childhood system through visits to pre-schools and early childhood enrichment centers, as well as through meetings with Israeli colleagues.
  • Experiencing Israeli culture through the arts (plastic and performing).
  • Reflection on participants' experiences and the formulation of key issues to be addressed once participants have returned to Pittsburgh.Some of this processing will be done through interactive expressive activities.

Post-trip sessions will be geared to translating the pre-trip study and the Israel experience into practical applications in the pre-school classroom and in family programming.

For more information please contact Melissa:  melissa@classroomswithoutborders.org


2016 Early Childhood Educators' Israel Seminar

Educators 2016

What our participants have to say...

I could never have fully grasped the perseverance of the Jewish people, the miracle of their existence, and the joy resulting in their survival and independence, even despite constant persecution, had I not experienced firsthand what the land of Israel looked like, what the people sound like as they tell their stories, and all of what the senses could take in through visiting the land itself. Listening to the candid story of a child of Holocaust survivors while at Yad Vashem was both heart-wrenching and liberating at the same time, and I will forever be changed because of it. My feelings of love and respect for the Jewish children that I teach will now be i nfused with a deeper love and respect for Israel, which connects all of us.

Rachel Reid / Teacher / TELC at Yeshiva
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

The Classrooms Without Borders Early Childhood Educators Israel Seminar gave breadth and dimension to my understanding of what Israel is. It answered my questions as well as sparked questions I would have never thought to ask; because I did not know what I was truly curious about. More specifically the trip provided an opportunity to get an insider's look into the Israeli classroom setting. I was able to see and feel how teaching young children to respect and appreciate the land and nature around them is valued and embraced in Israel. I would have never understood the full multitude of what this means without physically experiencing it with my own eyes.

Kelly Gumina / Teacher / JCC Squirrel Hill Educator
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

The people, the culture, the feeling you get from being in Israel, all of it teaches so much more about the history than any facts could. I connected to Israel, to the people, and to the Jewish identity, through this experience and the other participants, in so many ways that I never imagined were possible. It opened my heart, spirit, and mind and allowed me to understand so much more about Israel than I ever could have if I hadn't been on this seminar, and I am beyond thankful for this experience.

Jessica Pindzola / Teacher / Community Day School
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

A conversation with Tova Perlmutter deepened my connection with Israel. After learning that her grandparents were murdered at Auschwitz, that she was born in a DPW camp, she was married right after the Six Day War and gave birth during the Yom Kippur War, I said to her, "You are like a map of the history of the Jewish people." She responded, "But each of us is a map of the history of the Jewish people." 

Iris Harlan / Teacher / Temple Emanuel ECDC
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

I cannot express how important it is for teachers to have the chance to travel to Israel. If we are trying to provide the best quality early childhood to our children, then that includes instilling in our teachers the richness of the Jewish history and heritage. And Israel is such an essential part of this picture.

Gail Schmitt / Teacher / Adat Shalom Preschool
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators