The Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative


Source:  The Jewish Daily Forward


The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life in partnership with other Jewish organizations, has begun a national initiative designed to create models of excellence in Jewish early childhood education, increase the number of families with children attending quality Jewish early childhood centers, and raise the number of families continuing to engage in Jewish learning and living after pre-school – The Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative.


To accomplish this, granting, mentoring, accreditation, co-branding, and marketing processes are being developed and implemented with the aim of transforming Jewish pre-schools into centers of Jewish educational excellence. More than a dozen nursery schools across the country are currently participating in the initiative.


Founded in 2003, JECEI, seeks to combine progressive education techniques imported from Reggio Emilia, Italy with a deeply embedded Jewish curriculum. This year, the program is expanding to new schools in communities across the country.


JECEI has been creating living models of its new approach offering a synergy of “big” and relevant Jewish ideas and values with the best in progressive and constructivist education, as embodied particularly in the world renowned schools of Reggio Emilia in Italy and the understandings from emotionally responsive practice.


JECEI has established a set of core Jewish ideas and values that guide its work in constructing Jewish ECE schools. Understood as “lenses,” they enable the community to see the world more clearly and in a particularly focused way. Through study and discussion of these lenses, teachers and parents create a shared vision and sense of belonging.


JECEI places unparalleled emphasis on the importance of serious Jewish inquiry and dialogue on the part of the entire family in the community of the ECE school. A central goal is to significantly upgrade the Jewish experience and commitment of families who enroll in a Jewish ECE school. Independent of family background, immersion in Jewish ideas and values, community and life will transform the face of participating families.


The philosophy of the ECE schools of Reggio Emilia harmonizes powerfully with big ideas and values of Judaism. For instance, the schools of Reggio Emilia are grounded in a deep respect for and amazement of the potential and competency of children. Teaching and learning in Reggio Emilia emerges from an intensely collaborative partnership among teachers, children, and parents leading to the highest educational quality.


This synergy of Jewish ideas and values, Reggio inspired constructivist education, and emotionally responsive practice can be viewed in the JECEI schools that are the fruit of three years of intensive labor. JECEI’s schools are demonstration sites where early childhood directors, teachers, parents, funders and other interested stakeholders in the Jewish community can learn from this new, dynamic approach to Jewish ECE.

Updated: Jul. 01, 2009