Approaching Parents Approaching Parenthood
by Lyn Harley
Director of Early Childhood Education
The Pre-School at Temple Emanuel, Cherry Hill, New Jersey
As the director of a small pre-school located in an area filled with Jewish preschools, I was always trying to think of unique new programs to distinguish us as well as to increase our enrollment. My idea was to create a program for young couples expecting their first child, which would be fun and educational and would also create a bond and a connection to the synagogue and to the pre-school. It would also serve to build a connection between the pre-school and the synagogue by cooperatively working together on a joint program of mutual interest. Although the synagogue valued our pre-school and felt that it was essential for the future growth of membership, we often acted as separate entities. My idea was to work together with the synagogue’s membership vice-president and a committee of lay people.
I didn’t know if I had the time to devote to this demographic whichwas not yet part of my constituents as preschool parents. I reached outto my colleagues through the URJ’s early childhood listserv, and myquery and the responses led to a webinar on the topic conducted byWendy Grinberg, an adult learning specialist with a focus on parentingfor the URJ. (See the archived “Reaching Out to Expectant Parents” webinar under the “Education” heading.)
The membership vice president and I formed a small committee inApril. We planned a series of six workshops beginning in October, whichwe entitled “Expectant Parents 101.” We knew we had to reachunaffiliated couples, so we laid out our advertising plan, whichincluded the synagogue newsletter and membership e-mail blasts, thepreschool mailing list, Facebook, a few paid ads, posters, flyers, andfree articles in the community newspapers. We began advertising overthe summer and by September had enrolled seven couples.
We charged a nominal fee of $75 for the entire series, or $15 persession, in order to ensure a commitment and to cover costs. If a coupleattended the entire series they received the book Sacred Parentingby Elaine Rose Glickman. The participants also received giftsthroughout the series. Items were raffled off that had been purchasedor donated, and everyone was a winner. In addition, all the parentsreceived copies of the URJ publications Wake Up Rituals and Bedtime Rituals.
We met once a week for two hours and had a few Sunday afternoonsessions as well as evening workshops. All of our presenters donatedtheir time and were either members of the congregation or contacts ofthe committee members. Our presentations included an obstetrician onthe birthing process, the rabbi discussing Jewish rituals and prayers,an allergist discussing allergy issues, a demonstration on cooking babyfood, genetic issues, counselors discussing the emotions of pregnancyfor men and women, a pediatrician, and a products demonstration of cool”stuff” for babies. We often had two speakers a night, and always had alight snack. I gathered together a library of relevant books, articlesand DVD’s which were available to borrow. I e-mailed each participantbefore the workshop to make sure they were attending and summarize theprevious week if someone was absent. I also notified the group aftereach baby was born. All of the sessions were very well attended
At the conclusion of the series, the couples filled out anevaluation. The over-whelming consensus was that it was a huge success.The prospective parents felt that the sessions were extremely valuable,informative and fun. They recommended that the genetics session beeliminated and suggested offering it to couples prior pregnancy. Theyexpressed an interest in follow-up workshops for cooking, morecounseling sessions for the after-birth experience, andmommy/daddy/baby classes. All of the couples involved had a bris or babynaming at the synagogue, and one participant even arranged for anaming for herself as she had never had one!
I connected with all of the participants on a very personal leveland will continue to provide programming for them. The young couplesdeveloped a strong connection to the synagogue and will continue theirinvolvement. It requires time and effort, so an active partner is highlyrecommended, but the results warrant it–engagement of young familiesthroughout their lives!
Spotlight on Lifelong Jewish Learning: This month the URJ ishighlighting resources to help congregations with their Jewish educationprogramming, from early childhood learning, through religious school,to post b’nei mitzvah, adult study and beyond. Visit the URJ Lifelong Jewish Learning website for more info.