Spotlight on Early Childhood Education

Re-Evaluating Early Childhood Education: Facing Today’s Challenges

by Cathy Rolland

Many of our congregations with early childhood centers are  currently facing similar challenges: enrollment numbers are down; families are experiencing financial and emotional set-backs, and our communities continue to face new competition from the secular world of early childhood education.

Though at first glance, this may appear rather discouraging, at the same time it offers us an excellent opportunity to take a close look at our current structures and ask ourselves some difficult questions:  What does our early childhood program really stand for?  What is our identity?  How are we REALLY connected to our synagogues?  What’s unique about us? How are we different from all of the other programs in the area, Jewish and secular?

Spotlight on Early Childhood EducationIf we expect us to engage today’s families with young children in new and meaningful ways, we must closely examine the entire congregation and how our families with young children are connected to everything going on, beyond the early childhood program:  Are we inspiring as a community to today’s families with young children? What tools do we need to make our community the place we dream of where these families will want to begin their Jewish journeys?

On March 14, 2012, seventy early childhood educators from all over the country will join together in Boulder, Colorado as Cantor Ellen Dreskin leads us: Through the Jewish looking glass…… Do you see what see?  Whether our directors are Jewish or not, each one will bring different types of experiences. Individually and together we will “look inside” and reflect on our own connections to Judaism and our Movement.  As we focus on our personal and professional relationship to Judaism, we will create tools to take back to our own settings to ensure Reform Judaism provides a compelling core to all of our classrooms, programs, staff and families, to ensure a strong and vibrant future for our Movement.

So tell us in the comments section below: what are the greatest challenges facing your congregation’s early childhood center, and how is your leadership dealing with them?

Learn more about Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism and the URJ’s Early Childhood Education resources to help your early childhood program thrive.


Cathy Rolland is the URJ’s Early Childhood Education Specialist.

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2 Responses to “Re-Evaluating Early Childhood Education: Facing Today’s Challenges”

  1. avatar

    As a Jewish professional working in a synagogue and the mom of a toddler, I think part of the problem is that many of our congregational Early Childhood Centers are not meeting the realistic needs of today’s working parents. While I would love my daughter to be in a program infused with Jewish values and connected to a Jewish community that we belong to, more importantly I need her to be taken care of while I’m at work, which means somewhere where I can pick her up at 6pm. I think if our Early Childhood Centers were to look more at secular childcare facilities in terms of the hours of care they offer (7am-6pm, part-time options, etc.) and the age of children that they accept (as young as 6 weeks in many places), perhaps they could be more competitive.

  2. avatar

    Having grown up active in the Reform movement (Temple Israel of Boston),and now a Jewish Communal Professional, I’m happy to see this important conversation taking place that raises the challenges to reach and engage families with young children. As the task force coordinator of The Jewish Education Project’s Gateways to Engagement (G2E) initiative, I work with Reform and Conservative synagogues to help them discover and address: What do young families today need and today? What gives them that sense of community and belonging? How can our institutions better understand their needs and create strategies to build deeper relationships with families?

    Through G2E we’re working with Early Childhood Centers and their host institutions in New York to help create a more aligned vision of engaging families with young children through data driven planning that has lead to more effective, targeted communication and creating more welcoming and inclusive opportunities for young families to engage with the institution staff and programs, and with each other. By bringing clergy, professional staff, lay leaders and parents around the table they have been able to learn from parent surveys and engage in meaningful discussions that have led to change within these intuitions. It’s not a quick process, but one that is bringing the challenges they and families with young children face today to the forefront of the institution.

    Sarah’s comment above speaks to one of the important challenges we grapple with in order to engage today’s families. Regardless of the quality and value of a Jewish early childhood education and programs being offered, if the hours of our ECC’s do not meet the needs of parents today, the option to even step foot in our congregations is often taken off the table.

    My team in the Department of Early Childhood and Family Engagement at the Jewish Education Project recognize that the power exists in networked conversations that bring together Reform and Conservative congregations with Communal agencies and families to learn about and spread new models of extended infant, toddler and childcare (i.e Temple Israel of New Rochelle’s partnership with Bright Horizon). Thank you to Cathy for continuing to illuminate the many challenges and kudos to the Reform movement for doing so much for Early Childhood education and family engagement. Let’s also widen our network to have greater impact.

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