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Preschool’s Not Just For Kids

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When I grew up, we belonged to a synagogue and frequented it…well, I shouldn’t use the word “frequented.” Yet somehow I ended up in a Jewish elementary school, which could have been an excellent vehicle to engage my whole family more deeply in Judaism, as educators in Toronto are now recommending for their schools. The only family engagement method in my school was a kosher food labels contest, when I begged my mom to buy countless individually wrapped instant oatmeal boxes in order to cut the kosher label from all six packets. But as we know, oatmeal sticks to the gut through mid-morning at best.

There is a wealth of untapped outreach potential through Jewish schools. Parents want to be involved in their children’s education, and are generally excited to learn something new themselves. The outreach possibilities become particularly salient as Jewish preschools gain popularity among the unaffiliated (the number of children enrolled in these schools is now 122,500, twice as many as were enrolled ten years ago).


As more families that don’t fit into the traditional mold—including interfaith, single parent, and same-sex—are looking beyond synagogues and other institutions for ways to enrich and expand their family’s Jewish experiences, educators in Toronto are beginning to tap into this growing potential.

And as more unaffiliated and intermarried families do choose this path for their children, educators will hopefully recognize and take advantage of outreach potential for the whole family, because while some have enrolled their kids in Jewish schools because they received a Jewish education as children, others enroll their kids because they didn’t. And it could be the perfect time to make up for that missed opportunity.



2 Comments

  1. I totally agree that there is huge potential to outreach in the preschool aged crowd. As someone who wants to do more outreach (I am a board member) within and outside the preschool, what kinds of things do you suggest that we do? I would like to hear from others what has worked and/or not worked for them.

    Thanks, Jackie in Ottawa

    Comment by Jackie — June 28, 2006 @ 8:30 am

  2. Jackie,

    There are a number of steps you can take in this regard. Perhaps the first and most important step is finding unaffiliated Jews and helping to bring them towards the preschools. This involves finding unaffiliated parents and engaging them where they are, both in terms of location and mindset. You can experiment with strategic advertising (and programming) in places where families with young children are likely to be, such as stores, publications, and events targeting this demographic. Thoughtful and comprehensive follow-up with people you meet can lead to sustained connections that fuel pre-school enrollment and engagement in other activities. Continued relationship building between these newcomers and Jewish professionals and volunteer leaders such as yourself can help link unengaged Jews to the kinds of holistic family education opportunities in the community that can enrich and round out their experiences with Judaism.

    Additionally, we invite you to ask this very question on our Joplin Listserv for Jewish professionals and lay leaders. This will allow you to raise this question among hundreds of Jewish professionals, and hear from their experiences. To join our listserv, simply email me at estern@joi.org.

    Best wishes!

    Eva

    Comment by Eva Stern — June 28, 2006 @ 4:44 pm

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