Over a third of American children are cared for by someone other than a family member while their parents work. First and foremost, families need a program that meets their needs for location, schedule and budget. And they need to trust that a program will provide a safe and nurturing environment in which their child can thrive.
But once those basic needs are met, families are looking for so much more. That’s why we see an increase in the number of non-Jewish families choosing the JCC for their infants, toddler and preschoolers. The opportunity for character-building, joyful and inclusive rituals and celebrations, and values-based environment evident in our programs means that we’re seeing more and more families today respond to the idea of Jewish preschool — no matter what their faith tradition or background might be.
Families appreciate the unique role an early learning program plays in developing character. The professional staff in a high-quality program are experienced in helping children practice the actual skills of being a good person in a supportive environment. Taking turns, knowing how to give comfort to a friend, being able to express your needs, learning how to receive comfort when you are sad, practicing leadership. In the Jewish tradition, we might call this “making a mensch” – and this concept of learning how to respect yourself, respect others and take care of the world around you is appealing to parents across many cultures and backgrounds.
A Jewish school offers many opportunities for celebration and creating meaning through repeated rituals and traditions. Yes — students from all backgrounds, not just those being raised Jewish, take great joy in lighting candles on Friday for Shabbat or eating challah together. After all, children enjoy rituals and routines. They appreciate familiarity and predictability. But it also goes deeper than that. Many a non-Jewish family has let us know that years later they are still celebrating Shabbat in their own way — with a special meal, lighting a cancel, or sharing special family time together. We love these stories. Helping all families construct lives of meaning and purpose is part of our mission.
Finally, a values-based environment can encompass so much and touch so many parts of a family’s early years. Community, inclusivity and acceptance are three values always present at the forefront of our JCC early learning center. That’s by design. Our early childhood educational framework, called Sheva (Hebrew for the number ‘seven”) guides us to behave with intention, study and thought in everything we do.
When it comes to inclusivity, we speak in the broadest sense. For example, our unique child development program, called Ledgewood in honor of the founding funder, is designed on the principle that creating community means participating with those who are different from oneself. Inclusivity is not just about ensuring those with special needs feel included — it’s about truly making sure that all individuals in a community feel welcomed, respected and essential to a stronger whole.
This cultural shift to a more values-based preschool curriculum is a natural fit with how we at the JCC view children as competent and capable learners. As our enrollment increases for both Jewish and non-Jewish families, we embrace all who come and believe this diversity enriches the experience for everyone and ensures that our schools are reflective of the community we serve.
The JCC Greater Boston Family Initiative connects people and programs, empowering families and supporting meaningful Jewish life. For more information, please visit their website.