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About our Early Childhood Environments

Rethinking Environments
April 19, 2012

In the special 200th issue of Exchange, Sandra Duncan, co-author of Inspiring Places for Young Children, contributed the thought-provoking article, "Breaking the Code: Changing Our Thinking about Children's Environments." In the article Duncan observed:

"The new trend in aesthetic codes focuses on beautifully designed environments that are harmonious with children’s beauty. In such environments, neutral colors are used on the walls and floors, the furniture is made of natural materials, and the beauty of nature is infused into the room. Instead of bold and bright colors generating from the furnishings or wall decorations, the new code brings color into the space through the simple beauty of children’s paintings, weavings, drawings, or sculptures.

"Also, this new code embraces simplicity and values children& rsquo;s work, especially regarding how their masterpieces are displayed. [In "Aesthetic Codes in Early Childhood Classrooms", Patricia] Tarr challenges early childhood educators to think beyond the idea of decorating the classroom walls with scalloped borders and alphabet posters. She says, “Work that follows formulaic schemas, such as prescriptive worksheets or the St. Patrick’s Day mobiles hanging from the ceiling, stifles the true capabilities of young children and consequently silences imagination and creativity." Still, many educators continue to cover the walls with materials that not only have little educational value but also perpetuate the wrong aesthetic code.

"Breaking the traditional aesthetic code requires de-cluttering the walls, removing commercially-produced materials, and placing children’s framed creative expressions, as well as thoughtfully chosen masterpieces, such as Monet or Rembrandt throughout the classroom. By doing so, teachers can break down the walls of the antiquated aesthetic code and begin to create new codes that honor children’s work and create beautiful spaces." Exchange Every Day publications

Hillel's Early Childhood Environments strive to be welcoming spaces where children can be themselves, where the materials they work with, and the concepts they explore take center stage. Feel free to come by for a visit.

Posted by Mrs. Valerie Lustgarten on Friday April 20, 2012 at 12:26PM
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How About Better Parents? Ouch!

Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers cannot stress enough the importance of parents reading to their children, this article validates the need to do so. Please read and comment.

Posted by on Sunday November 20, 2011 at 10:05AM
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Can Academics and Character Education Coexist?

A big thank you to my husband who handed over the New York Times Magazine as I broused through the Business, Travel and Fashion sections of  the newspaper last Sunday morning. I'm a huge fan of the Sunday Times, for many reasons, it's like my window to the world. Anyway, this weeks' magazine was dedicated to education and its title, “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?”  certainly caught my attention. As Lisa Belkin states in her blog "it sums up the growing belief among educators that traditional measures of “learning” — i.e. standardized tests — don’t measure what really leads any of us to succeed in life. Instead, what we should be measuring (and, more importantly, developing) is far less measurable, an imprecise mix of character, resilience, curiosity and grit".

The article did resonate with me, especially because it describes the journeys of a KIPP charter school in Harlem, and a prep school in Riverdale, NY , in their quest to make character development as significant as academics. What proves to be true among other things is that while parents at the prep school see the value of character development, they do not see it as  important as academics. How about us here at Hillel? How do we feel about Character Education and what it can do for our children? If you are a Hillel parent, please share your vision of Character Education.

Shana Tova, Valerie

Posted by Mrs. Valerie Lustgarten on Friday September 23, 2011 at 01:00PM
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Fast-Tracking to Kindergarten

A link to the Mind in the Making website. Enjoy, gather your big ideas, and join us on September 20 for our first session, which will cover skill #1: Focus and Self-Control.

Books are available in the Lower School office.


Posted by on Wednesday September 7, 2011 at 06:23PM
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A Window into Innovative Jewish Early Childhood Education

The following is a representative story, in which the pedagogical approach of an innovative Jewish Early Childhood program is shared with a parent. It is my hope that conversations like this one take place in all excellent Jewish Early Childhood programs.

Malka had chosen this Early Childhood program for her son Adam for several reasons: it was the most innovative one in town; teachers spent at least 2 hours a week in professional development sessions and had built a professional learning community and which supported reflective practices. The curriculum was child centered, negotiated between the teachers and the children, was project-and-play based, and invited deep thinking and inquiry, not only from the children, but from parents and teachers as well. The icing on the cake was that the program was part of a large community day school, which respected the Early Childhood’s need for a more contained environment while inviting the youngest students to partake in school-wide events and purposefully planned activities.

Being new to the school Malka had wanted to come to her son Adam’s four year old class with an activity for the children to do; she wanted to become involved in the school community but didn’t know quite how to do so. She enjoyed doing arts and crafts with her children at home and thought it would be a fun idea to bring in a craft activity she had seen at Michaels. It was one of those kits for assembling toy airplanes, which had several loose wooden pieces, some screws, and four strips of stickers. She visualized Adam and his peers, all sitting at the classroom tables, assembling their airplanes. Of course, the activity was a little complicated, with the small pieces having to fit into the larger ones just so, but she would help the children out and was certain Adam’s teacher Morah Dina would help as well.

So when Malka received the call from Morah Dina inviting her in to discuss the activity she had volunteered to bring in for the children, she agreed to meet without knowing it would be one of the most interesting and eye opening conversations she would ever have about Adam’s education. The following paragraphs detail the conversation:

 “Thank you for coming in and volunteering to work with Adam and his peers, I understand you have preselected an activity to do with the children and I’d like to talk to you about where their interests lie as of now.

“As you know we had an Early Childhood in-house field trip last week when the Police Department’s service vehicles such as police cars, ATV’s, motorcycles, bicycles, pick-up trucks, and even a speed boat came to school. The children had the opportunity to explore the vehicles, manipulate the officer’s radios and laptops, and ask many questions. Most of our class became deeply interested in the cars and trucks. At the end of the day, as the children reflected on the experience they volunteered to bring toy and model cars they had at home. This week the children transformed our classroom into a huge parking garage in which to park all the cars, an art studio in which to design new car models, an assembly line in which to build their new cars, and an authors’ loft where they wrote stories about their cars. A group of children spent several hours, day after day, building and refining a parking garage, with a dog park and gas station attached. Another group of children spent time in the writing center, writing stories about the adventures they had while riding their cars. Another group of children designed their own dream cars, some with flowers growing from the hood; others with Magen David break lights. At this point the children have expressed interest in building a school bus that would take them places they couldn’t otherwise visit. Please come in to talk to the children, ask them a little more about the bus, and possibly offer them different materials with which to build it? Our Early Childhood program prides itself in providing purposeful activities that enhance the children’s involvement in long-term projects. If you come in asking questions, inquiring about the children’s ideas in place of imposing your idea of a craft on the children, the learning experience will be much more significant and valuable”.

“Morah Dina, I am astounded by your respect towards the children, of how you follow their interests instead of following a boxed curriculum and provide them with the tools they need to develop lifelong skills such as deep thinking, choice selection, independence, cooperation, negotiating and problem solving.

“If I understand correctly, the protagonists of the teaching and learning process will be the children. I will come in at the beginning of next week to have a conversation with the children, ask them what kind of bus they would like to build and then show them a few materials such as cardboard boxes, fabric, cellophane paper, paint, and a few other items I think would be useful. At that point they will make their selections and I will come back the next day to support them in the construction of their bus. Will they be able to negotiate their choices with one another? Will they be able to express in words what it is they want to do? What if they change their minds mid-way? What do I do then?”

“Don’t worry” said Morah Dina, “I will be there to support you. Yes they will be able to negotiate their choices; most of the children in this class have spent three years in the program and have developed their communication skills. They ask questions and wait for answers, and more importantly they listen to their friends’ suggestions. The development of these skills of communicating, inquiring, empathizing, being self-directed, and collaborative are a priority for us. Our children are accustomed to feeling the safe space their teachers have created for them, in which they take risks, voice opinions and ask higher-order questions. It’s ok if they change their minds, because we teachers have become flexible in that we may have our hearts set on the direction a project may take, but if the children are interested in something else, we go on their journey and we learn as well.

“I remember last year when we introduced Purim; my heart was set on the costumes of princes and princesses; I had collected crowns, tulle fabric, toy jewelry, etc. I smiled at the image of the children dressed up as King Antiochus and Queen Esther. But to my surprise, the children became enthralled with the building structures of castles and palaces. They took me places I’d never been; on our classroom smart boards we visited the Palais of Versailles, Buckingham Palace and the Taj Majal. I put away the costumes and invited a parent who is an architect to talk to the children about floor plans, blue prints and how to identify the distinguishing elements of castles and palaces, our block center took over the classroom”.

The following week Malka saw it with her own eyes, she had the time of her life in Adam’s classroom, her conversation with Morah Dina had come to life. Needless to say, not only did Malka grow a better understanding of what excellent Jewish early childhood education looked like, but also provided a segue into a relationship that would last for years to come. And that was the point, which spoke to the mission of the school: to build relationships of respect and cooperation between families and the school, to build tight bonds within the school community with a common understanding of what excellent Jewish early childhood education looks and feels like, all the while nurturing children’s curiosity and enabling them to develop all important 21 century skills.

I wonder what the kids will come up with for Pesach!


Posted by Mrs. Valerie Lustgarten on Thursday September 1, 2011 at 10:58PM
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Coping with Separation Anxiety

Early Childhood parents, welcome back to school! We have prepared the Lower School Library Annex for you as a hang out spot in case you are asked by your child's teacher to stay on campus in order to make the transition easier for you and your child. At Hillel transition schedules are set by parent and teacher, our mission is to make the transition as smooth as possible for both of you. Here are a few tips  for coping with separation anxiety....

Always say goodbye to your child, regardless of the child's age. Don't sneak out the door.
Reassure your child you will be returning and give them a time frame (after lunch, after their afternoon rest).
Keep your emotions from showing. Young children pick up on parental stress and any feelings of guilt.
Leave with a kiss and a hug and say goodbye. Don't linger or remain in sight of the child or come and go several times.
Introduce leaving and returning rituals (familiar words, positive statements, a soft toy for company).
Reinforce your return. Don't ask if the child has missed you, but reinforce the fact that you're really glad to see them and be with them again.
Familiarise your child with their new surroundings if possible, before you physically have to leave them for any length of time.
Focus on the positive things a child has experienced during your absence.
Stay calm in the face of a child's anxiety or stressed behavior. Don't reprimand or make light of a child's distress.
Comfort in a firm, but loving voice.
Don't bribe your child with food or toys in an effort to take their mind of their distress.
Be flexible in easing your child into their new situation.
Provide caregivers with as much information as they need with regard to routines, likes and dislikes, pacifiers and comforters such as soft toys or special blankets.
If anxiety persists, consult and work with the school's Guidance Counselor Dr. Nancy Gould teacher on a routine for separating.


Posted by on Sunday August 21, 2011 at 12:28AM
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Happy Summer and Thank You

We hope you all are well off to a safe summer. I have to say that the campus is just not the same without our children. I write to share with you all that we are overwhelmed by the positive feedback we have been recieving about our teachers, our environments, and our program. Thank you and let's continue together to build on our successes.
Posted by on Friday June 17, 2011 at 07:00AM
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The Case for Play

Posted by on Monday May 16, 2011 at 09:10AM
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Oy Vey! Kumon for 2 Year Olds

Interesting article from the Sunday New York Times. The next post is an article about play in early childhood. Read and comment, where do you stand?


Oy Vey!

Posted by on Monday May 16, 2011 at 09:06AM
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Kindergarten Pen Pals

Morah Samantha and Morah Barbara's Kindergarten class have been busy sending letters to their Pen pals in Massachusetts. As you can see in the picture, Jaime wrote "Dear Kindergartener, My name is Jaime. I love basketball and football. What do you like? Love Jaime.

The ability to learn language, to read and write, and the speed at which it occurs varies from one child to the next. At Hillel teachers view every child as capable, an educational version of the Jewish value B'tzelem Elochim. In PK2 the focus is mostly on adaptation to new environments, detachment from parents and socialization, where language acquisition plays a key role. In PK3, the focus shifts to functions of speech, songs, poems, rhymes, letters as symbols that together produce meaning. By PK4, the focus is on symbols and what sounds they produce, alone and together. Children begin to explore their abilities, the typical example is when they scribble and ask an adult to read what they wrote. Most adults get a kick out of those requests, and try their best to "read" the scribble, this attempt to communicate via written language is an indicator that the child has realized that those symbols are readable, and that the adults in their lives use writing to communicate.

Our teachers are attuned to those "aha" moments and continue to support and encourage their students to practice the formation of the letters to communicate. If fine motor muscles are not yet ready which often is the case, teachers offer letter tiles, cut out letters from magazines or letter stamps, what is most important is to continue to offer children opportunities to express themselves, and encourage them in the process.

By the end of Kindergarten, our children are writing stories, poems, jokes, how to books, all about books and letters to Pen Pals across the country. 

For more information on our reading and writing curriculum or to support us as we continue to participate in Columbia University's Professional Development for teachers please visit the Teacher's College Website at tc.readingandwritingproject.com

Posted by on Friday May 13, 2011 at 11:36AM
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19000 NE 25th Avenue
North Miami Beach, FL 33180
Ph 305 931 2831

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