Chandler Jewish Preschool

Rafi Sgro and Dovid Bedrick put candles in a menorah at Chandler Jewish Preschool at the Pollack Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Chandler on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014.

The Reggio Approach, viewing children as competent and capable humans, full of potential, is an approach that goes hand in hand with Judaism, according to leaders at the Chandler Jewish Preschool, and that’s why it was selected to govern the thinking at the preschool when it opened just over a year ago.

“When you go talk to someone in childhood education they say things like, ‘Children are our future, we give them the skills to grow and be in the real world,’” said Shternie Deitsch, director of the preschool. “Our take is a little different. Our take is the kids matter the way they are now. They are full people with intelligence, ideas, emotions and they are important as they are now. We view the kids as little explorers and researchers and we try to make the environment such that invites them to explore and learn on their own.”

Deitsch said the Reggio Emilia Approach, based on ideas from Loris Malaguzzi in Northern Italy, fit perfectly with ideas that were instilled in her growing up Jewish in Boston, where her Rabbi would take time out of his day several times a year to meet with just the children. Instructors at the school are asked to present an idea to a child and allow them to take the learning from there. The kids are encouraged to ask questions and come up with their own answers by investigating and thinking critically.

The preschool is clearly different from traditional preschools, for several reasons, the moment you enter the classroom. There are no overwhelming colorful cartoon letters or numbers — the décor is all natural and much of it is homemade. Alongside the traditional alphabet, there’s also a Hebrew alphabet. This time of year there are no Christmas trees, snowflakes or Santa Claus on the wall, but there is a menorah on the table, handmade menorahs in one area and dreidels in a basket on the floor.

“The kids participate in creating the environment,” said Tara Leafman, one of the instructors at the school. “Our A, B, C’s and 1, 2, 3’s the kids colored the paper and we created the experience for them. They are very connected to the classroom itself.”

While there are no specific religious lessons, the traditions and ideals of Judaism are seamlessly woven in daily in the classroom.

“It’s just part of their day,” Deitsch said. “They couldn’t even pinpoint what is Jewish. The ethics and morals and stories are just part of anything else they are learning. When they sit down for snacks we say a blessing and discuss why do we say blessings? Why do we need to be nice to our friends? Who is God? We have these discussions all the time.”

Though the school is founded on Judaism, children of all religions are welcome to attend. There is a Jewish teacher in each room so that the Jewish teaching can be discussed easily, but the school does have some instructors that don’t practice Judaism.

“Everything we do ties into Judaism in some way,” said Ashlee Mellor, an instructor who does not practice Judaism. “If you look around the room we have things everywhere for that. We always tie it into Judaism in some way. It’s been awesome for me. I’ve learned a lot about the religion and about Judaism through that.”

The preschool is growing slowly. They’re on a waiting list for a Quality First Inspection, which might make scholarships for some families available in the future. For more information on the school or cost to attend, visit chabadcenter.com.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com.

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