BUILDING CONNECTIONS, INTERLACING VALUES, RESPECTING INDIVIDUALITY
We view children as “Constructivist Learners” who are competent and capable, full of potential, and invested in their own quest for knowledge. As partners with parents, our Early Childhood Educators provide provocations for sensory rich learning, create classroom environments for inquiry, are professionals knowledgeable in the developmental stages of children, and dedicate themselves to on-going research and training. This is all part of a dynamic continuum of family learning that supports life-long critical thinking skills and serves as the cornerstone for larger social change and personal growth.
OUR VALUES-BASED CURRICULUM
In the ECP, children attain school readiness and academic skills through a play-based, evolving learning environment based on individual interests.
We use positive-guidance and redirection to foster cooperative learning and self-control and facilitation to teach questioning strategies and a thirst for knowledge. Daily, children experience Judaic enrichment, hands-on sensory exploration, open-ended connections with trained educators, project-based learning, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities, music, literature, and a focus on the process of art, because we view each child as an individual. Educators document these learning experiences for parents on bulletin boards, during parent/educator conferences, and through annual portfolios. The ECP continuously promotes excellence by including parents and extended families in inter-departmental Jewish events and celebrations and by ensuring children gain:
- self-confidence and a positive self-image;
- enthusiasm for the learning process;
- effective problem-solving strategies;
- complex skills in the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical areas of development;
- a general respect for others and our own bodies;
- a feeling of group belonging and community connectedness both locally and globally;
- and values to use for self-guided direction.
The ECP teaches Jewish values through modeling, the use of books, discussions, and class projects appropriately focused at each age group. The whole school focuses on tzedekah (charity and giving to those in need) and tikkum olam (caring for the world and our environment both locally and globally). From year to year, your child will build upon their prior knowledge with a focus on the following:
Mishpacha (love of family)
Shalom (feeling peace)
Shalom Bayit (peace in the home and classroom)
Bal Tashchit (do not destroy needlessly)
Hachnasat Orchim (welcoming guests)
Saver Panim Yafot (cheerfulness)
Kibbud Horim u Morim (honor parents and teachers)
Derech Eretz (common courtesy and respect)
Hiddur P’nay Zakken (honoring the elderly)
K’vod Ha’anee (respecting the poor)
CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATIONS
We believe that children flourish in a stimulating environment and have a multitude of leaning “languages” – clay, dancing, inventing, singing, dramatic play, painting, drawing, reading, to just name a few. As such, we provide them with a host of provocations, opportunities, and “loose parts” to foster their interests and discoveries.
The following are some of the subject areas that we incorporate into our weekly lesson plans and classroom environments for the children.
Our program is sensitive to the fact that there are many different ways to practice Judaism and to celebrate Jewish life, and is, therefore not affiliated with any specific Judaic movement. Our purpose is to foster children’s positive self-images as people and as Jews and to help them gain an understanding of the feelings and needs of others. Throughout the school year, we explore the Jewish celebrations of Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Hanukkah, Tu B’Shevat, Purim, Pesach, Lag B’Omer, Israel’s Independence Day (Yom Ha’Atzmaut), and Shavuot. As the time for each holiday approaches, the ECP sends information to families regarding each holiday, our observation celebrations and traditions, and ways to be involved.
PJ Library: Judaic & Literacy Support
The PJ Library supplies free, age-appropriate Jewish books and music to children in their homes. In addition, the ECP maintains a library for use by educators and children in their classrooms. Shalom Austin administers this program and not only provides an opportunity for Jewish children from the ages of six months through nine years of age to receive books in their homes, but also sponsors fun and engaging community events several times each year. Several JCC common areas, the ECP lobby, and many local congregations also have displays of PJ Library books available for families to enjoy while visiting. ECP educators use these same books to reinforce values, Judaic lessons, and Jewish holidays with the children. The PJ Library is supported by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation as well as local donors.
Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH)©
The Discover CATCH Program is designed to nurture a love of physical activity, provide an introduction to classroom-based nutrition, and encourage healthy eating in preschool-aged children. Modeled after the nationally recognized CATCH Program, Discover CATCH provides a classroom and school-based environment where physical activity, health education, gardening, and healthy eating behaviors are valued and taught. Children are motivated to walk, run, jump, dance, and move their whole bodies while playing and having fun! The JCCs of North America have adapted this program to coincide with Jewish ethical values and teachings.
Science and Nature
Experiences in science encourage children to observe, question, predict, and understand cause and effect. Science activities might include planting seeds, observing weather, making predictions (buoyancy, magnetism, volume, comparisons, etc.), or baking challah. Educators recognize the importance of helping children make connections to nature and also incorporate recycling and composting efforts into their daily activities and routines. Our entire school participates in composting and children learn from the toddler year forward how to differentiate between, compostable items, recyclable items, and landfill or “trash” items.
Technology and Engineering
Technology is an inherent part of our everyday lives, and we know that toddlers often know how to work their parents’ iPads and cell phones. During their time at school, the ECP provides technology and engineering experiences through research, design, invention, and construction opportunities. From blocks to Legos, and recyclable robots made from “loose parts” to giant building blocks with interchangeable pieces on the playground, children are building, experimenting, and discovering about the physics and physical properties of the world around them.
Art activities such as finger painting, modeling with clay, pasting, cutting, drawing, gluing, incorporating food or objects as art mediums, sewing and lacing, photography, and easel-painting are some examples of ways we encourage experimentation and exploration of materials. The process of working with these materials and participating in these activities offers children avenues for creative expressions of feelings, ideas, and emotions. It is also important to us to provide children with an opportunity to “get messy” while learning. Educators highlight the process of art and make a concerted effort to provide children with an “artistic license” to demonstrate and value that our views of the world are often different. They can then experience pride in their work that may not necessarily look realistic or neat, but that is completely a product of themselves.
Children acquire knowledge of math and numbers through a variety of daily activities and routines. For example, setting the table in the dramatic play corner or setting the table for snack provide practice in one-to-one correspondence, as each place is given a plate or boat, a napkin, and a spoon. Building with blocks provides opportunities for understanding spatial relationships. Measuring ingredients for cooking activities fosters beginning understandings of quantity, measurement, and fractions. Sorting, shape recognition games, and puzzle manipulations can all help with geometric concepts, while simple counting is done routinely when in line, singing songs, reading, and with a variety of other activities.
Singing, listening to recordings, understanding rhythm, and participating in creative movement are some of the music activities in our classrooms. Music is an artistic expression of math. We enjoy incorporating songs and movements into daily classroom routines. A simple tune can turn a chore into a game or help a child learn a prayer. Jewish melodies and Hebrew words are incorporated into rhymes and songs, and children often gather together in larger groups to explore sounds and create their own music. The ECP also provides weekly music lessons provided by a Music Educator/Specialist where children learn preschool songs and traditional/holiday Jewish songs in both English and Hebrew. Friday Tot Shabbat gatherings combine music, dance, and community prayer as an expected routine for educators and children. Educators keep musical instruments in their classrooms for incorporation into center play and use in circle/community times. Music is played during rest periods and during the day as a way for children to explore a variety of age appropriate genres and as a transitional tool. Additionally, each of our playgrounds incorporate music into outside play through the presence of instruments located on each of our playgrounds and on the courtyard. There are large, animal shaped Tonga drums and spinning rain wheels.
Six weeks to 12 Months
Core Day: 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM
The ECP infant program provides a warm, nurturing atmosphere in which educators engage and talk with children as they care for their needs and teach through play. They are cared for in a manner that assists them in developing trust in their surroundings and their educators. Infants have stable, consistent routines that are based on their own schedules for eating, resting, and playing. Educators foster language development through stories, songs, verbal interactions, as well as beginning baby sign language. Music, outside time, buggy trips, sensory play, and art discovery activities occur daily and are documented both inside and outside of the classroom through daily reports, bulletin boards, weekly lesson plans, semester assessments, and annual portfolios.
- Develops attachment to educators, is anxious with strangers, self-soothes, seeks attention with noise or gestures
- Gains sense of self (i.e. responds to own name), reacts to mirrored images, enjoys social play
- Acquires language by responding to sounds and some words (i.e. no), babbles with inflection, uses exclamations (i.e. oh-oh, bye-bye), says “dada” and “mama” for specific person
- Uses hand signs for some objects
- Increases large motor skills including rolling over, crawling, standing, walking, and raising hands over head
- Develops fine motor skills including grasping, scribbling, banging, finger feeding, and drinking from a sippy cup
- Understands cause/effect and object permanence
- Sits at a table
Core Day: 8:30 AM – 2:30 PM
Extended Care ends at 5:30 PM
ECP toddlers are encouraged to develop independence while maintaining a personal and community sense of security. Planning for this age group includes many sensory, language development, social, fine and gross motor skill activities. Educators expand upon each child’s knowledge base and help them to internalize the skills of observing, gathering information, inquiring, and improving communication. Connections to art, music, movement, and nature are built during this process, as well as a beginning sense of helping others.
- Self-help skills including seating self in chair, trying to open lunch box/items, using a spoon, removing/putting on some items of clothing (i.e. shoes, socks, hats)
- Makes independent choices regarding play, engages in parallel play, and begins to enjoy peer play
- Develops a sense of confidence and self-worth
- Awareness of others and their feelings
- Expresses emotions appropriately, awareness and beginning control of aggression
- Names familiar objects, expresses physical needs (i.e. thirsty, hungry), uses 2-3-word sentences, sings songs
- Fine motor skills including clapping, stacking, raising lids, stringing, completing 2-3-piece puzzles
- Throws and kicks a ball, runs, rides small riding toys, pulls and pushes toys
- Curious about surrounding world and uses imagination in play
- Imitates behavior of others, especially adults and older children
TWOS AND THREES
Extended Care ends at 5:30 PM
Daily activities for children who are in the two- and three-year old programs are based upon projects and units of study that are interesting and meaningful to those children. A balanced schedule provides experiences in group and individual settings and includes stories, music, language experiences, natural discovery, and inquisitive discussions that include research. Individually, children choose learning center activities in which they can work and play alone, in pairs, or in small groups.
Classrooms are arranged into centers that include educational toys, materials, and games based upon age appropriateness and the interests of the children. These include centers for books, blocks, sensory materials, art, puzzles and manipulatives, math, science, and dramatic play. Children have the opportunity to work and play in these centers individually, with a friend, or in small groups. Choosing centers provides practice in making decisions, following directions, working independently, and learning about the care and use of materials.
Outside time offers opportunities for gross motor development (climbing, running, jumping, pedaling, and building, for example), social interactions, as well as a chance to experience weather and seasons. Children can also experiment with sand and water during these outside periods.
Daily group times provide opportunities for your child to learn in a large group setting. Group lessons include stories, music, gross motor activities, language experiences, and discussions including questioning and research. Additional activities include cooking, growing plants, nature interactions, and having visitors share information about the unit studies. Children will also have opportunities for music, creative movement, tumbling, and other large motor activities. Children learn language, science, and math skills through experiential and integrated play and projects.
Developmental Goals for 2-Year-Olds
- Self-help skills including manipulation of clothes for toilet and developing toileting skills when ready
- Asks and answers questions
- Makes independent choices regarding play 10
- Enjoys peer play, begins to share/cooperate
- Beginning to use words instead of physical aggression when upset
- Names familiar objects and expresses ideas, expresses physical needs (thirsty, hungry, etc.), uses 4-5-word sentences, repeats songs, rhymes, finger plays
- Enjoys books, can turn single pages independently, and is attentive when stories are read
- Large motor skills including climbing, running, jumping, rolling and catching a ball, pedaling a tricycle
- Fine motor skills including grasping with fingers, completing 3-5-piece puzzles, stirring with a spoon, painting with brushes
- Curious about surrounding world
- Uses imagination in pretend play
- Developing ability to solve problems independently
Developmental Goals for 3-Year-Olds
- Begins to care for personal needs (bathroom skills, dressing self, independently washing hands)
- Shows pride in accomplishments and follows established classroom rules and routines
- Demonstrates appropriate self-control, understands personal space boundaries, and transitions with ease between activities
- Draws a person with 2-4 body parts, draws circles and squares, uses scissors
- Cooperates with others during play
- Begins to offer and accept affection and empathy
- Uses language to express emotion including anger, frustration, and sadness
- Recognizes and can repeat sound patterns, uses language to recall a sequence of events, speaks clearly enough for others to understand
- Begins to understand time-related vocabulary and makes size comparisons between objects using language
- Enjoys books, listens to two stories consecutively
- Climbing, running with coordinated movement, walking backwards, throwing a ball overhand, catching a bounced ball, beginning hopping and standing on one foot
- Fine motor skills including drawing, cutting, 5-20-piece puzzles
Extended Care ends at 5:30 PM
Educators provide a rich learning environment for the children in the Pre-K program including many sensory experiences, hands-on activities, language immersion opportunities, and Kindergarten readiness integration. Children construct their own learning and knowledge from the endless opportunities and the guidance provided by the educators. This special learning environment is a product of our philosophy of the image of each child as competent, capable, and curious.
Educators also provide children with integrated opportunities to practice learned Jewish ethics and values each day through lessons on the Jewish holidays, books, games, rituals, and customs. Pre-K educators also meet each year with Austin Independent School District (AISD) Kindergarten educators and Austin Jewish Academy (AJA) Kindergarten educators to discuss student expectations and recent educational developments.
Schedules for each Pre-K class include both large and small group times as well as times for individual choice in centers and on the playground. Children learn to follow directions and transition between activities. These transition times are turned into learning opportunities when educators count in English and other languages, teach about opposites, colors, self-awareness, and much more.
Children in the Pre-K program also frequently participate in activities through the Austin Jewish Academy. They regularly visit the AJA library for a story-time, have older “buddy” relationships with children in grades K-5, and have a relationship with AJA educators through the annual AJA Science Fair. Some years, the AJA provides space for Pre-K classes to create and exhibit a class project, and all years, Pre-K children are invited to the actual AJA Science Fair. Educators work with the children to develop and create a class science experiment and presentation using the Scientific Method throughout the year – whether or not they are presenting in the AJA Science Fair.
In support of this program, our educators provide the following for the children:
- A print-rich environment to promote both reading and writing;
- Writing tools, paper of all types, and places and opportunities to create and write. Examples include but are not limited to journals, cards, name tags, documentation of children’s thoughts, letter of the week bags, “what if…” prompts, and self-developed stories;
- A variety of stories and texts and associated meaningful discussions;
- Phonological awareness by singing songs, reciting chants, making up rhymes, and learning finger plays;
- Advancement in both small and large motor skills by involving children in the creation of routines, activities, and experiences that build hand-eye coordination, visual perception, auditory perception, and auditory discrimination; and
- Science experiments and discovery using the Scientific Method, as well as cooking projects, and exploration of nature;
- Math experiences and discovery including counting, geometry, grids and coordinates, patterns, and sequencing.
- Knows and verbalizes personal information (first name, last name, parent’s first and last names, address, and phone number)
- Associates use with common objects (money, food, appliances), groups items by a particular characteristic
- Recognizes letters and their corresponding sounds and recognizes, spells, and writes full name
- Speaks in grammatically correct sentences most of the time and uses complex sentences to express thoughts, feelings, and to answer questions
- Understands past, present, and future
- Asks for help when needed, negotiates solutions verbally to resolve conflicts, enjoys engaging with other children, and is able to both lead and follow the group
- Expresses needs and preferences clearly and appropriately, shows interest in and actively participates in various classroom activities (independently and in groups)
- Demonstrates opposites and their meanings, recites parts of songs, rhymes, stories, and finger play games
- Enjoys books and is also able to retell familiar stories
- Recognizes and selects healthy foods
- Becomes aware of investigative processes using scientific methods
- Sorts and compares objects by size, length, weight, area, and temperature and begins to identify the position of objects in a series
- Kindergarten readiness skills
Parent involvement is crucial to the success of our program and solidifies open communication with staff and Administration. This foundationally enhances a positive school experience for your children. Parents receive consistent daily communication from classroom educators including a daily picture, moods and observations, and an individualized comment about each child. We also encourage parent involvement in a variety of ways including:
- The ECP Parent Committee (PC) which provides parental viewpoints and feedback to Administration on strategic planning and school-wide policies and decisions;
- Volunteering in your child’s classroom;
- Going on class field trips;
- Attending parent activities and ECP/Shalom Austin-sponsored workshops;
- Participating in parent/educator conferences;
- Attending weekly and special Tot Shabbat programs on Fridays;
- Donating reusable materials (e.g. material scraps, toilet paper roll tubes, yarn) for art projects or gently used toys and books that your child may have outgrown;
- Providing feedback to help make the ECP the best environment for you and your child!
The ECP has an active Grandparent/Grandfriend Club that provides diverse opportunities to participate with their grandchildren and amongst themselves as well as share their unique talents and gifts with the school. The highlighted event is the annual Grandparents’ Day Breakfast which boasts participation from Bubbies and Zaydees, aunts and uncles, and neighborhood “pseudo” grandparents from near and far.