Jewish Values at the Y Nursery School

Susan Herman, Y Nursery School Director

Monday, February 02, 2015

In keeping with the Y’s mission of creating a caring community, guided by Jewish values, the staff of the nursery school is always looking into best practices and recent research in order to create nurturing classroom communities.  There has been a lot of research recently on the science of character development and on the traits that help children succeed in school and help people live happy and satisfied lives (see the work of Seligman, Peterson or Trough, for example).   Here, at the Y nursery school, we recognize the importance of building character and incorporating values education into our curriculum.

The nursery staff took a look at the recent research and, also, at the Periodic Table of Character Traits created by Tiffany Shlain http://www.letitripple.org/resources.  The video that she created on the Science of Character https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3nT2KDAGOc  focuses on the idea that one’s own character can be developed and that it is possible to help others to develop important traits and values.  As teachers of young children, we naturally incorporate the development of social skills and humanitarian values into the every-day routines of the classroom and encourage the development of community, respect for others, kindness and sharing.

Inspired by Tiffany Shlain’s work, Rabbi Avi Orlow, from the Foundation for Jewish Camp, adapted the Periodic Table of Character Traits to reflect Jewish values that are organized in various categories such as wisdom, courage, honor and justice: https://avikatzorlow.files.wordpress.com/chese2014/01/making-mensches-periodic-table.pdf.

At the nursery school, this school year, we chose to focus on three of these values, and are developing ways in which to incorporate them into our units of study within each classroom and also to celebrate them together as a whole school.  

As a group, we opted to focus on Kindness (Chesed), Creativity (Yetzirah) and Community-mindedness (Areyvut) and to make these traits part of the culture of our classrooms as well as to plan and facilitate activities that support the growth of  these values within ourselves as a staff and among the children we teach.  As part of this process, some of our children, working in pairs, have created friendship collages:

In order to encourage acts of kindness, we have created a kindness jar where children add a pom pom whenever they notice an act of kindness in the classroom, on the way to school or at home.

We are also planning a Tree of Kindness where each leaf, contributed by parents, children and teachers, will represent an act of kindness.  Some books that the children have enjoyed include Have You Filled A Bucket Today? By Carol McCloud, What If Everybody Did That? by Ellen Javernick and the Kindness Quilt by Nancy Smith.

Our teachers and children work hard each day creating a positive community within each classroom where children take turns being responsible for a variety of daily jobs and where children’s work, opinions and interests are valued and respected by teachers and classmates alike.  In addition, we have created a culture of Tzedakah where children are encouraged to  bring in their pennies each Friday in order to fill up the classroom Tzedakah boxes.  When the boxes are full, each class will decide to which charity to donate the funds they have collected.  In previous years, classes have donated a goat or a sheep to families in need through Heifer International (http://www.heifer.org/gift-catalog/index.html?msource=KIK1B130055&gclid=CPzJl8bTt8MCFe7m7AodKlgAew) as well as to local soup kitchens and shelters in our immediate neighborhood.

  Tzedakah boxes in the classrooms

Creativity has always been valued in the nursery school classrooms as we work to incorporate the visual and performing arts into our units of study on a daily basis.  In addition to exploring a variety of media, enriching our studies by creating three-dimensional props to support our imaginary play and participating in a weekly dance program, we also have studied art itself and some of the artists who have created it.

 Our classroom color wheel

As the school year progresses, we look forward to continuing our work in the area of character education, in partnership with our families, and to encourage the growth of positive character traits and the incorporation of Jewish values into our curriculum.