A Day at the White House

By DCJCC Preschool Teachers Xani Pollakoff, Kara Korengold and Tammy Schwartz

The helicopter was heard before we saw it. All the kids covered their little ears and their mouths dropped open. And suddenly, in the last weeks of school, our year came full circle.

To understand the power of the day we have to bring you on a journey from the third week of school to today.

If anyone had asked the teachers in the preschool’s youngest class if we would be talking about President Obama on a daily basis we would have laughed out loud. But during our first adventure outside the Center walls we saw a helicopter overhead (such is life in our nation’s capital)! One of the teachers shouted “Obama” at the helicopter and all the friends were hooked. Every time we saw a helicopter, all the friends would look up and shout, in unison “Obama”! During intentional play friends would call Helicopter Obama on their pretend phones. Many friends would draw helicopters, and some would event point to helicopters in transportation books and call it “Obama”.

To our friends, helicopters and President Obama were one and the same.

We spent months discussing the President, and through story telling, photographs and art projects the Etzim began to understand that “Obama” was a person with a dog named Bo who lived in a white house. (The concept of THE White House is still a little hard to grasp.)

On August 1, eight months after seeing that helicopter in the sky on our first venture to the park, the Etzim walked through the gates of the White House, hung out with Bo and got to watch President Obama board Marine One! The wind was strong. The noise was loud. But there he was and the Etzim blew kisses, yelled “Obama” and had an once in a lifetime experience.

But the day didn’t end there. Stay tuned to hear more about our adventure in the vegetable garden with Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses…

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Adam Sandler at the DCJCC! (sort of)

So ever since we wrote this description for our Chanukah Carnival, I’ve had Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song” in my head.

See, this is what I wrote:

Grab your socks and your yarmulke, it’s time to bounce for Chanukah. 

This year’s rockin’ Chanukah party will feature a moon bounce, games, crafts, treats and plenty of fun for the whole family.

Clever, but now it’s stuck.  So in the interest of fairness, I thought it was only right to share his song with you:

Why does this happen?  Apparently, it’s an earworm (I thought I just made that up, but it’s real, from the translation of the German Ohrwurm), and apparently women, musicians and people who are neurotic, tired or stressed are most susceptible.  It hardly seems fair.  I can’t help being female, And if you’re tired or stressed, it just seems cruel to add this.  (I can’t play an instrument, and I like to think I’m no more neurotic than the next person…)

So I suppose I’m stuck with this on my own until Chanukah actually starts on Tuesday, December 20.  For eight nights after that, the rest of the Jewish population can join me.  It’s a good song, no?

And if you want to know what started it all, join us this Sunday morning—yarmulkes not required.

The Gamalim Explore the White House

By Shayna Tivona, teacher, Gamalim class (2 ½ year olds)

Our White House exploration began with an interest in the American flag. The Gamalim noticed that the DCJCC has a very large flag in front of it, and they excitedly pointed out the American flag whenever we walked to and from Stead Park. Soon they began to notice other flags as well. The Gamalim teachers found books on flags and on DC, since many books on DC have American flags in them.

Gamalim at the White House

The Gamalim walked to the White House

One of the DC sights featuring a flag is the White House, and when the Gamalim discovered that the J is on the same street as the White House, they decided we should visit! We walked a mile to the White House on the walking rope.  The Gamalim were disappointed we could not go through the gate, but they decided that they wanted to know more about what was on the grounds.

To continue our ongoing exploration, we have added more books on the White House and other DC icons. We have sketched the White House and learned all about the different rooms and who works in them. On Tuesday, we had a fancy White House lunch in the classroom, using a tablecloth and our very best table manners. One friend brought in photos of her experience at the White House Easter Egg Roll, and another friend brought in her book about the Obama’s dog, Bo.  One parent is going to help us get a tour.

The Gamalim also worked hard to craft a letter to President Obama, asking him if we could go inside the White House to see more. We wrote several drafts and spent a lot of time thinking of good questions to ask. All of the Gamalim signed their names at the bottom of the letter. We are anxiously awaiting the President’s reply!

Here is the finished letter:

November 3, 2011

The President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC  20500

Dear President Obama,

We are the Gamalim class of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Washington, DC. We are two years old. We walked to the White House last week, but we couldn’t go in. We’d really like to go inside. We want to visit the Blue Room, the Gold Room, the Yellow Room, and the Red Room. We want to see the Oval Office, and all the other rooms. Please can we go in the White House?

Here are some questions we have:

  • President Obama, why do you work?
  • What do you do all day?
  • Do you have trucks?

 We have been reading lots of books about the White House, your family, and Bo, too! We made pictures of what we saw at the White House, and now we’d like to go inside. Please? We will say “thank you!”

 Sincerely,
The Gamalim

What’s Jewish about butterflies? Or spiders or potato bugs?

By Leslie Hurd, Kofim teacher, and Amanda Laden, Kofim teacher

The Kofim class of three-year olds has always been a curious bunch, full of questions and ready to search out the answers.  Since our school uses a Reggio-inspired, emergent curriculum, following the students’ interests and using those to construct learning opportunities, Amanda and I were hopeful that a class exploration of animals might lead us toward the National Zoo. The kids’ interests, however, were steering us in a much different direction:  down.

As we walked around our neighborhood, the creatures that most captured the kids’ fancies were at ground level: bugs! As adults, it is much easier to see what is at our own eye level and above; for these kids, a shrub with a spider web tucked inside IS at eye-level and is an absolutely amazing thing! The Kofim were into bugs.

Kofim sketching on their Bug Hunt

Kofim sketching on their Bug Hunt

Kofim on a bug hunt

Using magnifying glasses on a Bug Hunt

We amassed a collection of clear containers (with lids) that were good for creature collecting. Working together, the Kofim collected dirt, leaves, and the occasional potato bug. Having no fear of these creepy-crawly critters, many of the Kofim helped each other ease into the “new territory” of picking up bugs with gentle hands, watching them crawl up and down arms, and then either placing them in a container or back into its hole. Ants and potato bugs were the ones we brought back to class most frequently, to inspect before putting them back outside “to play,” as the kids put it.

Kofim looking at a bug book

Using the Big Bug Book to identify the bugs

One day, a classmate brought in a jar of caterpillars for the kids to observe. Five caterpillars in a jar crawled around as the kids watched and asked questions: “Why don’t they have legs?” “How can they see?” “How can they eat?” “When will it be a butterfly?” Using The Big Bug Book, we looked up caterpillars and read about many different kinds. We also began to focus our creature searches toward areas with lots of flowers, where we would be sure to spot butterflies or moths. The kids were familiar with the idea of making a chrysalis from the ubiquitous and beloved The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but they had never seen it in action.

Drawing and painting bugs

Drawing and painting bugs

Over the course of the next seven days, the caterpillars grew to be enormous “baby monster caterpillars,” before crawling up to the top of the jar, hanging upside down, and making their chrysalises. We ordered more caterpillars (InsectLore.com), so the kids could watch the process a second time.

Releasing the butterflies

Releasing the butterflies in Arna's Garden

As each set of caterpillars metamorphosed into butterflies, the children were transfixed. They told kids in other classes about their pet butterflies, so we soon began entertaining visitors from all over the school. After keeping each generation of butterflies for roughly a week, we went out as a class to release them in Arna’s Garden in front of the J. As each one flew away, we said “Goodbye, Butterfly,” adding many of the languages we had represented in our class:  shalom, parpar (Hebrew), au revoir, papillon (French), adios, mariposa (Spanish).

Kofim at the MNH Butterfly Pavilion

The Kofim visit the Butterfly Pavilion

Not done with butterflies yet, the Kofim Class and their parents jumped on the S4 to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s Butterfly Pavilion. We spent the morning watching a tarantula being fed, holding GIANT grasshoppers, and walking through a flower-filled greenhouse with butterflies fluttering above and on our heads.

As teachers, it is our job to impart knowledge to the students, to shrink it down in a way that makes it accessible to the kids. The kids are teaching us in reverse, by magnifying their own wonder in these so-called “little things” and sharing it with us.

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