The Bread of Affection

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By Alex Grossberg, Preschool Assistant Director and Pedagogista

As the students and teachers of our Preschool began preparing for Passover, there was a lot of discussion about the symbols of the holiday. The one symbol that the students kept mentioning was matzah! Unlike most adults, children usually seem to enjoy matzah. As one three year old said, “It’s like a super giant Passover cracker!”

Each year teachers all over the country explain to their preschool students that we eat matzah to remind us of the exodus from Egypt. As an adult, I have a hard time understanding the correlation, so how do we expect a group of two–five year olds to grasp such an abstract concept? During the days before Passover, the students were invited to participate in a matzah factory at the DCJCC.

After talking about the history of the Jews leaving Egypt, the students went through the entire 18-minute process (we were not too strict on time, especially for the younger ones) of making matzah.  We then served it at our Seder in Song the week before Passover.  Here is what the process looked like in the words of our preschoolers:

  1. “We used flour and water. And we mixed it up (motioning mixing the ingredients together).” – Gamalim (2.5 yr old) student
  2. “And we rolled it. We rolled it really flat.” – Gamalim (2.5 yr old) student
  3. “We need some flour on the rollers so it doesn’t stick.” – Peelim (4.5 yr old) student
  4. “I made a pancake!” – Etzim (2 yr old) student
  5. “Squish it! Look how flat I made it. It looks like a state. Or a chicken. And this is the head. It looks like a triangle. It looks like a pyramid. Hey! It looks like a pyramid of Egypt.” – Bogrim (5 yr old) student
  6. “We poke holes so it doesn’t rise.” – Gamalim (2.5 yr old) student
  7. “Don’t let it rise! But, yesterday, my mom made bread. And she put it near the heater on my little chair. We had to wait for it to rise. It took a long time. I got to try a little piece, but it was past my bedtime.” – Bogrim (5 yr old) student
  8. “That doesn’t look like real matzah. It looks to be like real bread. It doesn’t look matzah-shaped. Matzah is square shaped, and ours is a circle.”  – Peelim (4.5 yr old) student
  9. “And now we are baking it in the oven” – Teacher; “We don’t put bacon in the oven!” – Gamalim (2.5 yr old) student
  10. “I made a gorgeous matzah!” – Yanshoofim (3 yr old) student
  11. “It’s the best matzah I ever ate!” – Kochavim (3.5 yr old) student

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

Pay to Play? What is “free” play?

In our Preschool, we’ve been using “Free Play” freely (if you’ll pardon the pun) to describe what our students do in the classrooms first thing in the morning.  It implies that the play is child-directed, free of adult interference.  That it’s loosey-goosey, aimless or perhaps a little anarchic.  But the more I think about it, is this really what we want to convey when we talk about the children’s play?

Yes, play should be child-directed, but that doesn’t happen without teachers creating an environment that encourages exploration, independence and curiosity.  For example, teachers in the PreK-4 class added gourds (uncut) and leaves to the sensory table in anticipation of autumn and Sukkot.  The teachers didn’t then ignore the provocation or alternately tell the children what to do with the gourds—they watched and saw where the children went and followed their lead.  And they stepped in to help only by asking questions or talking to a child who was maybe considering throwing one.  Later in the morning, they satisfied the children’s curiosity by cutting them open (no easy task the teachers and students discovered!) during Small Group Work.

Watering plants during intentional play

The teachers set up an opportunity to take care of the class plants during Intentional Play

Don’t get me wrong—it’s not the word “play” I have an issue with.  Play is important, vital, necessary to children’s learning.  It’s the word “free.”  (I heard Lilian Katz once asked, “Free play?  Please tell me what’s “expensive play.”)

So we could replace the word “free” with any of these:  choice, independent, spontaneous, open, exploratory, guided.  Or my preference:  intentional.

“Intentional Play” gets the best of both worlds:  it implies planning on the teachers’ part, thought on the children’s part and the message that children learn through play.

So starting today, let’s start a revolution:  let’s call it Intentional Play.  You can even use Microsoft Word’s “find and replace” function to find the phrase “free play” and replace it with “intentional play” wherever it’s found.  It may not seem revolutionary, but it’s a shift in thinking which will lead to a shift in action.

If you want to add an intention to play to your own life—perhaps as a goal for the Jewish new year—all the better.

Additional Reading:  What Should a 4-Year Old Know?

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.

DCJCC Preschool Provides a Reggio Response to Miriam Mörsel Nathan’s Exhibit

My name is Mandy Sheffer and I am the atelierista at the Washington DCJCC Preschool. Atelierista is an Italian word that translates to studio specialist in English. In simpler terms, I am the school’s art teacher. We are a Reggio-inspired preschool, meaning we follow the Reggio Emilia teaching philosophy. Every week each of the seven classes in our school has a one-hour studio session with me in our art studio. This time is a chance for the children to talk, explore, learn and create artworks and projects that are meaningful to them, while at the same time learning new art techniques and becoming familiar with different art styles and artists.

Being a preschool within a community center, we are very fortunate to have access to some amazing resources, including the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery. As part of our most recent studios, each class visited the gallery and explored Miriam Mörsel Nathan’s exhibit ‘Memory of a time I did not know…’. The exhibition is described as follows:

“Working from pre-World War II photographs, Mörsel Nathan searches for details of family members, most of whom she has known only through photographs and stories. In working with these images, she creates hauntingly beautiful and provocative works.

By piecing together fragments of information collected from family documents, notes on photographs and oral histories, Mörsel Nathan’s work reveals an elusive story of personal history and ascribed memory, acknowledging what she does not know about the people in these images.”

This is how I explained the exhibit to our preschoolers:

“Miriam, the artist who created the pictures in the gallery, has a family just like you and me. Some of her family she has never met before. They lived far away, long ago and the only way she knew about them was from a box full of old photos. The photos were so old that they were black and white; there was no color at all. She loved to look at the photos and because she didn’t know anything about the people in the pictures, she loved to make up stories about them.

Some of her favorite photos were of her Aunty Greta. Aunty Greta wore lots of different clothes in the pictures, but because the photos were black and white, Miriam didn’t know what color they were. She liked to try and imagine what color Aunty Greta’s dress might have been, or the color of the jumpsuit she was wearing. She decided to paint some pictures of the dress and jumpsuit to help her imagine their color.

She also loved to look at pictures of her Uncle Josef at his wedding, surrounded by his family and friends. Because she didn’t get to go to the wedding she didn’t know the whole story, she didn’t know what happened at ‘the party’. So she decided to imagine and try and guess what happened. She also created artworks using the pictures of his wedding to try to help tell the story.”

The children really connected with the exhibit. There was a lot of continued conversation about the artworks, Aunty Greta and Uncle Josef began to pop up in the children’s play and lots of the children wanted to know more about Miriam. The children also began taking their parents to visit the gallery. To build on this interest we continued our gallery-inspired studio work. Over the following four weeks, each class created artworks inspired by the exhibition – visiting the gallery frequently throughout the weeks for inspiration and to gain new insights. Because we are Reggio-inspired, we wanted to stay true to the approach throughout the process. Having the children guide the direction of the artwork is one way and documentation throughout the process is another.

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Throughout the creation process, we utilized a range of documentation methods to make the process more meaningful and to highlight the learning that has happened throughout, including written, photographic, audio and video observations. Each class created their own binder, which told their individual journey through written and photographic observations as well as work samples. These were presented alongside the artworks.

Below is a summary of each class’s artwork:

DAGIM (2 year old’s): The Dagim’s artwork was inspired by the Aunt Greta series and focuses on each individual child and their favorite color. One-by-one each child laid down on a large sheet of white butchers paper and was traced around to create a silhouette of their body. They then chose a color to represent them. For example Oliver said “Aunty Greta is blue. I am red.” We painted our silhouettes using the color that each child chose to represent themselves. We used watercolor paint and brushes for the base color and then squeezed and flicked tempera paint in squeeze bottles over the top of the watercolor.

PEELIM (2 1/2 year old’s): The Peelim’s artwork was inspired by the Aunt Greta series and focuses on each individual child and the colorful clothing that they wear to school. We visited the gallery again in small groups and looked at Miriam’s repetitive artworks of Aunty Greta’s jumpsuit. We talked about all the different colors we saw and each child chose what color they thought her jumpsuit really was. We looked at our own clothes that we wear to preschool and talked about what every child was wearing and what color their clothes were. We then headed up to the fourth floor photocopier and took it in turns to photocopy the shirt we were wearing at school that day (reminiscent of the simple black and white images of Aunty Greta’s jumpsuit that Miriam created). I also photocopied an assortment of the children’s spare clothes (namely pants and socks). We used watercolor paper for the copies. We built onto this work by adding color to our photocopies using watercolor paints and small brushes. They finished their art pieces by organizing and gluing their water colored clothing into one piece on a large sheet of paper.

RIMONIM (2 3/4 year old’s): The Rimonim’s artwork is inspired by the Aunt Greta series and focuses on portraiture – what Aunty Greta’s face looked like. This class was intrigued by the fact that Miriam hadn’t painted a face on the Aunty Greta silhouettes and we talked a lot about what we thought her face might have looked like. We started our artworks by painting Aunty Greta’s skin – we used large white paper and mixed an assortment of skin-toned tempera paints using different sponges. Next, we shaped Aunty Greta’s head and added the detail to her face. The children’s faces were photographed and their eyes, nose and mouth were cut from their pictures and mixed up together. We drew large circles on the back of our skin-toned paper to represent her head and then cut them out. Using the cutouts of their faces, the children glued and collaged on eyes, noses and mouths. Last, we mounted our faces onto large sheets of watercolor paper and added hair using black markers and watercolor paint. The end results were quite abstract and striking!

KOFIM (3 year old’s): The Kofim’s artwork is inspired by the Uncle Josef series and focuses on memories and storytelling. The Kofim spent a lot of time looking at the Uncle Josef wedding photos. We brainstormed all the things that we thought might have happened at Uncle Josef’s wedding and then individually each child talked in more detail about a specific story they thought took place at the wedding. Next, we created small ink drawings (reminiscent to photographs) to compliment the stories we told in the previous week. These were then combined into a wedding album for Uncle Josef.

SIPORIM (3 year old’s): The Siporim’s artwork is inspired by the Uncle Josef series and focuses on clothing, perspective and storytelling. This class spent a lot of time studying the group photo of Uncle Josef’s wedding. We talked about the clothes that they were wearing and how they were posed. We decided that at weddings you have to dress fancy and at Uncle Josef’s wedding you had to wear a hat. For our artwork we decided to get fancy and go to Uncle Josef’s wedding too. Choosing from a large array of fancy dress-up clothes, shoes and accessories to get dressed in, the children could wear anything they wanted, but they had to make sure they had a hat. Once dressed and looking fabulous, each child took turns to stand against a white backdrop to pose for a picture in black and white, of their front and their back. Once printed we added our own color using colored pencils and then arranged these pictures to resemble the group photo from Uncle Josef’s wedding.

TUTTIM (late 3’s, early 4 year old’s): The Tuttim’s artwork is inspired by the slideshow from the Uncle Josef series and focuses on family, memories and storytelling. Each child brought in an old photo of their families taken before they were born, and in turn told a story about what they thought was happening in in. These were recorded using an audio recorder and combined in iDVD (Apple video-editing software) to create a slideshow of memories. We also talked as a group about our school family. We talked about all the people who make up our school family and together explored each floor of the building to see what school family members we could meet. We took with us an audio recorder, a camera and a list of questions the children had written to ask the people that we met. These recording and photos were also used in our slideshow. The Tuttim were also in charge of creating invitations for the exhibition, creating the menu for the night (pickles, ice-cream, popsicles, bread and apple juice) and curating the artwork.

YAELIM (pre-K): The Yaelim artwork is inspired by the veiled images in the Uncle Josef series and focuses on family, memories and storytelling. Each child brought in an old wedding photo from home (of their parents, grandparents etc) and created stories about the images. The photographs were then copied black and white and the children added their own colors using colored pencils. We also created wedding veils using embroidery circles, white netting, large needles and pastel colored embroidery thread. The children created abstract designs with their thread and added in beaded details. The culmination of the artwork was combining all pieces together into a frame to create veiled memories like Miriam did.

To showcase the children’s incredible work, and to give a fitting end to the culmination of this project, we decided to create our own gallery in the preschool lobby (aptly named The Preschool Lobby Gallery) where we could exhibit our work. November 10th was our opening night and naturally we threw a party for our families and our JCC family to come and see the work. The Tuttim class were our ‘mover’s and shaker’s’ and helped to plan and coordinate the opening night. They set the menu (pickles, ice-cream, popsicles, bread and apple juice), curated the artworks, packed away the school library from the lobby and made sure that all JCC staff were reminded of the event.

On opening night we drew a huge crowd of JCC staff, families, friends and most specially the artist herself, Miriam! The children (and teachers) were so proud at what they had achieved and we were all honored and excited to have Miriam join us. Some found themselves tongue-tied when they got to meet her, while other children grabbed her hand and took her to look and talk about the artworks they had created.

Miriam’s art has been incredibly inspirational for all the children and teachers, acting as a catalyst for strengthened relationships within the school, the centre and with our children’s families. Aunty Greta and Uncle Josef have become so important to all of us that they will never be forgotten – they are part of our families now too!

Why Our Preschoolers Phrase Their Answers in the Form of a Question

by Mark Spira, Chief Development Officer

Leslie HurdThe Washington DCJCC always knew it had one of the best and brightest preschool staffs around, but now you can see for yourself. Wednesday night at 7:30 preschool teacher Leslie Hurd will make her debut on Jeopardy on WJLA Channel 7.

That’s right, she’s on the long-running granddaddy of all game shows and the one most people judge their own useless font of knowledge against. Leslie not only made the cut but spends her days in a classroom proving that all that knowledge is a good thing—especially when you are trying to hold the attention of a group of 2 and 3-year-olds.

Due to strict confidentiality clauses we don’t know what happened, but that hasn’t stopped the rest of the JCC—staff, parents, toddlers—from trying to pry tidbits out of Leslie since she returned from L.A.– but to no avail. So we will all tune-in Wednesday night to find out how she did, what she wore, whether she got to make it a true daily double, and what exciting anecdote she shared with Alex after the first commercial break

And once it is on the air we can even get an answer to the biggest question of all from Leslie, is Alex Trebek really a robot and how many people does it take to operate his animatronic features?

(Oh, by the way, don’t worry mcrosenthal, it’s on 30 minutes BEFORE the Olympics so you won’t miss any medal events or stories about the hard-scrabble slalom skier who learned his craft by skiing in-between trains on his way to school from his chalet as a disadvantaged youngster growing up on the mean straßes of the Swiss Alps.)

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