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Federation to showcase early childhood programs

So you’re looking for a place for your child. Maybe you need day care for an infant, or a nursery school, or an afterschool program for your kindergartener.

You can check out 17 different programs for children from as young as six months through kindergarten at the first Shalom Baby Early Education Fair. It’s sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and will take place at the Frisch School in Paramus next Sunday, February 23.

The programs range from day care to after-school programs. Geographically they range from Oakland and Closter to Paramus and Teaneck and Tenafly. They include synagogue, day school, JCC, and independent locations.

And while you’re speaking to the representatives of the programs, you don’t need a sitter for your child: Federation is bringing Penny and the Puppettes to keep children entertained.

The program fair is part of the federation’s mission of fostering Jewish community and education in northern New Jersey, and the particular goal of promoting Jewish early childhood programs.

“For many families, registering their child for an early childhood program is their entrance to the Jewish community,” said Ellen Finkelstein, who coordinates the Shalom Baby program at the federation. “It’s at that point they decide to join a synagogue or celebrate Shabbat or holidays as a family.”

Last year, the federation expanded its efforts in this area by printing 10,000 postcards promoting Jewish early childhood education, customized with contact information for each of 14 different programs. Some of the programs mailed the cards; others left them in libraries, pediatricians’ offices, and other places where parents of young children gather.

Anecdotally, that effort seems to have been a success; some of the programs reported a rise in their class size this year, according to Stephanie Hauser of the federation Synagogue Life Initiative.

Shalom Baby is a long-standing program that aims to “connect Jewish families one baby at a time,” Ms. Finkelstein said.

Shalom Baby offers parents of newborn and newly adopted children a gift bag including a baby blanket, toys, books on Jewish parenting, Jewish board books, and Shabbat music CDs. The bag is brought by a volunteer, “who puts a face on our program” and invites the families to participate in the play groups that Shalom Baby runs throughout the area several times a month.

The playgroups, for children just a few months up through three years old, offer songs, stories, crafts, play time, and – perhaps most importantly – “a way for parents to meet each other and develop relationships within the Jewish community.”

Shalom Baby recruits through sites like Facebook and Meetup – and through www.jfnnj.org/shalombaby. Parents can sign up for gift bags or their friends and relatives can sign them up. Often it is the new grandparents who make referrals.

The groups “are a way to connect and have support and for their children to make friends,” Ms. Finkelstein said. “For many of them, it’s a way to get a little Judaic content. For some it may be their first introduction to Jewish holidays or concepts.

“Last year I remember a parent, with tears in her eyes, saying that had been invited by another Shalom Baby family to attend a Purim megillah reading. She had never been before, and she loved it.”

She said that given the growth of the Shalom Baby play groups over the past couple of years, the fair was a logical next step.

“We are uniquely positioned in the community to provide this service,” she said. “We host play groups at a number of these locations, working hand-in-hand with rabbis and early childhood directors.”

With the connections to the early childhood programs and access to families who might not be aware of them, “we could act as the shadchan” – the matchmaker – “to make some of these matches,” she said.

Information
What: Shalom Baby Early Childhood Education Fair

Where: The Frisch School, 120 West Century Road, Paramus

When: Sunday, February 23, 9-11:45 a.m.

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