Never too young to learn at Jewish Community Center of Paramus
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Never too young to learn at Jewish Community Center of Paramus

Children need to be socialized, to learn the skills they need to get along with others,” says Marcia Kagedan, education director of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus.

For participants in the shul’s Candle Club, that socialization comes early.

The group, a free monthly program for pre-K children, teaches “important concepts, bringing mitzvot [such as] friendship and respect for each other and for one’s parents down to the level of a 4-year-old,” said Kagedan.

“Children have to learn skills in sharing, being a friend, being kind to each other, saying good things about one’s friends, and not getting others into trouble,” she said – and everything needs to be taught in an age-appropriate way.

At the Nov. 15 meeting of the Candle Club, focusing on friendship, “we’ll start with stories relating something about people sharing, caring, being nice and respectful to each other. Then we’ll have an activity to explore that,” said Kagedan.

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Teacher Aviva Goldwasser with Candle Club kids.

“They also learn the value of listening to rules,” she said, “that there’s a right way and wrong way to do something. Children want to know that they’re doing something right, so we’ll commend them when they’re all sharing.”

Kagedan, who said she was the first Candle Club teacher when the group began some 18 years ago, noted that the project was created as an introduction to Jewish education.

“It offers teachers an opportunity to bring in specifically Jewish content,” she said, adding that children are introduced to Torah values at each session.

Hillsdale resident Eileen Schneider, a member of the shul and a social worker with a practice in Tenafly, added that what comes to mind when teaching a 4-year-old about friendship “are the basics: taking turns and sharing.”

“Children this age are also developing the next level of friendship skills, such as compassion and empathy, the most important part of their social skills development,” she said. “It is not uncommon for children at this age to help a friend who is hurt or tell a friend ‘the same thing happened to me.’ In fact, some children cry when their friends get hurt because they personalize it so much.”

Schneider added that with so much attention focused recently on bullying and “mean girls (and boys), there has also been an upsurge in helping children express themselves appropriately to others when angry, upset, or fearful.”

Orite Rubenstein, director of the preschool at Lubavitch on the Palisades, said the school’s philosophy is to build values activities based on the weekly Torah readings. For example, a recent activity, focusing on hospitality, was premised on the story of Abraham and Sarah inviting guests into their tent.

“Classes invited other classes for snacks, storytime, or arts and crafts, or they invited me or Rabbi [Mordecai] Shain,” director of the center, she said. “We also gave children stickers when they invited other children over for playdates.

“We try to use the values that come out through the parsha,” explained Rubenstein, “using something tangible they can focus on.”

Building on the Torah story where God visits Abraham after his brit milah, the nursery school compiled a booklet containing each child’s picture and phone number.

“They can use it to call a friend when he’s sick,” she said. “The book also accomplishes the goal of helping them invite friends to their homes.”

After teaching children how Rivka gave water to Eliezer and his camels, “we talked about taking care of animals and how animals give us food and help us work in the fields,” said Rubenstein. She added that teachers also used the story about the birth of Isaac to talk about “how to take care of babies and the appropriate way to touch them – not to hug them like you would hug your friend.”

“We create activities for the lifelong concepts valued in the Torah and bring them out in [ways that] apply to the nursery school child,” said Rubenstein, noting that “the lessons have been around for more than 5,000 years and apply across the board.”

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