Gan Teva Wraps Up its First “Semester”

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Provided by Congregation Ner Shalom

Gan Teva at Ner Shalom has now been open for about three months, and students are growing tremendously under the careful supervision of the director and lead educator, Sarah Maynard.

A Typical Day       

Gan Teva

Gan Teva students hold hands as they play outside

Gan Teva at Ner Shalom is an outdoor, play-based early childhood education center. Each day starts with a typical circle time like any other preschool, except that Gan Teva’s circle is outdoors. A key part of each day is the morning nature walk. Ms. Sarah has made some trails in the wooded area at the back of Congregation Ner Shalom’s grounds for students to enjoy exploring. Sometimes they rake the fallen leaves on the trails, sometimes they opt to go off-trail, and sometimes there are puddles and mud to splash in!

After their adventures in the woods, students enjoy a snack time on the picnic tables right outside the synagogue building, before going up the hill next to the building to do outdoor sensory stations. They have choices between the sandbox, the gardens, the mud kitchen, making “potions” or crafts, swinging and playing on the all-natural makeshift playground area, or digging for worms (hands down their favorite activity). By the time their parents pick them up at noon, students are exhausted from a full morning of playing, learning, and actively interacting with the wide world around them.

Jewish Content

While Gan Teva is guided by Ner Shalom’s Jewish values, Judaic Director Rabbi Lizz Goldstein wants this early childhood education to feel accessible to everyone. Students learn a Hebrew word of the week, related to something in nature and the topics of the general curriculum for the week. On Fridays, students braid their own challah dough and enjoy a little Shabbat service with battery tea lights, grape juice, and their own challah loaves before they leave for the weekend.

Rabbi Lizz and Ms. Sarah talk about as many holiday traditions as they know of and give space for the students to talk about what they celebrate at home. The Jewish holidays get a stronger focus, as the synagogue wants Gan Teva families to feel included in the community as a whole. However, every family should feel welcome to join Gan Teva and share their own holidays.

Bad Weather

Gan Teva

Gan Teva students on a rainy day

A frequent question is what do we do in times of bad weather, or when is it decided that it’s time to go inside. Students do go inside for short breaks throughout the day. Students braid their challah indoors. When it’s raining, they eat a snack indoors and may read a story indoors.

However, even in the rain and cold, students go on their adventure walks and play outside! There has not yet been a day with such extreme weather that it would be unsafe to take the children outside. As Ms. Sarah says, “There is no bad weather, only bad fashion choices.” Students are learning important life lessons of how to keep their bodies safe and comfortable in different environments, and how to advocate for themselves when they are uncomfortable. They now know how to ask for help putting on or taking off their coats, the limits of their waterproof boots for stepping in puddles deeper than the tops of the boots, and which picnic table is best for snack, depending on how sunny it is outside.

The public is invited to Gan Teva’s next open house event or story time! Email director@ganteva.org anytime for more information on our school.

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