Making Jewish Early Childhood Education Inclusive


I was recently speaking to a mom of two nursery-school-age children. I told her that although my youngest child is only 9, my sense was that parenting very young children has become more difficult over the past 5 years. This mom confirmed my feeling that parenting the pre-school set now comes with even more stress than before (and I was pretty stressed!). Social media has brought unrealistic comparisons among parents, as we all provide perfect snapshots of our often imperfect lives. The influx of information is constant – glance at an app, and run the risk of being bombarded by advice you were not seeking.

On a whim, I Googled “early childhood parenting”. I should not have been surprised that the search yielded 190 million results! From general tips to school recommendations, potty training and child development, sleep, positive parenting, terrible two’s, terrific two’s, social emotional growth… the list goes on and on (and on!).

Early childhood educators serve a critical role in helping parents balance an onslaught of information, helping to sort through often conflicting messages about how a young child learns, what type of environments contribute to optimal growth, which developmental milestones to expect/consider at what points, how to facilitate play amongst peers, how to balance support with increased independence, and all sorts of other tasks that teachers and parents think about every day. Jewish early childhood educators have an added responsibility: they are the single most important connection for young families to the Jewish community!

Imagine, then, the effects on Jewish parents – and their connection to the Jewish community – when they are told that their child cannot be served in Jewish preschool because of his/her special needs; or that the school does not have resources to understand, and in turn support, their child who is exhibiting challenging behavior; or that the skilled educators who are so keenly adept at helping parents manage the demands of raising young children are less prepared to support parents of children who are not developing as expected.

The Matan Institute for Early Childhood Educators exists in order bridge this gap, and to help ensure that every parent of young Jewish children has the opportunity to experience – and reap the benefits of – a Jewish early childhood education. I hope you will join us for our upcoming cohort starting January 28, 2018 (application deadline = December 20, 2017) or pass the information along to the early childhood educators in your life!.

The Matan Institute is Matan’s flagship program, an ongoing initiative that trains current and future Jewish leaders and educators, and builds upon Matan’s vision to change the landscape of Jewish education vis a vis disability inclusion.

Meredith Englander Polsky is the National Director of Institutes and Training at Matan ( She is a 2017 Covenant Award recipient and co-author of I Have a Question about Death: A Book for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Other Special Needs (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2017).