Atlanta Jewish Academy's Early Childhood Department begins with the K'far, the Infant and Toddler Village (ITV), where children are welcomed from the age of six weeks through two years old. As they grow, they advance through K'tantanim (three year olds), Ganon (four year olds), and Gan (kindergarten).
What sets our program apart from other Jewish early childhood experiences?
The answer is twofold:
- Our commitment to the vision of preschools, inspired by Reggio-Emilia, Italy
- Our Hebrew immersion program.
What can this mean for you and your family? At AJA, our children engage with the natural world, individuals, a rich variety of materials, the traditions of our ancestors, and the language of our people.
In sending your child here, your family will have the opportunity to realize its divine potential.
Want to know more about our two signature programs?
Reggio-Emilia, cited by Newsweek as home to the best preschools in the world, has a unique educational philosophy, remarkably parallel to many Jewish principles and beliefs.
- Tzelem Elokim. Reggio's central value—an image of the child as capable—mirrors the Jewish idea that every individual is created in the image of God. This image of the child compels us to invite the children to influence the direction of our learning and to provide the children with the opportunity to explore and express themselves through "a hundred languages," including music, movement, writing, art, stories, dramatic play, cooking, games, manipulatives, discussions, block play, computers, physical education, gardening, and numerous artistic media.
- Kedusha. We at AJA endeavor to create beautiful and sacred spaces for our children to engage—with others, materials, books, Jewish tradition, God, and nature.
- D'rash. As Jews, we have a rich culture of inquiry and dialogue . Similarly, in Reggio, educators believe that the documentation of these processes is powerful.
- Masa. Jewish history is rife with examples of famed journeys, including those of Abraham heeding God's call to journey to Israel and the Jewish people journeying for 40 years en route to Israel. At AJA, as in Reggio-Emilia, we believe in the power of the journey, and thus we allow children the time to journey toward their own conclusions in their own way.
- B'rit. We believe that the relationships we educators forge with our families are what enable each of us—parent, teacher, and child—to achieve our divine potential.
- Tikkun olam. We teach our children to act with kavod —to realize their responsibilities toward one another, God, and the earth.
Hitorerut. The heightened state of awareness with which our forefather Jacob awoke from his dream is an affect we seek. As Jews we are obligated to walk the world mindfully, an idea we pursue regularly with the rituals of prayer and blessing. We also seek to stimulate children's natural sense of wonder, delighting alongside them in the world that God has created.
The concept of these Jewish lenses was developed by the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative, under the leadership of visionary Diana Ganger.)
At AJA we are serious about our love for Israel and the Hebrew language. In the early childhood department, we draw inspiration from the work of the ganim (early childhood centers) in Israel and particularly on the kibbutzim, where regular interaction with nature helps children develop a reverence for the land. In these ganim, Jewish holidays are extended, joyous opportunities to experience the richness of Jewish culture and live out the agricultural and Biblical ties to the Land of Israel. At AJA, we intentionally strive to parallel this joyous, organic connection to nature, the Jewish calendar, and the Land of Israel.
Our Hebrew immersion program, beginning in the threes and extending through kindergarten, helps us to realize our commitment to Israel. Guiding our pedagogy in Hebrew language learning is a commitment to neurological research into language acquisition. Recent research in this area has indicated that when a child learns a second language before age six, he will learn it in the same place in his brain where he learned his mother tongue. Naturally, this is an advantage! The research further indicates that this early acquisition ensures that subsequent languages will be learned in this same region of the brain.
Knowing that early Hebrew language learning is good for our Judaic and academic goals, we ensure that children spend half the day with a Hebrew-speaking teacher. What does this immersion look like in practice? It is taught through games, movement, singing, elaborate Israeli-style birthday rituals, dances, pantomime, and quality Israeli children's literature.
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ECD Director Carla Hotz
Carla is a graduate from Trinity College London, where she obtained her ATCL and LTCL in Speech and Drama Teaching. She also graduated from Nova South Eastern University, majoring in Early Childhood Education. She has worked in our Early Childhood department for fifteen years and lives in Dunwoody with her husband Joey. She has two daughters, Gina and Liat, who attend college in New York and Maryland. When not at AJA, Carla enjoys jogging, reading, listening to all genres of music, spending time at the pool and the beach, and taking Torah classes at Congregation Ariel.