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Finding the right pre-school for my child 

 By Helen Shankman

As a concerned mom who used to work at one of the big three parenting magazines, I was drilled day after day with the requirements of a good pre-school program: a low student-to-teacher ratio, lots of toys, scrupulously clean facilities. A structured day with plenty of activities to hone both gross and fine motor skills, music, crafts, songs and stories, gentle discipline, and lots of love. Teachers with a degree in early childhood education who involve the parent in the learning process, and a low turnover rate among the caregivers.

When the time came to enroll Gabriella in pre-school here in Park Slope, I was faced with a plethora of choices. Park Slope has half a dozen great pre-schools; the only problem was choosing between them. I decided to look into Chai Tots, a NYC licensed Jewish preschool program located at the corner of Prospect Park West and Third Street.

My friends said, “Isn’t that just for ultra-orthodox kids?” I set up a visit. I was sure I would see little girls in long dresses, boys with long side-curls in dark pants and white shirts. To my surprise, I found kids named Dylan, Lindsey and Zoe. As I watched the teachers with the children, every situation that came up was handled patiently and resourcefully. They were loving and fun, always asking the kids what they thought, and respectful of their individuality.

When I called parents for references, I found a mix of denominations, from orthodox to Reconstructionist. Some acknowledged that, initially, they had been concerned that Chai Tots might be too religious for their families. "I never even went to Sunday School,” said one mother, “So I went to the school to meet Sarah Hecht, the director. I really like her. Then I met the teachers. They were so personable, and really involved with the kids, that I signed up right away.”

 Another parent said, “We’re reform/conservative, so I was going to send her to Beth Elohim. However, it was just too big — Chai Tots is smaller and more intimate. Everybody knows everything about my child.

My friends said, ‘Gee, aren’t you worried she’s going to end up really religious?’ I tell them, ‘When she is older, she will go to PS 321. But she’ll have a really nice Jewish background.’”

Another father listened to what some of the other parents had to say about the program, and added, “Yes, but you’re forgetting the main thing. It’s really good, quality care.” The last mother I spoke to said, “You know, I really love the teachers and the program. My daughter was actually excited about Chanukah. I’m so happy I don’t have to explain to her why we’re not going to have a Christmas tree.”

They all raved about the school and how happy their children were. The kids are introduced to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Chanukah, but they also learn about Thanksgiving, the seasons, colors, and shapes. They learn about Sarah and Abraham, but they also make leaf prints and snowmen. It is a great balance between learning about the world around them and learning about Judaism in a fun and positive way. So I signed her up.

In her very first week, she brought home a book called “All About Me” that she made with pictures of her favorite food, her favorite color, and her family tree. Moreover, in her lunchbox was my first copy of Chai Tots News, a sunny newsletter describing everything she had done that week; songs, recipes, bible stories, the theme for the week. We are thrilled. I did not know three-year olds were capable of understanding these concepts.

Sending our daughter to Chai Tots is the best decision we have made since we moved to Park Slope. We recommend it to everyone we know of every denomination who is thinking about pre-school for his or her children.

A mother of three Chai-Tots graduates reminisces: 

All three of my children still have wonderful memories of Chai-Tots.  They remember wonderful teachers, having fun and making close friends.   Even after 8 years, my oldest child wrote about her wonderful Chai-Tots memories in a school paper!   As a parent, I remember a place I always felt they would be safe, well cared for and made to feel special.   The teachers really care about who each child is.

 

Chai-Tots also taught so much to my children.   Not just ABC’s and Aleph Bet’s (which they do learn), but while they are painting, gluing, singing, dancing and running the teachers try to teach the children to be good people.  They really work on showing them that it is good to help other people and it is good to be kind.  

 

Also, Chai-Tots is a Jewish School, and I think of Chai-Tots as the first place that helped shape my children’s Jewish Identity.  By Jewish Identity I don’t mean becoming more observant than their family; that is not what the school is about.  Chai-Tots simply makes the children feel proud to be Jewish.  My children may have forgotten some of what they learned during their years at Chai-Tots; but years later, despite going to secular schools since Kindergarten, they still feel its great to be Jewish.   

 

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Comments' from Audrey E.

"All three of our children went to Chai Tots. We all loved it; I actually cried when my youngest "graduated" last year, as I knew our association with the school was at an end. I can't imagine a warmer, more joyful place for a young child to be."

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Comments from Alma Bibliowicz's mom

My daughter (turned 3 in October) had a horrible experience at .... I then took her to Chai Tots where she is the happiest child in the world (she's my fourth). I was reluctant to take her there because it's a Jewish daycare and there is some religion taught in the program (blessings, bible stories, etc.) and I'm a secular Jew (recently moved here from Israel).
I found that the teachers at Chai Tots are warm, caring and very attentive to the children's individual needs. In addition to that, my daughter is learning so much there, through arts and crafts, games and so on!! (They even bake cookies in shapes relevant to the letter of the alphabet they are learning that week).
I am so glad we tried Chai Tots. We are very lucky to have them taking care of and teaching our daughter!

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Speech given by Irene E. at the Chai Tots Annual Dinner

Hello!  My name is Irene.  I'm six years old, and I used to go to Chai Tots. My big brother Raymond went there too, and my little sister Ruth goes there now. 
 
My Daddy tells me that whenever he dropped me off at Chai Tots in the morning, I would forget all about him as I ran for the door. I loved going to Chai Tots.  I loved my teachers, making challah, the songs we sang, the Shabbat parties, learning about the holidays. I loved it when we squeezed grapes to make our own Shabbat grape juice. I loved all the crafts we did. I loved it when my morah read my mitzvah notes out loud, and I liked hearing what Mitzvahs the other kids did at home too. One time at Shavuot we went under a tent, like Rabbi Akiva!  That was so much fun.
 
A few weeks ago my Daddy was taking pictures at Chai Tots and I got to go along. When we got there, I joined my sister's class, and I remembered what a great time I used to have there. Ruth's teacher was really nice, and she let me play assistant teacher and help with the younger children. We made pictures and placemats, and sang the Alef Bet song. It made me wish I could go back. That's when I decided I want to be a teacher when I grow up. Chai Tots is a really special place.
 

 

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Poem read at Chai Tots Windsor Terrace Graduation 2011
By: Ameer & Gayle Benno

Ode to Chai Tots 

Back when our babe was just a year old

We were looking for schools for her and we were told

Of a fantastic place that was brand spanking new

It was in Windsor Terrace and Jewish…woo-hoo!

 

Now before that happened, you must understand

That as a teacher myself, I had high demands

But I’d practically given up hope of finding, you see,

A preschool that would possibly satisfy me

 

I had frantically searched; I’d seen places galore

I’d looked inside out, from the top to the floor

From the front to the back, everywhere in between

Dozens of teachers and classrooms I’d seen

 

I’d seen all of these places…some of them feh!

And the best of them still was only just “eh…”

I was very confused, Oy vey is mir!

September was coming, it was very near!

 

But then Ariel’s mom told me about

A place that would make me jump and shout.

A gem of a school, the best you could have

On a tucked away site on Prospect Ave.

 

“Let's go see it right now!” I said, my eyes very wide

I want to check this school out, from the inside!

“Well it’s not done being built,” she explained to me

“So the inside of course you simply can’t see.”

 

But the school has two other sites – Park Slope, Prospect Heights

You can visit at those and see if it’s right.

And so that’s just what I did, I went to Park Slope

I schmoozed with the morahs and they gave me hope!

 

I rushed home excited, I drove really fast

I couldn’t believe that I’d found it at last!

The school of my dreams, so homey, so right

With my entire heart, it was love at first sight!

 

 And so in September with some trepidation

Our daughter Sophia began her education

At Windsor Terrace Chai Tots, in the toddler class

With Morahs Rivki and Esther, she was having a blast!

 

And right from the start our slight trepidation

Turned itself into joy and elation

As we saw she was having loads of great fun

But at the same time learning a ton

 

Learning letters and shapes, colors and numbers,

Yoga, music, and art and an afternoon slumber!

She learned of the ocean and outer space

So many cool things she learned in this place

 

But that was not all; yes we’re all well aware

Of the Jewish instruction that takes place there

She learned all the brachas and the aleph beis

Chai Tots was becoming her favorite place

 

She learned to do mitzvoth, give tzeddakah and more

For each Jewish holiday, she knew the full score

She shared what she learned with her mom and her pop

And taught us a lot, believe it or not.

 

The Shabbat parties capped off every week

And as Shabbos Ima, oh my! What a treat!

To wear a Shabbat dress and bring a nosh for the class

To light Shabbat candles and drink “wine” from the glass

 

Chai Tots is a place where the staff is so warm

And as all of you know that’s far from the norm

And more than just teach, they nurtured and cared

They worked extra hard to help Sophia prepare

 

They helped her adjust when her little sister was born,

They helped to explain things when her Grandma passed on

The staff they all have such good neshamas

Morahs Chana, Nechama, Eli, Adanna

 

Morahs Shterna and Chaya, Morah Moriashee, too

Mushky and Sarah – we really love you!

We’re eternally grateful for your patience and love

And the hard work you’ve done with faith from above

 

I have so many emotions, happy and sad,

Can anything match the experience we’ve had?

So from all the parents and students who’ve grown

Thanks to the school that we’ve all called our home

 

We say a final “todah” to dear old Chai Tots

We’re blessed to have been here, we loved it a lot

G-d brought us here during our preschool hunt

Congrats to the kids, and to all, Zay Gezunt!

 

 

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