June 2015

Teaching the Littlest Jews

LChaim Magazine SDJA

Photos Courtesy San Diego Jewish Academy

By Deborah Vietor


Would you like your child to experience pure joy and magic in a positive, inviting place where real learning and a connection to Judaism takes place? How about a sustainable garden, athletic programs, art, Hebrew, the study of Israel, Torah and more? Placed on 56 acres and conveniently located off the 56 freeway in Carmel Valley, the San Diego Jewish Academy offers enrichment and learning for children as young as 6 weeks old through high school. Beit Yeladim means “Children’s House” and it is also the Infant and Toddler Care Program at SDJA. The program began in January 2005, and is a fully licensed infant care center where there is an emphasis on social, emotional, intellectual and physical development for young children. The program serves children aged 6 to 30 weeks old and demonstrates a peaceful, loving environment where cognitive learning is associated with music, laughter and play to create a home away from home.

Kosher food is served at all grade levels at SDJA, in an environment which supports Kashrut. Dietary restrictions and food allergies are addressed for each child as well. Fully credentialed teachers work with infants in teams and there is always someone to hold, feed, change or play with each child. Songs, nursery rhymes, exercise and strolling around campus create a special environment.

At Beit Yeladom, children are create art, build with blocks and start learning pre-math and pre-reading in the preschool program. There is a play yard where menschkeleit values of tolerance and respect are supported. The preschool is a microcosm; representative of the whole campus. A low student-to-teacher ratio of 3 to 1 ensures that each child is supported along their learning path. Bi-monthly, a “Person of the Month” is honored with a specially-decorated chair, cards, posters, art projects and small gifts made by the children at the school. Whether honoring the cafeteria lady, maintenance man or a staff member, the children look forward to creating a special day for someone.

Yael Edelstein is the Director of the Early Childhood Center for SDJA and she will tell you that the school offers a balance between a play-based program and an academic infusion into the curriculum. She explains the process of learning for the young children as “tactile, manipulative and developmental with fine motor skills and gross motor skills integrating for emotional and cognitive development.”

SDJA preschool educator Beth Polak was named Teacher of the Year by the San Diego Association for the Education of Young Children for 2015. The AEYC is a professional membership organization committed to promoting optimal life experiences for all children from birth to 8 years.

While cognitive learning and readiness are integrated with music and play, there is not a strict regimen of learning, as this is a relaxed atmosphere where children learn naturally. SDJA offers the gift of life-long learning, service to God through Torah and examples of deeds of loving kindness.

Many types of children learn and grow at SDJA, including those with special needs. Depending on the child’s needs, parent meetings are available and parent participation is encouraged. All children are encouraged to participate in helping one another, furthering the concept of Tikun Olam. As babies grow into toddlers, they have the opportunity for an introduction to a more structured day with stimulating activities, group interaction and a chance to explore. There is an open plan classroom format, enabling children to initiate their own activities and take responsibility for them. Daily schedules emphasize smooth transitions between active and quiet play, individual and group activities, mealtimes and sleeping.

An integral part of the Judaic studies curriculum at SDJA is the study of the Tanakh, the foundation of Jewish civilization and the source of ethical and ritual Mitzvot. Jewish holidays are observed and celebrated while being honored through many teaching methods and practices.

“ We are the preeminent early childhood center in the area, providing a quality program and offering a safe, loving, caring and nurturing community,” Harry Katcher, Director of Communications and Marketing at SDJA says. Katcher believes the teaching staff model behavior illustrating compassion, kindness and fairness to the children on a daily basis. In 2016, SDJA will celebrate its 36th year; a double chai!

“SDJA is San Diego’s largest Jewish day school, offering infants to high school seniors a unique learning environment and culminates some of the nation’s highest achieving students. By developing students both scholastically and ethically, our graduates are prepared for the most challenging course of all–life,” Katcher says.

At SDJA, teachers and staff understand that each child is unique and deserves individual attention and care. SDJA incorporates best practices from different theories and philosophies which are child centered, teacher directed, project based and theme based in an emergent curriculum involving collaboration.

SDJA is a place where creativity, learning, Judaism and humanity unite to form a complete person. The physical, academic and spiritual process implemented is intended to join children together in an effort to celebrate a better world.


To learn more about SDJA and available programs, visit SDJA.com or call (858) 704-3700.

San Diego Jewish Academy is located at: 11860 Carmel Creek Road, San Diego, CA. 92130.


SDJA’s Preschool Program

* Offers five-, three- and two-day weeks for preschoolers * A strong school-to-home connection with families

* Six specialties included in the curriculum: music, art, physical education, library, science and gardening

* Seamless transition into Kindergarten and Golda Meir Lower School

* Over 30 years of experience in high quality Jewish education

* Success in the pluralistic SDJA philosophy


Deborah Vietor is a freelance writer and poet, recently published in the San Diego Poetry Annual. Formerly the Art Director for the La Jolla Art and Wine Festival, she lives in Carlsbad with her husband Jon Vietor, who is an abstract modern artist.


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