February 2015MAIN STORY

Rock-a-Bye (Beth Am) Baby!


beth am babyBy Stephanie D. Lewis

Stop the press and hold the cradle! There are some very huge (or tiny, depending on your point of view) developments happening at Congregation Beth Am. Nowadays, an infant can do far more than just “sleep like a baby.” A brand new program called “The Nursery” provides young infants and toddlers with the basic building blocks of early education through a warm and nurturing environment based on spiritual values, Jewish culture, and longtime traditions.

During a recent visit, I lamented that my own six children were no longer young enough to register for this incredibly comprehensive curriculum that will run around the calendar year (no summer closures!) with the flexible option of convenient operating hours (7:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.) so that working parents can tailor this program around their daily schedule.

Denise Neifeld and Tammy Marcus (Director and Assistant Director of Beth Am Preschool, respectively) radiated love, pride, and tremendous efficiency as they toured me around the cheerful, homey, and stimulating environment. I was in awe as they described in detail how much care and time will be devoted to the six babies who range in age from three–14 months. With a student to instructor ratio of 3:1 (the state licensing ratio is actually 4:1) each miniature “student” (or bundle of joy) is sure to reap tons of personalized attention and plenty of cuddles from the highly experienced and affectionate teachers who specialize in this age group.

Each of the six infants will have his/her own crib, sheets, and two food storage areas, one for room temperature items and the other for refrigerated dishes. Also of utmost importance: the daily sanitization of toys and sterilization of changing tables directly after each diaper change.

Activities include story time, artistic creations, play exploration, language discovery and cooking; but no program specializing in young children can be considered complete without music. “The Nursery” will be exposing tiny ears to a wide variety of rhythms, including both lively and soothing Judaic songs, which will be played throughout each day. A devoted music specialist has been brought on staff expressly to unlock the creative spirit and strengthen the mind of these young children.

“The Nursery” has impeccable standards and an aesthetically pleasing classroom and playground outfitted with carefully chosen equipment designed to promote healthy development and encourage exploration. But, there is an entire realm that cannot be seen or photographed for this article. It’s the loving spirit that comes alive here as Neifeld speaks to me. As a mother, I was extraordinarily impressed with the all-pervasive philosophy and the commitment that children always come first. Each is celebrated for their unique qualities and encouraged to reach their own potential in a play-based setting. Indeed, all of the distinctly important pillars of social, emotional, physical, cognitive, and spiritual development are being mindfully tapped into through carefully designed components that are the cornerstones of “The Nursery. “

Mothers and fathers are yet another strong focus at Congregation Beth Am. Every parent who has ever dropped their small child off for the first time in a new program is familiar with the varied range of emotions that can overwhelm at first. Well, the empathetic faculty at “The Nursery” has got you covered! Bringing in a comfort object or photos of family members (to be shared with children throughout the day) is just the beginning of the assimilation process here. With thorough daily communication (both verbal and written) an open-door parental visitation policy, classroom involvement opportunities, and a “veteran parent buddy” (that will be paired with each first-time mommy or daddy) adjustment is sure to be as easy as “taking candy from a baby.”

Heather Wolfson (who also has a child in the three-year-old preschool class) will be the designated Room Parent for “The Nursery.” Her son Gabe is one of the inaugural infants who will make up the class of 2020. Indeed, even though “The Nursery” is technically only a month long commitment, the majority of happy babies are certain to hang out at this synagogue for many years, enjoying a comprehensive program that enriches their lives, from 8 weeks until kindergarten. This is endearingly referred to as being “a Beth Am Lifer” by the smiling staff.

With unique evening talks on a variety of parenting topics, constant communication between the families and staff, an appointed “Parent Ambassador” and even a customized Instagram group (offering a sneak peak into your child’s day with photos and captions secured with password and parental permission) it’s easy to see how devoted “The Nursery” is to the crucial partnership that exists between the program and the family unit as a whole.

If families have children in the regular preschool, they’ll be treated to another wonderfully innovative experience at Congregation Beth Am known as the “Gardening and Nutrition” program.

There are many important components integrated into this new program. Weaving ecological and tikkun olam concepts throughout the various themes and topics that are taught, children will learn the importance of taking care of our environment and keeping their bodies healthy, all while the idea of tzedakah is instilled.

The three, four, and five year old classes will have weekly small group lessons with a master gardener in the outdoor classroom. Hands-on gardening experiences include cultivating a large assortment of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. This helps children understand where our foods originate from and how important they are for good health. Best of all, the students will make and eat a variety of dishes that incorporate all these fresh ingredients. To honor the commitment of bettering the world, the children prepare baskets of their harvest to deliver to others, including the neighborhood fire station.

Among the other varied offerings at Beth Am are a Hebrew immersion and a Spanish immersion program. Both are after school add-on options and both are 99% led in their respected languages. Class time will include music, movement, drama, art and literature with the Spanish afternoons also infusing baking/cooking and playground time into the learning environment.

Again, I yearn to turn the clock back so I can register my children in all this wonder. But it’s not too late for you and your child! “The Nursery” has a rolling admission policy, which means there is a month-to month contract and open spots may become available at any time, with priority given to synagogue members. For further information or questions, please call (858) 481-2893.


Stephanie D. Lewis is a single mother of six and a regular contributing writer to the Huffington Post. She is a humorist at Once Upon Your Prime (www.thequotegal.wordpress.com) and has a published novel called, “Lullabies & Alibis.” She can be reached at thequotegal@yahoo.com.


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