Teacher Learning

by Emma Schnur, Preschool Director
October 2020

One of the best parts about early childhood education is that there is always more to learn. Not only does the field change, with developmentally appropriate practices constantly being reflected on, but during the day, there is never a dull moment! Being an early childhood educator means that you engage in constant self- reflection (‘how did the day go? what did I do that needed work? how can I make my classroom more successful?’), read as many articles as you can on early child development, and attend professional development sessions.

Recenly the Gan Shalom teachers attended – via zoom – a professional development session led by Liat Salman. Liat has been in the field of Jewish early childhood education for some time, and came to our staff meeting to lead a discussion on working in a mixed age classroom and emergent curriculum. Emergent curriculum is a type of curriculum planning that is at the forefront of early childhood education. Liat explained that emergent curriculum planning is a cycle that starts with a kavanah (intention), that leads to a provocation in free play. The teacher observes this play, and from there reflects on way to deepen learning. This brings the teacher back to the kavanah and the whole cycle starts again. This session was only supposed to last for one night, but our talented teachers had so many ideas, we had to schedule another meeting to finish the conversation we had that night! So stay tuned on what we learn and how we will bring it back into the classroom!


Blessings and Curses

by Emma Schnur, Preschool Director
September 2020

The parasha (Torah portion) this week is Ki Tavo. In this parasha, Moses instructs the Israelites regarding the first fruit offering. Moses then goes on to list the blessings for keeping the commandments, and the curses for disobeying them. Now, early childhood education is full of natural consequences, and I could go into great detail about developmental milestones and limit setting, but I will save that for another blog.

Instead, I would like to focus on blessings and curses. These past two weeks have brought many blessings, and a few curses. Our first blessing is that even though we are in a pandemic, we were still able to open our doors and have school. A curse that followed is that we had an early wildfire season, and every day we woke up anxiously looking at the AQI and wondering if this was the day we would have to close down school.

Another blessing came in the form of air purifiers, which we constantly ran throughout the day, making it wonderfully pleasant in the classrooms. A curse was that there were times were we could not go outside to play.

At the end of the parasha, Moses reminds the Israelites that they are blessed, and to let their blessings guide them to practice intelligently in everything they do. I am going to take a page out of Moses’ book, and end with blessings that show true dedication and intelligence: the teachers.

Your Gan Shalom teachers have brought blessing after blessing to our school. When the wildfires first started, each teacher prepared zoom lessons in case we had to switch to distance learning for the first week of school. When the teachers were told, mostly last minute, that they could not go outside, they switched the classroom activities they offered to meet the needs of the children. When the teachers started noticing the children missing their friends in the other chavuva, they started encouraging them to wave to each other and draw pictures for one another.

We are truly blessed.


“Child Protection and Consent: Skills for Adults” – Kidpower

Dr. Beatrice J. V. Balfour, Preschool Director

Date: 18 November 2019

This week, Erika Leonard from Kidpower came to Gan Shalom to give the first parent education seminar of our annual series, co-organized by Congregation Beth Israel, Beth El, the JCC, Netivot Shalom and PJ Library. This workshop was about child protection and consent, and Erika touched on a lot of important topics.

We discussed how play, affection, fun, games etc. should be 1) Okay, 2) Safe, 3) Allowed, 4) Not a Secret. We also outlined 4 rules for setting boundaries that are valid for all ages: 1) we each belong to ourselves, 2) some things are not a choice, 3) problems should not be secrets, and 4) children should be encouraged to speak out, and keep speaking out if they feel unsafe.

A big take away from the seminar was the importance of practicing with your children! Practice, practice, practice with your child how to set boundaries with other people (children and adults), practice the rules listed above, and practice what specifically your child can say to set boundaries with others or in a situation where they do not feel safe. Role-play really helps children to remember how to act and what to do in situations when they feel unsafe! Practice should be fun, exciting, and not scary. It’s important that we prepare children to confront potentially unsafe situations not by scaring them away, but by giving them the tools or skills to respond appropriately in a situation of danger. This is called a skill-based approach to safety, as opposed to a fear-based approach. Children will remember and enjoy practicing over and over again if you use a skill-based approach with them!

Another important take away from the presentation was that privacy and secrecy are different, and that it’s important to teach children that “problems should not be kept secret.” If a child has an issue, they should always feel that they can reach out to one or more adults. In this case, it’s good practice to discuss with children who they can go and speak to if they have an issue, such as mom, dad, grandparents, or teachers, etc.

Another important distinction in this respect is that ‘telling’ is different from ‘tattling’. ‘Telling’ is about getting yourself or someone else out of trouble, whereas ‘tattling’ is about getting someone in trouble.

Erika also spoke about making sure not to act judgmentally if a child shares a concern with you, and encourage children to come and speak to you about any concern for safety that they have. To ask them for example ‘tell me more’ or ‘explain to me more about this’. It’s important to make children feel that, when they have something to say, they can expect to be well received, cared for and listened to.

Last but not least, Erika also spoke about the importance of reminding children that they can always change their mind about things and situations that they have a choice over, such as who to play with, what games to play, their body, etc. If they agree to something, they can change their mind about it later because consent is fluid and can change. Sometimes we feel like we want something and some other times we do not, and that is okay. Adults can also model this for the children. For example, sometimes we are okay with children jumping on us to give us a big hug and sometimes we are not, and that’s okay. It’s okay to change our mind, and it’s important to teach children about that and to model it for them!

Thank you for all the parents who attended, and we look forward to seeing you at our next seminar.


Respectful Communication with Children:

The Use of Nonviolent Language in Early Childhood Education

Dr. Beatrice J. V. Balfour, Preschool Director

Date: 25 September 2019

For our second staff meeting of the year, we discussed how to use Nonviolent Communication with the children with a wonderful and special speaker – Zephira Derblich-Milea, Youth Program Manager at Shalom Bayit. Nonviolent Communication is a style of communication developed in the 1960’s by Marshall Rosenberg alongside the nonviolent movements of the 1960’s.

There are 3 main practices that are key for nonviolent communication:

  1. Mindful Inner World. This means being self aware of one’s own feelings, of where one is at, of one’s inner world. For example, being able to recognize that you are mad, without acting out your anger on someone else.
  2. Intuitive, attuned listening. All actions and behaviors are attempts to address some feelings that point to some needs. Intuitive or attuned listening means being able to listen by holding space for those needs that are not being met. This form of listening is also based on the idea that every child is always trying their best, and that there is no ‘bad child’. If a child is pushing our buttons or trying to push the limits or the rules that we set out for them, it is because they have a need that is not being met. To see their struggle as the expression of a need, rather than as a choice to disobey our request, helps us to empathize with the child’s inner world, and being more understanding of where they are at.
  3. Empowered speech. Asking children questions about their feelings and needs empowers them to identify, recognize, and name their own feeling. For example, instead of saying ‘I see that you are frustrated’, say ‘Are you mad? Are you mad because Joe broke your construction?’ Then ask yourself what the child’s need may be — it may be a need for respect of their creations. You could then ask ‘Do you need to talk to Joe and ask him not to break your creation next time?’ So the empathy formula is ‘Are you feeling X? Therefore, do you have a need for Y?’

Thank you, Zephira, for a wonderful workshop and for helping us perfect our speech with the children!


Still Life Provocations: Exploring Sunflowers’ Emunah

Faithfulness, Friendship and Dependability

Author: Robin Mendelson (Lead Teacher and Former Director of Gan Shalom Preschool)

Date: 4 September 2019


Talia (BOD: 9/2015): ‘My Sunflower Grows in the Sun with the Sky’

At Gan Shalom we use what we call the hundred languages of children. Ways in which the children marvel, listen, explore the world around them. Children investigate, manipulate, build, create, communicate, and problem solve throughout the day.

The environment indoors and outdoors allows for lots of physical activities to let off steam, develop strength in their muscles and make the the children see themselves as competent and powerful. This enhances their ability to learn as well.

The more they absorb rich sensory information, the more their brains generate the neural connections so crucial to the foundations of learning. Our still life provocations allow for:

• Teaching the children to learn to pay attention to detail and nuance.
• Helping the children collaborate with each other.
• Helping them develop skills with the various media.
• Getting the children to slow down, and to take the time to work on projects.
• Coaching them on how to work with media.
• Teaching them correct way to use tools

Sunflowers are our first still life. Throughout the year we will explore many different flowers. If you have an unusual or favorite flower for us to explore, talk to the teachers.

Talking about Respect at Circle Time

Beatrice J. V. Balfour

Date: 25 August 2019

To live the rules of consent and respect at Gan Shalom everyday, we must discuss them with the children as a group to ensure that everyone is aware of them. Then we will reinforce them in the day to day activities of the children at the school.

Today during circle time in our older children classroom (3-5 year old), teacher Robin Mendelson asked the children about the rules of Gan Shalom and how we should act at Gan Shalom with others. The children replied with many thoughtful and creative answers, including: we don’t push, we don’t bite, we don’t waste water, we eat our lunch, we model respect to the younger children, and we welcome everyone.

It’s nice to see that the children returning from last year remember the rules of Gan Shalom. It also gives us hope that they will carry them outside of the classroom in their everyday lives and that these rules will be the basis for thoughtful and caring behaviors and a culture of respect and consent in the present and in the future.

How can we Learn about Respect and Consent through Art?

 Beatrice J. V. Balfour

Date: 14 August 2019

On another day of the preparation week with the teachers for this school year (2019-2020), we talked about how art can be used by educators to teach children about respect and consent with Ofra Fisher, our new art specialist. She ran a clay activity with the staff, who were encouraged to manipulate it in any way they liked.

One of the ideas that came up was how giving children freedom to explore through art is a way of respecting children. Leaving children free to do what they want with artistic material, instead of guiding them to make a specific product, is important within our idea of the consent curriculum — it allows us to respect children’s needs and where they are at that day, that week, or that age. Even just as an adult, to be free to touch the material and to explore it without being constrained to make something specific felt very liberating!

Something else that emerged during our discussion focused on how we should stay away from commenting or judging someone’s artwork while they are creating it or when they are done. Saying things such as ‘how beautiful’, ‘that’s great’, etc. can actually be detrimental for children. It can encourage children to always seek approval and compliments instead of doing things for their own sake and according to what they think. In this sense, by not continually complimenting children, we allow children to better develop a sense of individuality and to make individual choices. Here is a short article that talks about this theme.

Our Curriculum about Respect and Consent

Beatrice J. V. Balfour

Date: 12 August 2019

This school year (2019-2020), our school curriculum focus will be consent and respect. This means working with children to create a culture of consent – a culture of mutual agreement and respect in the school.

It’s essential to start having conversations about consent with young children to build a culture of respect and consent in our society. For us, consent is defined widely and has to do with mutual agreement and respect. We set the foundations for this in preschool.

In order to begin developing a consent curriculum, teachers reflected on these themes during preparation week before the start of the school.

We started the week watching two videos about consent that Zephira Derblich-Milea and I prepared for teachers and parents last school year:

  1. Asking children ‘Real Questions
  2. The importance of ‘Modelling Consent’ to children

The videos were a great way to start a dialogue on the themes of respect and consent.

We then made a chart of the main Gan Shalom rules. These include:

  1. Showing Kavod (Respect) to the Environment
  2. Showing Kavod to Others
  3. Showing Kavod and Care to the Kehillah (Community)
  4. Including Everyone

From there, we talked about the negotiable and non-negotiable rules of Gan Shalom and for each classroom. For example, no climbing on the furniture and not wasting water are non-negotiable rules at Gan Shalom, because they have to do with respecting our environment; but wearing shoes outside is a negotiable rule – sometimes children can walk barefoot.

Then, we shifted from talking about the rules with the children, to talking about the rules of conduct among the staff. As discussed above, adults have to model respect of the 4 Gan Shalom rules for the children. We also talked about what acting as a professional means. It’s important to be professional, especially in a preschool environment where teachers are not only caretakers but also educators and professionals. We closed the discussion talking about how to demonstrate respect by creating a to do list and sharing the responsibility of cleaning and managing the school. This discussion followed nicely from the discussion about rules of respect of others and our space.

We made a list of actions and dates where we will review or show to others our work on the consent curriculum at Gan Shalom. In the classrooms, this means talking about the rules of Gan Shalom with the children, our values, and also running a community-wide circle where we introduce these rules.

It also means talking about the curriculum with parents which is why we decided to dedicate our parents’ day to discussions on this theme. We will also have a school wide event for educators where we will discuss these themes as part of the Innovative Teacher Project.

Throughout the year, we will review Gan’s rules and this year’s themes of consent and respect. We hang posters in the classrooms and throughout the school to remind everyone of Gan’s rules. Most importantly, we will live respect and consent in the school everyday!

Teaching Children about Consent, Boundaries and Respect

Video II –  Respecting other People’s Bodies

Beatrice J. V. Balfour

We are excited to share part two in our series collaborative with Shalom Bayit on creating consent culture from the ground up.

The Importance of Boundaries for Children’s Development

Author: Adina Polen (founder of Atiq) and Beatrice J. V. Balfour (Gan Shalom Preschool Director)

Date: 3 April 2019

This year in preparation for Passover we invited Adina Polen, who is the founder of Atiq and a parent at Gan Shalom, to teach at our staff meeting and guide us in reflection about how to strike a balance between freedom and boundaries in teaching children. 

We started with a reflection on Jewish texts and holidays. The upcoming holiday of Pesach centers around notions of freedom – what it means for your body and spirit to be free, and what it means to be free in your own land.

How might we understand freedom? Sefer Yetzira, one of the earliest Jewish Mystical texts, describes the world as having been created by God at the intersection of three axes – Olam (space), Shana (time), and Nefesh (self/soul). Another version describes God as creating the world using three words, all of which have the same root – sfr – which becomes Sippur (story), Sfar (number or time), Sapar (boundaries or space).

So we might say that freedom really entails determining what we do with, and who can use, our time, our space, and our sense of who we are as individuals, and as a community.

This led us to discuss the following questions with the teachers: What does freedom involve for you as an individual? What does your personal definition involve? How do things shift when you are free in a community? As educators, how do we facilitate a sense of personal freedom for the children while also creating an environment in which everyone feels safe and respected?

More specifically, we answered in pairs the following questions:

  1. What is a scenario where you had to set boundaries or rules for a child, or more than one child, and how those boundaries enabled that child, or children, to meet their needs, to express who they were, or to explore their interests.
  2. How did it feel to set boundaries with the children?
  3. What’s a recent situation where you had to bend the rules or change the structure of your class plan to meet a child or a group of children where they were at, or to meet their needs? How did you come to that decision?

After reflection on these questions, we engaged in a ‘maker activity’: we asked teachers to make something to demonstrate what a boundary is, and how it relates to individual and collective freedom, and also how this might relate to their own teaching. We asked teachers to work with wire, clay and pipe cleaners – these are materials that we do not use often and wanted to further explore using in the classroom. Also wire and pipe cleaners are linear materials that seemed appropriate to represent boundaries.

The teachers made beautiful and inspiring artworks and then shared with the rest of the group some reflections about them.

Overall from this work it emerged that teachers thought boundaries are not just limiting — actually, they serve as containers enabling us to experiment, explore, and feel safe in expressing who we are. This is what we hope to convey to the children, setting boundaries so that they can express and experiment freely. We want children to internalize these boundaries, such as learning to keep themselves and others safe and of showing kavod (respect), so that they can feel free in the school and elsewhere to express who they really are and similarly allow others to do so.

Thank you Adina!


Learning to Make Prints

Author: Inbal Cohen Sadi (Preschool Lead Teacher) and Beatrice J. V. Balfour (Preschool Director)

Date: 1 April 2019

Recently at Gan, we have been bringing in artists from our community to work with the children in the classroom, strengthening ties between the families of Gan Shalom, the member of Congregation Beth Israel, and talented artists in the area. The children have enjoyed learning several art forms. We started with quilt-making with Jenna Lewis (mother of a child at Gan), continued with Hadassa Goldvicht (mother of another child at Gan) and today we hosted Ruth Teitelbaum who taught children about print making. We had so much fun!

Ruth, an artist from our Shul community came by to teach, instigate and create art inspired by Spring and Passover with some of our older children. Ruth taught us different forms of print making:

  1. How can we make a stamp?
  2. How many times can you use it?









The children started working. They drew their stamps, and some of them helped cut them out. They then chose the colors they wanted to use on their stamps. The children were proud and pleased with their creations and asked to do more of it. They will get to lead art activities and teach some of their acquired  skills to our younger children in the next few weeks to come.

Thank you Ruth!

The Visible and Invisible Masks of Children

Dr. Beatrice J. V. Balfour

Date: 3 March 2019

This year, in preparation for Purim, we had such an interesting staff meeting. We spent about two hours learning and reflecting together about how we could connect the theme of Purim to classroom management.

The month of Adar is connected with the idea of joy, the Reggio Emilia philosophy emphasizes joy (Loris Malaguzzi talked about doing “nothing without joy” in early childhood education) and the celebration of Purim  can be understood as a time of “celebration of who we are.”

We first talked about what brings teachers joy at work. Next, they made masks representing what brings them joy. Then, we talked about the children’s behaviors and how we often look just at a “mask” that they present, or an aspect of their character, and in that process we can forget about other equally important “masks” or aspects of their personalities. In conclusion, we discussed what we could do to help children bringing out their different masks.

Some exciting things about this: the metaphor of the masks was helpful to talk about different sides of children, also some teachers talked about the gendered masks of children, for example how children at this age are already testing their masculinity and femininity, and together we reflected on how we can encourage them to wear different “masks” or explore different aspect of their personality and of themselves.

On top of this, as an appreciation gesture, parents prepared a wonderful meal for staff. Thank you!

What a great evening!


What do Children Learn Through Imaginative Play?

By: Peggy Nesbit Bruner, Gan Shalom Lead Teacher

Date: February 2019

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.”- Fred Rogers

As one of Gan Shalom’s toddler class (2-3 year old) teachers, I am lucky enough to witness the incredible growth of my students across the course of each school year. Some Keshet children join our program at just barely two years old and sometimes we are their first sustained care experience away from their families. As the months pass, our students’ grow more comfortable in their independence, their language blossoms, and they typically begin to engage in imaginary play. Here, I will share with you an imaginary play sequence that recently occurred in our Keshet classroom and hope to shine a light on the rich learning taking place for our students through play.

Three three-year-old Keshet friends were in the art studio with me during morning independent play- Asher, Judah, and Masha. They decided to pretend that they were on a train, so they each took a blue plastic chair from the art table and lined them up single file in the open area on the opposite side of the room. Asher declared that he was the conductor, but Judah also expressed that he really wanted to be the conductor. Masha decided what role she wanted to play, but did not want to share it with me. The game stalled at this point because both Asher and Judah wanted to be the conductor of the train. Asher said he felt that he could not share the role and Judah felt that it was against the rules of the game to have more than one conductor anyhow. Asher then looked at his friend Judah and saw from Judah’s body language how strongly he felt about being the conductor. Asher gave up the role of conductor to Judah and Judah suggested that Asher now play the role of passenger. I moved away from the play briefly, and when I returned, a negotiation had taken place and now all three friends were playing the role of conductor! From here, the game quickly began to expand.

Asher: Wanna be a passenger for our train Maya?

Maya: No. (She was drawing)

Judah: I want someone to be the passengers. (Walks into the front classroom to look for more passengers and then returns) Niva’s gonna ride the train!

Soon after, Maya says that she is ready to ride the train.

Asher to Maya: You need a chair.

Peggy: I got Maya a chair

Asher: There’s a chair for you. Peggy, we need two more passengers.

(Judah goes to look for more passengers in the other room again and then returns)

Judah: Soli come ride the train!!

Tovi also joins and then soon Daniel joins as well, at which point eight of the nine friends in class that day are involved in the same game! A few minutes pass and the friends declare that they have arrived in Oakland and it’s time to get off.

Now, let’s look a bit more closely at the competencies the children were developing while on their imaginary train ride. One major skill is the ability to express and advocate for their desires. Asher and Judah both verbally expressed a strong desire to be the conductor of train, while Masha told me that she did not want me to know what role she had chosen in the game. The fact that both children interested in being the conductor were able to identify why they felt uncomfortable with sharing the role is exactly what allowed the play scheme to continue, rather than fizzling out as quickly as it started.

As Janet Lansbury says, “It’s common in my parent-infant classes for children to want the same toy. The giving and taking of toys often begins as a social gesture, an infant’s early attempt to make contact with another infant. The children may appear to be struggling with a toy, but with a bit of patience and objective observation, we usually see that there is little stress and lots of curiosity…When infants and toddlers have opportunities for uninterrupted socialization, they will try out different options. Should they let go and allow the other child to take the ball away? What happens if they hold on tightly? If they do ‘share’ or offer something to another child, how does that child react?” In this case, Asher and Judah found their own solution: Asher took up a different role in the game, i.e. ‘the passenger.’ As Lansbury says, “Children will often demonstrate that the interaction with another child is what interests them, not the toy itself.”

In this exchange, Asher also showed a truly remarkable amount of empathy and perceptiveness for such a young child when he gave up the role of conductor to his friend Judah. Judah, in turn, showed a great deal of kavod (or, respect) to Asher by suggesting the role of passenger for him so that he could remain included in the game.

Both children then showed flexibility in welcoming Masha as a third conductor. As the game expanded, Judah took on a leadership role in recruiting more passengers from the other room.

The inclusivity of this play scheme not only was an important learning experience for these children, but it was also beautiful in that it showed the children living out the Gan Shalom philosophy of “Open hands, open hearts” – our philosophy of hospitality and inclusion!

Rainbow Rice: Teaching Diversity and Inclusion

By Jade Cooper, Gan Shalom Teacher

Date: 25 January 2019

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we chose to celebrate diversity and inclusion using our new rainbow rice sensory bin. The idea started when I saw a sensory bin of purple rice for the younger children in one of the upstairs rooms. I was captivated by it and felt like the children in the older children classroom could really benefit from a new, immersive sensory material that they could  get lost in. As the idea developed, we decided that the rice would be more magical if there were a vast array of colors, 18 total, and if all of these colors were mixed together by the children. With MLK Day approaching, I thought about how teaching diversity and inclusion using the different colored rice as an analogy for people could help children understand this complex idea.

Before the multicolored rice was all mixed together, the children did an activity where they looked at the colored rice in separate piles and discussed their observations of similarities and differences regarding what was on their tray.

Amarya and Numi said there were different colors, and Zohar said that all of the colors were rice. Sam said that he didn’t think the rice would turn brown when we mixed the colored rice, because the paint had already dried on the rice.

Each child then mixed their own rice rainbow and discussed their new observations. Maayan said that all of the colors mixed together made her feel ticklish, Ruthy said the colors made her feel happy, and Coco and Tali said they looked like.

During circle time, I connected the rainbow rice to MLK day and the importance of celebrating our differences and needing these differences to make our community whole, and connecting it to our community at Gan Shalom. I explained that we all have qualities that make us unique, from how we look to the activities we like to do, making us a different color in the rainbow from our friend next to us, but that we are all the same in that we are all people, just like how the material of rainbow is all made of rice. We need these differences to make our community stronger and whole. Each child then added the rainbow that they mixed during the activity into a larger pool.

Afterwards, the children worked as a team to help transfer the rest of the rice into a much larger container, one they could really dig in, and mix the colorful rice together. I encouraged them to use their eyes, ears and hands to explore the new sensory bin. Noa and Eytan said that they liked how the rice felt on her hands, Kat said she liked the way the rice sounded, Zia, Noam and Leo said they liked the way all of the colors looked together, and Yonathan said it looked pretty. Caleb and Remy said there must be more than a hundred grains of rice in there! What has been really special is watching how the children share their joy with this new provocation in our community and seeing new friends play with and bond over the rainbow rice, friends like Joey, Ella, Ayelet, and Nahum.


Positive Limit Setting

By Dr. Beatrice Jane Vittoria Balfour, Gan Shalom Director

Date: 17 January 2019

On Sunday, January 13th, Rachel Biale presented at a workshop series organized by 4 Jewish Preschool in the area including us – Gan Shalom -, the JCC of the East Bay, Beth El, and Netivot Shalom. The conversation was very open ended and Rachel answered parents’ questions about different topics such as eating, biting, hitting, tantrums, etc. Here are few notes I took on the topics:

  1. When limit setting with children, adults should reduce the power struggle as much as possible and empower the child in the process. This can mean, for example, sitting down with the child to write some rules together about what to do in those situations when they have to respect the limits. This can help children to feel ownership and empowered by those rules.
  2. Provide chilren with choices to give them a sense of empowerment in the decision making process when so much of their lives is defined by others. Giving children the opportunity to negotiating with adults on some topics is fine, but some limits cannot be negotiable so that’s when the adult can give the child limits while also giving them options by giving chldren a choice within a set of limited options. Normally, it’s best not to give children more than two options.
  3. Some children sometimes start to use words like ‘poopy’ or ‘stupid’. That is not unsual. They are testing their limits and these words are powerful as they can attract attention from the adults. An adult can diffuse the tension around, or the power of, these words by giving the children a place where they just say all of them, but make clear that those words do not show Kavod (or respect) and that they cannot be used with family and other people.
  4. When talking about setting rules around aggressive behaviours and conflict resultion, Rachel also mentioned giving the child who is manifesting aggressive behaviours the opportunity to do something to make the other child feel better. The word ‘sorry’ has little meaning somtimes for children, whereas asking children to pick a toy or a stuffy animal to give to the child that has been hurt is a very practical way to help them to resolve the conflict.


Making Paper

Author: Dr. Beatrice Jane Vittoria Balfour, Gan Shalom Director

Date: 18 December 2018

Today, we made paper with Hadassa Goldvicht – artist and mother of a child at Gan Shalom ( It was such a wonderful experience to work with the materials and see the paper pages coming together!

Hadassa and I started by setting up the long table of our art studio with the materials necessary for the project. We pre-mixed some pulp (basically water and paper mashed into a soup), laid out towels on the table, a blender, and our frame to filter the pulp. We worked with children from 2-5 year-old for this activity in small groups of maximum of 5 children. Each group took about 10-20 minutes, depending on the age and the interest of the children.

The children started by ripping some paper.







Then they put the paper in the blender with some water, and blended it for a few minutes.

After that, we put the blended paper in a bucket and mixed it with the pre-made pulp. At this stage, the children also added petals, leaves, etc.

Here a short video of this part of the process: 6fe3bc54-7391-40d8-9fd3-825e8bcb4929

We then took the frame and dipped it in the bucket filled with water and pulp, allowing the frame to filter the pulp. After removing the frame from the bucket, we put it on a towel, covered it with another towel and the children patted the towel for about a minute in order to press the pulp. At this stage, the children also got to add  more sparkles, petals, glitter, etc. on top of the paper.

Then each child took a block and tamped the surface of the frame to compress the pulp some more.

Finally, the paper was ready and so we took out the frame and put the paper against a glass window.

Within 24 hours, the paper will dry and we will be able to use it in the school for another art activity!

Fostering Healthy Boundaries and Creating a Culture of Respect

By Dr. Beatrice Jane Vittoria Balfour, Gan Shalom Director

Date: 20 November 2018

On November 4th, 2018, Gan Shalom held a workshop led by Zephira Derblich-Milea about “Fostering Healthy Boundaries and Creating a Culture of Respect.” The workshop was very well received, with about 30 people from the all over the Bay Area attending.

The workshop was part of a series entitled “Cultivating Kavod: How to Take Care of Your Child, Family and Yourself”, co-sponsored by Gan Shalom Preschool, JCC East Bay, Netivot Shalom and Congregation Beth El. Seminars will be held in Berkeley at different locations and will include topics such as setting positive boundaries with difficult behaviors, respecting yourself and others, being a partner as well as a parent, mindful parenting, and the permission to take care of yourself.

During Zephira’s workshop, we discussed creating a culture of respect and consent. A culture of consent is one in which the prevailing narrative of human interaction is centered around mutual consent and is normalized in popular culture.

Zephira provided a number of tips to teach children about respect and consent. These tips include the following:

  1. Stop asking children questions that they can’t say “no” to. For example, don’t ask a child if they want to get into their car seat if you need them to sit in the car — if they say “no” and you still put them in the car seat, you are not honoring their “no”. Instead, for instance, say: “would you like me to put you in the car seat or do you want to get in it on your own?”
  2. Modeling asking for consent and receiving a “no”. Model to your child what asking for consent is, for example by asking for consent to hug other people around you. Also, model to your child that you take “no” seriously. For example, if you are tickling them and your child says, “no, stop” then you “stop” and not continue.
  3. Never force a child to hug or kiss someone else. Teach children, instead, to ask first and listen/respect their answers.
  4. Teach children to help those in trouble through positive reinforcement.
  5. “No” and “stop” should always be honored by children and adults.
  6. Encourage children to read facial and body language.
  7. Teach children to trust their instincts.
  8. Teach children that they always need to be asked for consent for situations that involve touching their body.

How to Teach Children about Respect and Consent

Video I – Giving Children Real Choices

Author: Dr. Beatrice Jane Vittoria Balfour, Gan Shalom Director

Date: 31 October 2018

Last year, we started collaborating with Shalom Bayit with a staff training thinking about how to teach children about respect and consent. This year, we continued the collaboration with Shalom Bayit by creating a series of short videos sharing strategies about this topic. Here is the first video, which we filmed at The Jewish Studio Project in Berkeley ( in which Zephira Derblich-Milea and I talk about two specific and simple strategies you can use with your child(ren) to teach about consent and respect. Enjoy!

Strategies to Help Children Cope with Stress and Anxieties

Author: Dr. Beatrice Jane Vittoria Balfour, Gan Shalom Director

Date: 28 October 2018

On Sunday, October 28 at Gan Shalom, we hosted our first parent educational meeting of the school year led by Bathea James, an experienced educator and psychologist in the Bay Area. Here is a brief outline of what we talked about.

Anxiety is often normal and is a part of life. In general, it’s important that children learn to recognize, address and care for themselves in a way that reduces their levels of stress.

The most important skills that we can teach children to help deal with feelings of anxiety is helping them to build resilience (the ability to fall down, get up and move on) and to give them a ‘box of tools’ to help them take care of themselves when they feel anxious.

More specifically, there are a series of strategies that we can teach children to prevent and learn to deal with anxiety:

    1. How to relax and to be mindful.
    2. Check what we allow children to hear, watch, and what we say in front of them, to prevent children from developing anxieties about events that happen around them in the world. Some conversations are simply adult talk and children should not be allowed to hear them or to be part of them.
    3. Model healthy coping behaviors with the children.
    4. Enforce a regular sleeping routine that is respected every day of the week.
    5. Keep children’s access to ‘screen time’ limited.
    6. Encourage children to engage in free, creative and collaborative play.

Anxiety can be expressed in different ways such as difficulty sleeping and changes in behavior, mood, and sleeping patterns. These reactions are often normal responses, and in these cases it is important that we allow children to find their own creative (verbal or non-verbal) ways to express themselves. Adults should not push children to express their emotions, but just listen to them, make them feel safe, check in with them and simply be empathetic listeners. If you notice any symptoms of continuous, repeated and systematic anxiety, you should reach out to a professional therapist to prevent the anxiety from becoming a more serious medical condition in your child(ren) (if you ever need help finding a therapist in the area, let me know).


How to Teach Children about ‘Conflict Resolution’?

Author: The Gan Shalom Staff

5 October 2018

This month for our professional development meeting we talked about children socio-emotional development, conflict resolution and how to teach children about the norms of living together and being respectful citizens of our community. We outlined a list of strategies that we use at Gan Shalom with children to teach them about respect, being with others, consent, and generally about conflict resultion – an important skill for children in the present and in the future. Here are few strategies and guidelines for conflict resolution that we discussed as important:

  • Teach children to advocate for their needs
  • Reinforce children’s positive responses
  • Trust in children’s capacity to solve conflict
  • Respond to the specific needs of the children
  • For inappropriate words, you can say, “those words do not belong to us”
  • Speak for the community when enforcing a rule
  • Model how you would say something, don’t just say “be kind”
  • Conflict is an opportunity to teach children rules about living together, respect and consent
  • Observe the function of the behavior – what’s happening? why is the child acting this way? What are the child(ren)’s needs?
We also drafted some rules of living together that we seek to teach children at Gan. Here is the list that we came up with:
  • Respect others, yourself and the community
  • Ask permission before you touch others’ bodies or enter their space
  • Open Hands, Open Hearts
  • Be your best self
  • Listen to each other

Kavod (or Respect), Conflict Resolution and Chidlren’s Socio-Emotional Development:

Learning Moments at Gan

Author: Dr. Beatrice Jane Vittoria Balfour, Gan Shalom Director

5 October 2018


Rabbi Eliezer says: “The Honor of your fellow should be as precious to you as your own…”

Pirkei Avot 2:10

An important part of being together and playing together is learning to deal with other children that have different desires, ideas of play, rhythms, and habits. When children play together and confront their differences, conflicts often arise. Learning to deal with conflict is an important part of being in preschool, an important skill for children to learn for the future, and an opportunity for adults to accompany children in their socio-emotional development (Piaget, 1967; Vygotsky, 1978). Through conflicts, children learn about themselves, their own emotions, about others’ thoughts and feelings, and about how to relate with others. In addition, through conflicts, children learn about Kavod, the norms and rules of living together. They can learn to: negotiate, share, wait their turn, play together, and respect others’ space, etc.

There are many reasons why conflict emerges among children. Generally, with young children, conflict emerges because a child does not want to share or does not want to be interrupted in whatever they are doing. With older children, the reasons for conflict can change, and can become more about symbolic games, partaking in (or excluding others from) a game, or about different ideas about how a game can/should be played.

At Gan Shalom, if we observe a conflict among children and there is no immediate danger – we don’t do anything. Children are typically capable of and often resolve their own conflicts, and it can be an opportunity for children to learn about themselves, others and the rules of the classroom. It’s an important skill for children to learn to address their conflicts and find their own creative ways to resolve them. We observe how they address it among themselves and note: What’s the children’s attitude among themselves; positive or negative? How did the children address the conflict and what did they learn? Is there anything that we can do in the day-to-day to help them prevent or address conflict?

At times however, children do not resolve conflict on their own. In this case, we intervene. To intervene, after having made sure that both parties are and feel safe, we can begin by telling them what we observed or we can ask them, “what do you need?” We repeat what the children have said and then ask them “how are you going to solve this?” At this point, children often find their own solutions. If not, we introduce our opinion.

Of course, we always seek to intervene when children (could) hurt, physically or verbally, each other, by explaining the rules, consoling the ones that have been hurt, and helping children to find ways of resolving the conflict as much as possible.

During conflict, we model for children:

  • To remind and teach children about what Kavod or respect is by telling them what counts as respect in that particular situation
  • How to resolve conflicts, how to establish and follow rules and how to set limits about their own bodies and respect for themselves and for others.
  • It is especially difficult for a child to express negative content in a positive way. This is one of the actions that we model for children.
  • Respect the physical or mental space of others.
  • Keeping our voice low and calm when speaking to children or not touching their bodies to help them to resolve conflict is a way to model for children how we would expect them to act with each other.

Young children are often not able to intervene, but only to observe. It’s hard for little children to see things from different perspectives. If they observe fights among other children, they might also need comforting. We can engage them in understanding what happened. For the older children, we can encourage them to defend the child who is the victim in the conflict.

If children are playing a game and you observe that they are excluding other children, we, for example, intervene and function as a guide, suggesting other ways in which the game can develop in line with our ideas of what counts as respect (or Kavod).

Conflict resolution is a key way through which children learn about respect, consent, building community, following the rules of living together, and being better citizens. Recently, I was watching the new documentary about Mister Rogers’ show, Mister Rogers Neighborhood. In the documentary he talks about Tikkun Olam and says that ‘we are all called to be Tikkunei Olam -repairers of the world’ and that to do that we have to start from our own community, our own neighborhood. Like Mister Rogers, I believe that to teach children to be repairers of the world, we have to start with our own community and teaching them how to engage in their daily interactions in respectful ways that strengthen and contribute to our community. It is our role as adults to help children find their ways to do so and this is part of our Tikkun Olam, of creating a better world in the present and in the future.

For more about conflict resolution among children the book ‘The Social Lives of Young Children’ by Elly Singer and Dorian de Haan can be a useful resource.

Challah Day at Gan Shalom

Author: Inbal Cohen-Sadi, Gan Shalom Teacher

14 September 2018

One of the most popular comment that I hear on Fridays as parents and visitors walk in to our Gan is, “wow, the smell of the challah…”

We therefore organized Challah Day – a morning for parents to come and make challah with the children at school. We provided parents with a tray, the ingredients, and a recipe; parents made the challah with their child and brought it home for cooking. Both the 2 year-old class and the older class participated in Challah Day – each one in their own classroom. The 2 year-old classroom made the challah in the new art studio. The day was a great success and a majority of the families in our school were able to join us!

This was such a treat for children and staff, and many parents told us how much they loved the experience!

For us on staff, we started feeling the excitement the day before the event already, as we were setting up. We  welcomed shabbat with each cup of flour we measured, with each amount of sugar, salt, and oil we prepped for the next day. On Friday morning, we got excited and joyful as we saw that so many of the parents came to experience this day with us. As we were parsing out flour and water from one person to another, I saw so many of the parents mixing ingredients with joy, getting hands on with the dough.

Personally, I loved seeing small sticky hands touching adults’ sticky hands to create dough. I saw some confused faces who quickly turned to “I can do it” faces, I saw smiles, I heard the conversation and laughter, I felt uplifted and most of all I saw the Jewish connections.

The word “challah” actually means “portion.” It used to represent the amount of bread that Jewish people gave to the Kohanim (High priest), each week. A while back, when the people entered the land of Israel, anyone who baked bread was obligated to give a portion of their dough to the Kohanim who worked in the Temple. This dough was part of the salary of the Kohanim, who essentially worked as public servants doing the Temple work, as well as serving as Divine conduits.

Traditionally, we bless the bread of Shabbat over two pieces of Challah. The two loaves of bread at our table during Shabbat meal symbolize the two manna which fell from the sky in the desert.

Back to our days, and to our Challah morning in Gan, I can only hope that you enjoyed the experience and that somehow it made you feel connected.

As I make challah dough I deeply feel the sense of belonging to my people, to my community, to our history, and a bit closer to Shabbat. For me the smell of the baked Challah reminds me of the journey of our people, it takes me back home to the land of Israel, and to meaningful family time. I am hoping that you will attempt to try this again in your homes with your loved ones.

One more spiritual aspect of baking challah is that some believe that when we make and bake challah, the gates open, providing us a direct path to Hashem, G-d. It is an opportunity to daven (pray) to Hashem G-d on behalf of our children, our friends, our family, our Kehilah (community) and ourselves.

I encourage you all to discover the depth and joy of baking challah. Get your hands dirty with flour and pour your love into it. Bring the Jewish tradition in to your home and to your Shabbat table.

Shabbat Shalom,



Preparing for Rosh Hashanah: Doing Good Deeds, Cleaning up our Gan and Neighborhood

Posted by: Ann Litwack, Gan Shalom Teacher

September 2018


In preparation for Rosh Hashanah, in the afternoon at Gan Shalom, we blew the shofar each day. We talked about how it wakes us up to realize that Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the whole wide world, is almost here. To prepare we decided that we should take care of the world. The children became their, “Best Self Super Heroes” and took care of our Gan Shalom yard, cleaned-up the Shul yard, and our neighborhood. We began our exploration of Rosh Hashanah with very concrete activities, cleaning and taking care of the world, in which the students could see the results of their hard work. The children were excited and eager to take part in this important work and were proud of themselves when they completed it.

The first job that we did was to clean and take care of the Gan Shalom. The children chose one of several jobs: raking, sweeping, watering the plants, or picking up trash. After completing these jobs, we walked around to see how much nicer our Gan looked after our hard work.

One day we picked up trash in the Shul yard. The children became their “Best Self Superheroes” and used their x-ray vision to find trash. They were excited and eagerly ran up to the trash bag and showed many how many pieces of trash they found. Teachers and children were so involved in this project that we unfortunately did not get any photos but you can see what a big bag trash we collected.

Once again the children became their “Best Self Superheroes”, put on their pretend capes and used their x-ray vision to search for trash in the neighborhood. This particular activity was the most exciting for the children because they were not just taking care of their space but doing something in the world to make a difference for the whole neighborhood.

After completing all of our cleaning jobs, I had the children share some of the things they did that made the world a better place. Then the children drew pictures and shared words about the things that they did or would like to do to make the world a better place.

Sam: ‘I am cleaning up leaves. I am raking them.’

Yonathan: ‘I am going to help Ima make cookies.’

Eytan: ‘I am raking leaves with my rake.’

Ruthie: ‘I am cleaning up the park.’


How to Teach Children about Respect (Part I)

Posted by: Beatrice Jane Vittoria Balfour, Gan Shalom Director

2017-2018 School Year

Gan Shalom teachers recently attended a special workshop on the nuts and bolts of teaching children about respect and consent, hosted by Zephira Derblich-Milea — a representative of Shalom Bayit and one of the moms at our school.

In this workshop, we discussed the importance of respecting oneself as a necessary condition for respecting others, and for teaching children about respect. We also talked about consent as it relates to gender. Shalom Bayit is an organisation that works on preventing domestic violence and supporting women and children who have been the victim of domestic violence. An important take-away from our workshop is that consent is not something that has just to do with sex. Consent is about giving permission, agreement and respecting others.

We learned that studies have shown that our emotional brain map is not innate, and it develops when we are very young between the ages of 0 to 6 year-old. 80% of our brain develops during our first six years. Preschools are, in this sense, a key place for the socio-emotional development of children. This age range is when children learn what it means to teach others about respect, or to be respectful of others. Children for whom this is modeled early on are more likely to set boundaries, to make others respect them, and to respect others.

During the workshop, we talked about some strategies that can be used with children to talk about respect, for instance on the topic of telling and tattling. Zephira connected this with the Torah. Telling can be thought of as getting someone out of trouble, and tattling as getting someone in trouble. Telling on someone to help them is a value mandated by the Torah. When children come to us and tell us that ‘X did Y’, it is helpful to consider: are they trying to help someone out of trouble, or rather to get them in trouble? Putting things in context or asking children more details about what happened can help us answer that question.

We discussed the importance for caregivers, teachers, and parents to set their own boundaries in order to model what boundaries and respect can be. We talked about the safety videos you watch on an airplane. In particular, we talked about the part that teaches passengers how to use the oxygen mask and that the videos say that an adult should put their mask on first before helping others such as children. Similarly, before we can teach respect and consent to others, we need to respect ourselves, our time, and our space – all key parts of self-respect.

We learned three questions to ask ourselves when considering if an action is respectful: are there risks involved? Is it prolonged? Is safety compromised?

Other strategies we explored are: giving children real choices; talking with the children about respecting other children’s bodies; modeling respect for the children; learning that it is okay and sometimes uncomfortable to say “no”; explaining why we say “no” when we say “no” to them; and teaching the children about boundaries, to trust their own instincts, and to love and care for themselves and for one another.

Thank you Zephira for the wonderful workshop!


Quilt in the Making at Gan Shalom

Poster by: Jenna Lewis, Gan Shalom parent

2017-2018 School Year

Quilt by Gan Shalom Children, Year: 2018-2019

During the 2018-2019 school year, the children of Gan Shalom made a quilt. It was a collaboration between all the downstairs children and me. After teacher Inbal had her baby daughter, Shira, we decided to make a quilt for both of them.

Everyone had a turn to choose fabric combinations that they liked, pin their fabrics, and sew them with the machine. We added small combinations together to make larger pieces, with children building on the sections made by others to create a whole. Sometimes, I asked children to alternate light and dark fabrics, and that created the ‘stair step’ or ‘log cabin’ sections. One group was interested in using the smallest scraps which had fallen on the floor, and those sections are represented by little squares and rectangles. After the children and I created the quilt top, I took it home and quilted the straight lines, creating the ‘quilt sandwich’ — top, batting, and back.

This project was joyful and thought provoking for me. It was meaningful to lead a group project that ended as a gift to someone else.

Many kids were fascinated with how the machine was causing the fabric to be joined together, and if I did another sewing project, I would like to bring one sewing machine to use and another to take apart.

I learned that pinning fabric is a great way to develop fine motor skills; kids want the thrill of working with a tool that carries a small amount of risk, and pins are just sharp enough to be ‘real’ without being dangerous.

Thank you Beatrice and the teachers who encouraged this project and made it possible.