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The best preschool experience

Do new directions in the Jerusalem International YMCA Leir Family Preschool mean the end of long established agendas, or an expansion of existing ones towards new horizons?

David Miron
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Into its fourth decade, the Jerusalem International YMCA, known for promoting coexistence, is breaking from its traditional schooling philosophies into new territories. Aimed at broadening the schools appeal, the program is now offering classes with anthroposophic orientation. It has also decided to do away with catered food services altogether. These two changes are complementary, and fully aligned with our worldview, says preschool director Alexandra Klein-Franke. There is more to come, she adds.
Recognized for its inclusive multi-lingual approach, the Jerusalem International YMCA Leir Family Preschool cares for over 100 students of different faiths from all over Jerusalem. Children attending one of the programs seven classes learn to accept each other even before they can understand what that means. To readers around the world this claim to fame might seem trivial, but it is in fact an exception in a country rife with political and cultural tensions.
To the people of the Jerusalem International YMCA, tolerance and embracing differences are taken for granted, and the concepts novelty has long since been dismissed. Klein-Franke explains that, The focus of our program is to provide the children with the best preschool experience possible, so that no matter where they continue in life from here, they will always carry this experience with them. This claim is backed by the fact that preschool alumni are now sending their own children to the YMCA Preschool.

Toddlers enjoy a snack at the Jerusalem International YMCA preschool.

Anthroposophic philosophy
The decision to open an anthroposophic oriented class represents both a natural decision for Klein-Franke, as well as a strategic one. We are diversifying our program and offering parents more options, she says, while pointing out that, we are guided by the spirit of anthroposophic educational philosophy, if not by the letter. Schools of this sort are also known as Waldorf or Steiner Schools.
The approach relies on experiential skill-building activities, which allow children to develop their own interests and imagination. Focus is placed on the use of natural materials which tend to offer a richer sensorial spectrum. The breakneck rhythm of life is slowed down here, explains Klein-Franke. Consumerism is avoided and indoctrination is out. We yearn for a simpler era, when things took time to materialize, she adds.
The children in the new class spend daily play-time with the other kids in the preschool, and partake in common activities such as swimming (in the YMCA pool) and music classes. However, the group also spends one day a week visiting and helping at a local community garden. Tilling and fertilizing are seen as a method for imbuing a sense of social and ecological responsibility.

Natural and wholesome
Compelling educators are Klein-Frankes secret ingredient for success. She contends that the effect such people have on children continues to ripple throughout their lives. We wanted to diversify into areas I felt strongly about, and we were keen on bringing about this change with the help of our experienced staff. Most of them were not familiar with this approach, she explains. The YMCA funded a year of training for their selected staff, and also brought aboard professionals steeped in the matter, before enrolling their first student. Its a home-grown project, says Klein-Franke, who hopes to build on the projects success and open more classes next year.
The decision to do away with catered food services is intrinsically related to the desire for things natural and wholesome. The program director explains that, as good as the best caterer can be, it still cant beat real home-style cooking. Working with an organization that helps unemployed, full-time Moms make a living, Klein-Franke plans to have all food preparation take place on the premises daily. We plan to absorb this added expenditure because we feel it is of cardinal importance, says Klein-Franke.
The program has also seen the addition of an art therapist to the preschool staff, and art therapy activities have been integrated into the routine schedule. Part of our underlying philosophy is that each child is unique, presenting individual skills and traits, that we view as gifts to be unwrapped with great care, concludes Klein-Franke.

Instilling values
YMCA CEO Forsan Hussein looks on at these unraveling changes with obvious content. Of all the activities and services we offer, none fulfills our vision better than the Preschool. Our message is carried far beyond the individual child enrolled, he explains. Behind each child is an entire family, and ahead of them lies a future that they will shape using values we instill. In Mr. Husseins view, the intrinsic values associated with the Waldorf education approach are even more likely to realize his dream of educating the next generation of Israels ethical leaders. We want our preschool children to grow into self-aware adults who accept others for who and what they are, he concludes.

For more information about the Jerusalem International YMCA and its Preschool, go to

"Behind each child is an entire family, and ahead of them lies a future that they will shape using values we instill"