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Parents want the best for their children right from the start. Even while we are still pregnant, we are already seeking out the best pediatrician, the best hospital for our delivery, and the best items for our baby registry. At some point along the parenthood journey, however, Jewish parents will also explore the best Jewish aspects of childbirth and parenting.
Why start so early in a child’s life with Jewish involvement? Why not wait until religious school or summer camp, when your children are older and you can discuss their experiences with them?
Research shows the importance of early childhood experiences–from birth through 5 years–on a child’s future growth and development. It is during these early years that a child’s brain establishes lifelong neural pathways that set the course for future abilities and interests. For example, children who are exposed to a foreign language as infants and then not again until years afterwards have an affinity for that language. It stands to reason, then, that early Jewish experiences will profoundly affect a person’s later attitude towards and interest in Judaism.
According to Mark I. Rosen, Ph.D. of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, “Exposure to Judaism at home and in childcare can help children to grow up with a strong Jewish identity.”
He and his colleagues have identified many Jewish communities across the country that are engaging in a wide range of endeavors targeted at these young families, and they are making recommendations to Jewish leaders about the importance of this work towards ensuring the future vibrancy of North American Jewry.
There are four primary types of programs identified by the researchers:
1. Prenatal education programs
2. Shalom Baby gift basket programs
3. Developmental and parenting education programs
4. JCC parenting centers
These programs and the peers groups that parents develop through them heavily influence the decisions families make about preschool and further Jewish education, as well as the importance of Judaism in home life.
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