By Johanna Perlin
Director, Temple Shalom of Newton Nursery School

“Judi, don’t worry, we’ll take good care of Sophie. You’ll see! She is going to have fun, make new friends and discover new ideas. You’ll be all right too. You made the right decision to send her to nursery school. You can let go of her hand now and say goodbye.”

As a nursery school director, my staff and I serve as cheerleaders/coaches and facilitators for young children and their parents’ first formal learning experience. It’s intense but vastly gratifying to participate in and watch a child’s growth and development, their parents’ increased confidence in supporting their children and the friendships that are formed.

Even so, life goes on. Children grow. Families move on to elementary school and beyond. Like the beloved and comforting toy rabbit in the book “The Velveteen Rabbit,” our importance in their lives fades away, and by their teenage years, most of our former preschoolers don’t remember who their nursery school teachers were.

Although the children often forget who we are, I’ve been discovering that, magically, the bonds of friendships made between children and between the parents themselves have, in many cases, remained strong. Upon coming across former nursery school parents in the temple lobby, they enthusiastically report that their child’s chosen bat/bar mitzvah partner is a friend who was made while in nursery school. And the parents have remained friends as well!

Sophie, that little 3-year-old, is now a tall (and towering over me!) confident 13-year-old. She appeared in my office with her mother recently to hand me an envelope. A tingle of excitement ran through me as I opened the envelope and discovered an invitation for me to attend her bat mitzvah! Her mother hugged me and told me that all those years ago, she did make the right decision to trust us and send Sophie to our preschool. She said that the experiences Sophie had contributed to who she is today, and they wanted me to share in her “coming of age” milestone with them.

OK, so maybe like the Velveteen Rabbit, we nursery school teachers are, for the most part, forgotten by our little ones. But isn’t it amazing that our efforts to develop connections with their families long after they leave our nursery school are successful? I think so.

Johanna Perlin holds a master’s degree from Wheelock College and an Early Childhood Certificate from Hebrew College. She has been in Jewish early childhood education for over 30 years and has worked with hundreds of children and their families (some of her first children are married with young children!). She is a member of NECA, a founding member of ECE-RJ (the Reform movement’s early childhood professional organization) and an active member of the Boston/Haifa Early Childhood Partnership. She is currently in her 14th year as director of the Temple Shalom of Newton Nursery School.

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