As the director of a PreK program, I felt like there was a constant stream of challenges to navigate. The first year was particularly tough, not only because it was the first year of the program, but also because I had become a mother just a few months earlier. The second year posed its own set of challenges as my two lead teachers had conflicting visions for the school's direction, and I needed to define the school's educational compass—a task I soon discovered was intricate in the world of democratic education.
This journey eventually led me to Dr. Naama Zoran, who introduced me to the Reggio Emilia approach. A year later, I became a mother for the second time. Then, a year and a half later, war erupted, with missiles flying over my PreKindergarten classroom. The government offered little guidance to private PreKindergarten owners during these times. I remember the response, "A prekindergarten is just like a private grocery store; it's your decision what to do with it."
Today, years after my PreKindergarten had to close, as I sit in my AES apartment in Delhi, these past events may seem like mere lines in a blog. However, the reality was complex and challenging. Managing high-quality faculty, maintaining harmony among them, coping with staff absences, and countless other issues were part of my daily life. Yet, the responsibility for the well-being of the children was incredibly rewarding. Raising human beings is an extraordinary and creative task, but it comes with its own set of challenges.
And this brings us to the core question of this blog: How do we create a nurturing and inquisitive environment for children? One in which they can learn, explore, and practice safe conduct without hearing "you can't" or "don't" too often.
As if there were not enough challenges of running a PreK program, the story of my PreKindergarten's closure in August 2017 marked a significant turning point in my life. When the house from which I operated the program was sold, I was ready to move on, but the community wasn't. We all embarked on a mission to find a new home for the school. It was a challenging period, with neighbors opposing the idea of children in their backyard. The struggle taught us the value of community and the lengths we'd go to provide a particular kind of education for our children.
After concluding a year in 2017 of struggles and triumphs—my school still closed, but right before the end of the year came a significant career milestone—a child from my PreK, Nadav, a 3-year-old superhero, was diagnosed with cancer. One which required the whole nightmare treatments: chemo, radiation, and lots of hope. It happened in the last month or so of school and after it closed I spent every time Nadav was up for it in the oncological pediatric ward of the hospital, reading, playing and just hanging out.
We spent September 1st—always the first day of school in Israel—together. Nadav, his parents, and I felt the pain of not starting the year with everyone else. His immune system was too weak so he could not enroll in a new program. Homeschooling became the only option, and so the family joined a small group of homeschoolers who gathered at a nearby playground.
It was during this period that I reflected on what I missed most about running a PreK: encouraging curiosity and spending time outdoors. This led me to the idea of providing Nadav and a few other children with a safe and educational outdoor environment.
My initial fears about my lack of knowledge of trees, plants, animals, and insects, as well as a terrible sense of direction, almost deterred me. What if a child climbed a tree and fell? What if they asked questions I couldn't answer? Then I remembered the essence of my PreK program—it was about learning together, exploring, and leading inquiries, not just providing answers.
I shared my idea with Nadav's mother, and we decided to gather five or six kids and meet every Tuesday at 10:00 am outdoors. I wanted to learn how to light a fire and also decided to end each meeting with herbal tea and a story. So, I invited Yuval, the teacher who worked in my PreK (see blog#1)to join me in this adventure, and we became equal partners in this new journey.
And that marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship and the “employing” of a new unique teacher—Nature.
(Next time: More children join our "forest homeschooling activity" by word of mouth, and parents of our former kindergarten students express their interest leading us to create another exciting program.)
About the Author—
Keren Sharon, PreKindergarten Teacher