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It’s been 10 years now since the Rady JCC took over operation of the Kaufman Child Care Centre at the Asper Campus and one year since the Rady JCC opened the David and Ruth  Asper Early Years Learning Centre on Grosvenor Avenue.

Altogether, the Rady JCC now has 160 licensed day care spaces under its supervision for children as young as four months to children as old as 12 who are enrolled in the Gray Academy and require either before or after school care (or both, as the case may be). In addition, the Rady JCC operates a before and after school program at Brock Corydon School that provides care for another 30 students (but which isn’t a licensed day care program since there is already a licensed before and after program at Brock Corydon for 90. The only difference is that parents of children in the licensed program pay slightly more  in fees than parents of children in the unlicensed program.)

So, it’s pretty safe to say that when it comes to looking after children – both pre-schoolers and those in school, the Rady JCC has developed a special expertise. In fact, according to Gayle Waxman, executive director of the Rady JCC - who has played an instrumental role in the expansion of the centre’s day care program ever since she came on board as executive director 12 years ago, there is no reason that the Rady JCC can’t expand its day care programming even further.
“We are committed to expanding day care,” Gayle says, “based on needs in the community – and one of the foremost needs is looking after the very young.”

Across Canada and the United States, Jewish Community Centres have taken the lead in early childhood education. The staff at the Rady JCC is part of a special network focusing on professional development.  Monthly professional development meetings are held among JCC child care administrators through Skype, Gayle explains where directors discuss the latest and most effective approaches to early learning in a Jewish context
When it comes to providing day care, moreover, Gayle notes that “what we need in our community is to be very smart. One of the ways we can do that is by recognizing the different expertise” that the Rady JCC has developed over the years when it comes to providing day care.
Much of that expertise comes from continued education programs in which the administrators of the various Rady JCC day care programs participate. Recently, for instance, director of child services Eleonora Caporalini was in Italy to learn about something called the Reggio Emilia approach to early learning.
Eleonora explains that Reggio Emilia is the name of the city where some innovative techniques in early learning have been developed in the past few years.
The philosophy of Reggio Emilia, Eleonora explains, “assumes that children are capable learners. And because children are capable of learning, you don’t have to encourage them to learn,” she adds.
Under this program, for instance, Eleonora goes on to say, “we are introducing literacy to children as early as two years old. Rather than working against how children play, we use how they play to teach them.”

Gayle and Eleonora describe a typical learning lesson wherein children are encouraged to write their names. Of course, no two-year-old can be expected to grasp even the fundamentals of writing, but even in their scribbles it is possible to discern different patterns of learning with each child, Eleonora says.
“We see significance in each mark” a child makes,” Eleonora notes. “By the age two they are beginning to associate symbols and letters, by three they recognize their own names in print. By the age four they recognize their friends’ names.”
What is required in such a sophisticated approach to learning, however, is a very low ratio of child care educators to children and the Rady JCC’s approach is to have one educator for every eight children.
“The faculty is on the floor with the children observing them,” Eleonora says. “When they observe them they start documenting; they determine which level of learning each child is at. This approach allows us to tailor the program to each child’s need.”
Unlike day cares in the past, the Rady JCC doesn’t rely upon technological aids at all: no widespread use of computer screens here to hold children’s attention unless it is part of learning, such as the use of a microscope which is attached to the computer screen for children learn about science – and certainly no televisions – or smart phones.  ”When kids are in an enriched early years learning program they do much better when they go to school,” Gayle notes.
“Our children learn how to self –regulate, how to be a ‘mensch’, how to focus, how to understand another perspective, how to sit and listen – so that by the time they go to school, they know how to sit,” she suggests.

But, within this relatively demanding approach, the early childhood educators require far more skills than what used to be considered sufficient for day care workers in the past. Not only must every child care educator working in a licensed day care centre anywhere in Manitoba have completed a two-year training program (offered at either  Red River College,or Assiniboine College in Brandon), or a four-year degree program through the University of Winnipeg, many of the child care educators working at either the Kaufman Child Care Centre or the David and Ruth Asper Early Years Learning Centre are graduate teachers.
“Many of our staff have come from other countries,” Gayle explains, where they were teachers in much different school systems. They often bring their own rich cultural heritages to bear in working with the young children.
Of the 160 children who are enrolled in one level of child care or another in the various Rady JCC programs, there is a wide range of ages.
At the Asper Campus itself, children as young as three months are accepted into child care. (Sometimes it’s a self-employed parent who requires care in order to be able to return to work in such situations, Gayle explains.) Altogether, 12 spaces at the Kaufman Centre are reserved for children  three – 24 months, while the Asper Early Years Center has spaces for four children 18-24 months.
I ask Gayle and Eleonora whether their child care programs are well designed to deal with children who might present with special needs.
“Absolutely,” Gayle answers. “That is an area that we especially value and are able to integrate all children in our program regardless of their physical or cognitive challenges. Having special needs kids in our child care centres brings a richness to the community.  Because of our approach, which focuses on gearing the learning to each child’s developmental capacity – whether the child is developmentally advanced or the child is still working on developing age appropriate skills – our approach enables all children to flourish.”  
As one might expect, having developed such a notable expertise in early childhood education, there is a very long wait list of parents who would like to put their children into one of the Rady JCC child care programs. “There are about 800 on the wait list,” Gayle says, “but only about one-third of them will require the space when offered.” (Because parents can put their names on multiple wait lists many parents simply wait for the first available opening in any child care centre that’s reasonably close to where they live.)
Yet, as much as one might expect that Gayle Waxman and Eleonora Caporalini understand full well the importance that a quality early learning experience can impart to children throughout their lives, they are both ready to take on the challenge of expanding the Rady JCC child care program even further, should the opportunity present itself.

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