Better and richer future for the kids is what Haifa's Early Education Department is after; professionals from around the world come to marvel and replicate the methods
The great opera singer Luciano Pavarotti once said, "I believe that if children are not introduced to music at an early age, something fundamental is being taken from them". The same is true, though, about science, art, sports and many other fields, as seeds not sown at an early age will not sprout and blossom later on in life.
Haifa Municipality's Early Education Department is well aware of this issue, as Head of the department, Shifra Anteby, explains: "As part of our enrichment and pedagogical activities in kindergartens, we have threefold connections with foreign countries that aim to create better and richer future for the kids. The first is the Haifa-Boston Partnership, founded fourteen years ago. We started with a very small team of teachers and assistants and early childhood professionals, developed a video conference work around the theme of Jewish identity, and then began holding an exchange of delegations. One year we go over there, the next they come to Israel for study groups and a professional conference. Today we can already say it has become a friendship. Many kids from Boston come to a yeshiva in Jerusalem to deepen their knowledge of Judaism. Some made Aliyah, but most of them come to study Jewish concepts and practices, and then return to Boston and go to College. The ties are very close. The evidence is that for fourteen years we are constantly extending the circles.
"Another plateau of cooperation is hosting delegations of education professionals. In this case, we mainly teach and expose them to frameworks and models of work. Just yesterday, an African delegation comprised of all kinds of officials related to education, educational agencies, especially a lot of therapists who work in special education, came to visit. Each time they choose a subject they wish to learn, and we include visits to kindergartens accordingly. This time it was childcare in special education, children in need, how to get to them. Among other things, they visited Flora Kindergartens Center, experienced the special rooms, the special activities, saw the children, entered the classrooms, and were exposed to new work methods, new means. They see, learn, and borrow ideas in the hope that they will be able to implement them—there are poorer countries, wealthier ones, countries from all around the world.
"In this case, it works only in one direction, in the sense that you do not travel to Ghana, for example, and try to do something over there. You function more as an advisor, a teacher, an adjuster; this is the relationship we have with them. Most visitors were from African countries, but the current year we aim to foster delegations from other continents, with whom we will have bi-directorial relations. Lately we have delegates coming from the Ukraine and Europe. In January, we have a delegation with representatives from the United States, among others.
"Perhaps the highlight of our activity are the Scientific Pre-Schools. We opened three scientific pre-schools in western Kiryat Haim; it is an innovative model that exists only in Haifa. At one time, I visited in Boston in a museum of science that was unlike our Madatech—it was more interactive and designed for preschoolers, which inspired me to build—along with Noble Prize Laureate Prof. Dan Shechtman—a model wherein children from the age of five learn robotics and research methods etcetera, as an integral part of regular schooling. We have created four different yards in each kindergarten: a scientific yard; a sand yard with all kinds of cranes and model-creating options; a sustainability yard; and a sensorimotor yard. We are currently marketing this model to China and Japan, who came to learn the model and want to bring it to their respective countries: One scientific pre-school in Tokyo, and three others in different places in China. Our next complex in the country will be in Carmel Center.
"There is no other such model of science teaching in early childhood. Maybe on an extracurricular level, but nothing that is progressive and has a science teacher who is an integral part of the kindergarten itself. Once or twice a week, there is laboratory activity: eight children at a time go in the lab to work with test tubes, microscopes, states of aggregation, make experiments, everything. In the yards, they learn the machinations of bulldozers, build cranes, make presentations on Fridays on research methods they choose with the parents, each from his own world. The sensorimotor center works mainly on spatial movement; there they deal among other things in sports and yoga. Educators from all over the country come to witness this."