MILLBURN, NJ - Situated on the premises of Congregation B'nai Israel in Millburn, the Hedwig Gruenewald Early Childhood Center has been providing child care since 1975.
TAPinto Millburn recently spoke with members of the program to learn what makes the childcare program so unique.
"We are a play-based curriculum," said Program Director Rochelle Baron, who has been in the position since 1994. "The children learn through experiential play. There is a full curriculum set up for them throughout the school year, and it is age appropriate for twos, threes and pre-ks."
She also emphasized that the childcare experience offered at the childcare program emphasizes key aspects of development in young children.
"We also have in our program a STEAM-based program," Baron added. "The emphasis is put on the arts and science and math and technology as well.
STEAM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.
Baron said that many other child care programs in the area are now beginning to emphasize that they offer STEM programs, but one of the key parts of their program that differs is the art portion. As Baron noted, children in the program experience art through various channels in a whole host of mediums.
"We believe that our program provides [the students] with everything they need to move forward in their lives," Baron said.
Baron also said that the curriculum changes each year, in order to stay fresh. The staff provides their input, and that is used to make the necessary changes each year. Baron also said that parents are open to the program.
"They are supportive of it," Baron said. "They see the benefits of it. They express interest and excitement about what their children are doing."
That feeling filters down to the teachers as well. Meg Schneider has been an assistant teacher in the program for 17 years. Having spent that time, Schneider has seen the positive impact of the program on former students.
"I see kids now going off to college that I taught," Schneider said. "And they still remember the days here. So to see them grow, not just from the beginning of the year to graduation [is nice]."
Schneider said the children are the main reason she keeps coming back.
"It's a happy place to be," she said. "The smiles on their faces [are amazing], and I just love kids."
Schneider also said that there were many key aspects of the program from her point of view that made it unique.
"I think we're a tight group of teachers here," Schneider said. "We're not just friends here, we're friends outside. The co-teacher I work with had my children, who are now in their thirties...We go back, we have a past. And that's part of what's wonderful about coming here too, We're all friends."
Schneider added, "We work great together, we play off each other...and I think the kids feel that. There's no negativity in this place at all."
When asked about why parents continue to re-enroll their children, Schneider said that she feels as if the parents also see how caring and committed the staff can be. And that by introducing new ideas, the children grow and learn.
One other thing Schneider noted was that even though it is a religious program in certain aspects, the religion is not the main point of the curriculum. However, that religious instruction does have some benefits.
"The non-Jewish kids know the prayers and the songs so much better than some of the Jewish kids," Schnieder said with a slight chuckle. "They embrace it, and they go home and they want to get a menorah for Hannukah, Passover they want mom and dad to buy matzah. They want challah on Fridays."
"It's very cute to see them learn other things than what they learn at home," Schneider added. "I think it teaches unity and acceptance. That even though they do something different at home, they see the kids in their class do other things different at home. So yes, I think it's a big positive thing they're learning here."
In the conclusion of her interview, Schneider gave one final ringing endorsement of the program.
"It's a great place to send your kids," she said. "If I had grandchildren, I would definitely have my kids come here with their children."